Count Franz Otto BUBNA was initiated into the Golden Dawn in December 1889, when he took the Latin motto ‘Nunquam dormio’. By March 1892, however, his membership was described in the GD’s records as “in abeyance”.
I was only able to find this man on two censuses - 1891 and 1901 - and I think of him as a bird of passage, living in the UK for a short time only.
Count Franz Otto Bubna was a member of the Austrian nobility by birth, born during the 1840s. When he joined the GD he gave 55 Egerton Gardens as his address and was still giving it as his address in 1892. But on the night of the 1891 census he was staying at the Brunswick Hotel at 51 Jermyn Street Piccadilly, and by 1901 he, his wife Bertha and their son Egon had moved out of London to Upton Towers, in Upton St Mary near Slough. Their staff at Upton Towers was a large one. The Count had his own valet - a male servant who helped with his employer’s wardrobe and personal appearance; and Countess Bertha had the woman’s equivalent, a lady’s maid. Only the wealthiest could afford to employ servants of this kind. In addition to those two personal servants, the household had a cook, a parlour maid, two housemaids and two maids to help in the kitchen. Living in this kind of style in the country required a carriage and horses, for the lady of the house to make her social calls in, so the Count employed a coachman. However, he did not employ a butler or a footman - rather a strange omission, I think. I suppose one of the housemaids answered the door when the bell rang.
Count Franz Bubna had moved to England to work in the City. In 1891 he told the census official he was a shipping agent; in 1901 he was still doing that kind of work but had also started dealing in shares. His office in 1902 was at 76 Palmerston Buildings on Bishopsgate Street. He was a well-known figure amongst the Austro-Hungarian population in London. He attended dinners organised by the Association of Foreign Consuls. At a dinner organised by Austrians living in London in 1893, Count Franz Bubna was second on its guest-list, immediately after the imperial Consul-General. And in 1895 he was serving on the committee of the Austro-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce in London. He was also enjoying the kind of leisure pursuits where you meet the English upper-classes, attending the Brookfield Stud sale (of racehorses) in 1895.
However, Count Franz Bubna’s character had a more enquiring and reflective side and he joined the Theosophical Society in London in October 1889. Those wanting to join the TS had to be recommended by two people who were members already. Unfortunately, Count Franz Bubna’s records at the TS don’t say who his sponsors were. However, Countess Bertha also joined the TS, in March 1890; her two sponsors were her husband, and future GD member Frederick Leigh Gardner. Gardner worked in the City, so that might be how he and Bubna first got to know each other.
During their first years in the TS, Count Franz and Bertha were members of its Blavatsky Lodge, where Helena Petrovna Blavatsky herself held forth. There may have been conflict between the Count Franz and Blavatsky: A P Sinnett says that the Count was a psychic who was “in touch with his Master Mahatma Morya”, a channel of communication that Blavatsky liked to keep to herself. Either because Blavatsky disapproved of Count Franz’s claims; or because the Bubnas felt that Blavatsky Lodge after Blavatsky’s death (in the spring of 1891) would never be the same, by 1892 they had joined the London Lodge. They were made welcome there and became members of its inner group, with A P and Patience Sinnett, the Arundales and others. London Lodge held itself aloof from the TS as a whole: it did not send in lists of members and subscriptions paid, and these administrative records have now been lost. Consequently it’s not possible to say whether the Bubnas were members of London Lodge during the years in which a bitter argument was fought in the mid-1890s after someone else - William Quan Judge - claimed to be in touch with the Mahatmas. The Count did take up paying his subscription to the TS again when the dispute was settled with the defeat of Judge’s followers. He continued to pay it until 1900; but by 1901 he (though not his wife) had joined the Society for Psychical Research, which had investigated some of the spiritualist claims made by Blavatsky and declared them fraudulent, to the fury of Blavatsky and her followers.
Count Franz Bubna and Countess Bertha were not on the census for 1911. A note on their record at the TS indicates that they had left the UK by 1903 and I presume they had moved back to Austria. I don’t know when the Count died.
Relatively few members of the GD are described at all in someone else’s writings, but Count Franz Bubna is one of them. In June 1895, the Count called on Henry Olcott (the surviving founder of the TS) during one of Olcott’s short stays in London. Writing up the social call in his diary, Olcott described the Count as “tall and handsome”, so I’d say that the Count had those features that the Victorians admired in a man: a moustache, possibly even a beard, long sideburns, and a very upright almost military bearing. Olcott was sufficiently impressed with Count Bubna to suggest (though apparently not to the man’s face) that they had both known each other in previous lives. This was the only mention of Count Franz Bubna in Old Diary Leaves so in their current lives at least, the meeting didn’t lead to a lasting friendship.
BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.
Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden.
Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.
Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.
Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.
Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.
Count Franz Otto Bubna as a prominent member of London’s Austro-Hungarian community: Times Digital Archive.
Theosophical Society: Theosophical Society Members’ Books 1888-1900, held at the TS headquarters building in Gloucester Place W1.
Olcott’s impression of the Count: Old Diary Leaves: The True History of the Theosophical Society by Henry Steel Olcott. 5th Series published Madras: Theosophical Publishing House 1932 but according to a note on p331 prepared for publication by Olcott in 1903. The Count’s call was covered pp328-34, during Olcott’s tour of Spain, France and England in the summer of 1895. The call was paid on 20 June.
Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett: unedited version published Theosophical History Centre Gloucester Place 1986 and now available online. It’s based on the diaries of Alfred Percy and Patience Sinnett: pp43-44.
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research volume XV 1900-01 p490 shows Count Francis (sic) Bubna as a full member, at Upton Towers Slough. He’s not in the list of members in volume XI 1895.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
26 May 2017
Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: