Emily BURNETT who was initiated into the Golden Dawn between July and October 1888 and chose the Latin motto ‘Meus conscia sponsus’. Her GD records show that she never took her membership of the GD any further, and she was probably never meant to. She was a special case, as you will see below.
I’ll take the question of WHO SHE KNEW IN THE GOLDEN DAWN first in Emily’s case, as it is very easy to answer and is the crux of why she was a GD member: she was the sister-in-law of William Wynn Westcott. A note on her GD records (which in 1888 were being kept by Westcott) says “copyist”. I think Westcott was trying to put some work Emily’s way by employing her to make copies of the occult texts initiates would have to study. It was unthinkable that someone who had not been sworn to silence about the texts’ contents should be allowed to carry out such work; so Emily underwent the initiation ceremony.
Emily Burnett was born on 24 November 1839, the third child of Edmund Crawford Burnett and his wife Charlotte. She was baptised in St Pancras Old Church and lived in its parish, Somers Town, until she was in her forties, in streets crammed between Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross stations and increasingly blighted by railway sidings and the dirty steam of coal-fired trains.
Emily’s baptism record describes Edmund Burnett as a clerk to a printing firm and he seems to have continued to do that kind of work, probably with the same firm, all his working life. On the day of the 1841 census, as well as the family, the Burnett household also included Daniel Robertson, a Scotsman who worked as a printer, possibly with the same firm; he was still living with the family in 1861. In due course, Emily’s only brother, Crawford Burnett, served an apprenticeship and became a printer/compositor.
Edmund and Charlotte Burnett had one more child, Louisa (born in 1843) before Emily’s mother died, in 1846. In 1848 Edmund - a widower with several young children - got married again, to Susan Prior. I think that the family was feeling the financial pinch at this time in a way it would not do again for many years. On the day of the 1851 census, the Burnett family was one of two households living at 15 Charrington Street Somers Town; they didn’t share a house this way again until the late 1880s. Crawford was still serving his apprenticeship, so he was not being paid a full wage yet. Although Edmund and Charlotte’s eldest daughter, also called Charlotte, told the census official she was working, her income may not have been something the family could count on each week - the census describes her as a “pianofortist”, which seems to have meant teaching rather than performing, with her income depending on how many pupils she had at any time. Emily, like her younger sister Louisa, was described by the census official as “school at home”; meaning that both daughters were getting a better education than most children at that time, but they were not helping the family budget. There was another child expected too: Eliza Burnett was born at the end of 1851, Edmund’s fifth child and Susan’s only one.
In 1853, Edmund was widowed for the second time when Susan died; he did not marry again. Crawford left home to marry, in 1854, and I can’t find Louisa on the 1861 census so I don’t know whether she was still living at home, but the remaining members of the household settled into a pattern that remained essentially the same for the next decade. In 1861 Edmund, Charlotte, Emily, Eliza and their lodger Daniel Robertson were still all living together. Mr Robertson had now retired, Charlotte was still giving piano lessons, but it seems the household finances were now less straitened and they had decided they could manage without renting out any of the house at 15 Charrington Street.
Emily was now 21. The census official did not fill in any occupation or source of income for her. It’s possible he did not ask her whether she was working; but seeing he did ask Charlotte, or Charlotte (proud of her contribution to the family budget) volunteered the information, this doesn’t seem very likely. It’s more likely that Emily was acting in place of a mother to Eliza (now 9) and running the household, probably with Charlotte’s help but without being able to employ a servant. Not for Emily any chance to follow her brother into the printing industry, even if she had wanted to do so. The printing trade was men-only and in any case, if there was no wife and mother, one of the daughters had to take charge of the shopping, cooking and cleaning in any Victorian lower-middle-class family; either helping and giving orders to the servant (if they could afford one) or doing the work herself; and in this family it was Emily, elected - perhaps - merely because she did not play the piano well.
Eliza Burnett married William Wynn Westcott early in 1873. And I believe that by 1881 Daniel Robertson had returned to Scotland. On the day of the 1881 census the Burnett household had moved to 11 Oakley Square Marylebone and was down to three members: Edmund, still working as a printer’s clerk; Charlotte, still giving piano lessons; and Emily, still with no source of income mentioned by the census official. But at some time between 1881 and 1891, probably before 1888, a big change occurred in their circumstances. Edmund Burnett retired. This was unusual in the days before entitlement to pensions. Most people worked until they dropped. Perhaps Edmund Burnett’s health (he was in his mid-70s) made it impossible for him to do his work any longer and his employer found the money for a pension for him. For whatever reason, he retired. He and his daughters moved house again, but this time they chose to go right away from Somers Town, to the suburb of Upper Holloway, where houses were modern and had gardens and there was less noise and air pollution. They were following in the footsteps of many middle-class families but in particular of their own family. On the day of the 1891 census Edmund, Charlotte and Emily were living at 150 Tufnell Park Road, within a short walk of both Emily’s married sisters.
The move to Upper Holloway may have involved Emily filling the gap in wages caused by her father’s retirement. For the first time in her life, she told the 1891 census official that she was doing paid work. She said she was a dress-maker. Perhaps she had done sewing work all along, when she had time to spare from her housekeeping duties, but had just never bothered to say so when the census official came as it wasn’t a regular income. However, dress-making was a rotten trade, in Victorian England as in the globalised modern world: unregulated and exploitative. And this is where William Westcott comes in, with his need for a copyist for the Golden Dawn. In the years around the founding of the GD he was helping Samuel Mathers by paying his rent; I think he was trying to do something similar to help Emily by giving her an income or an alternative one. However, Westcott’s kindly idea doesn’t seem to have worked out. My own researches on the GD administration papers for the 1890s indicate that most new initiates preferred to make their own copies of the material they were given to study. Certainly, in 1891 Emily only told the census official about the sewing work she was doing; she never told any census official that she was earning money as a copyist.
Edmund Burnett died in 1896 and it may have been at that point that Charlotte and Emily Burnett moved again, though they only went round the corner, to 16 Huddleston Road Upper Holloway, off the main road. Again they were helping to pay the rent by letting part of the house to another family. Charlotte was still teaching piano, but Emily said she told the census official that she wasn’t doing any paid work, she had a private income. Perhaps her father had been able to leave her money enough for her to give up the sewing (or copying).
Emily’s sister Charlotte - with whom she had lived all her life - died in 1905. However, even without the income from Charlotte’s lessons, in 1911 Emily was still living at 16 Huddleston Road, still with that private income. Both her married sisters were still within walking distance and Emily may have been making trips to stay with relatives who were now living on the south coast. The artistic talent which Emily’s sister Charlotte had showed had resurfaced in some family members in the next two generations. Crawford Burnett’s son became a glass decorator while his son (also called Crawford), another of Emily’s nephews and one of her nieces all inherited Charlotte Burnett’s musical abilities. All three probably had their first music lessons with Charlotte and if this was so, Emily would have got to know them all well. However, it seems as though she had an especially close relationship with her niece Amy Louisa Reeves.
Emily Burnett’s younger sister Louisa had married Robert Reeves in 1867. I should imagine the Burnetts thought he was a good catch as a husband: he worked in a bank, which in those days meant a modest but predictable income and very little chance of losing your job. Louisa and Robert had four children including Amy Louisa, born in 1872. Their son Herbert Wynn Reeves (surely a god-son of William Wynn Westcott) became a professional violinist and in 1891 Amy Louisa told the census official that she too was studying music and teaching it. However, she did not become a professional musician; she married Lawrence Waddell in 1895. Waddell was in the Indian Army Medical Corps so Amy Louisa’s early married life was spent in Calcutta; but by 1911 her husband had retired and the family was living at a house they called The Kite’s Nest, at 8 St Helen’s Park Road Hastings. When Emily made her Will, she named Amy Louisa Waddell as her executor. I haven’t seen the Will but in such a close family I would expect it to leave what Emily had to leave either to Amy Louisa herself, or to her three children, Gladys, Frank and Clara. And there was more to leave than I’d expected: personal effects worth £725 or so - would they include Charlotte’s piano? Emily Burnett died on 9 November 1915.
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, probate, baptism record); 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.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
14 May 2012