ISABEL DE STEIGER (1836-1927). This is the last of my files detailing Isabel’s life-by-dates. It covers mid-1900 to her death on the first day of 1927.
UPDATE JUNE 2018
Yet again someone has sent me information I didn’t even know was out there: thank you, Alex Kidson, for contacting me with news of one painting Isabel exhibited in 1925 that I’d never heard of before; and one painting that she didn’t exhibit in 1926 despite saying that she would. Alex is in the midst of preparing to put online all the catalogues of the autumn exhibitions at the Walker Art Gallery: an enormous undertaking as in the early years at least, there were over 1000 works in each show.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2017
I was amazed to read an email from Barbara Lawson-Reay saying that Isabel had been a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies during 1915. By her own admission, Isabel distrusted even the Liberals, let alone the socialists – I never supposed she would support votes for women. Thanks are due to Barbara for the information and for proving that Isabel can still surprise me. Barbara researches the suffrage campaign and women’s war work in North-East Wales.
Just re-stating Isabel’s involvement in the GD:
Isabel de Steiger was one of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s earliest members, being initiated at its Isis-Urania temple in London in October 1888. She chose the Latin motto ‘Altiora peto’. She took her time over the learning and exams required for the GD’s inner, 2nd Order and was initiated into it in May 1896. She moved out of London in the early 1890s and was a member of the GD’s Horus temple in Bradford for a time; and then (in the late 1890s) of its Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh.
And a brief bit of preamble from Part 3 of the life-by-dates: in the summer of 1900 Isabel put all her possessions into store in Edinburgh while she went to make her annual stay with Mary Anne Atwood. A fire broke out in the warehouse and nearly everything Isabel owned was destroyed, including her diaries and her unsold paintings and artwork.
When she found out about the fire, Isabel was in Ilfracombe, probably with Mrs Atwood.
Source: Memorabilia p282.
Comment by Sally: although she had been spending more time on her esoteric research than on her painting in recent years, Isabel took a long time to recover from the shock of losing virtually everything she owned; and the disappointment of being deprived of a one-woman show she had been promised, recognition of herself as an artist of importance after so many years of unappreciated work. All that was left was a box retrieved from the warehouse by Andrew Cattanach; and two trunks of possessions that she had brought with her for her summer with Mrs Atwood. Mary Lodge, wife of Sir Oliver Lodge, was kind to Isabel during the next few weeks, as Isabel tried to pick up the pieces of her life.
AFTER THE FIRE OF AUGUST 1900
Isabel painted very few more art works.
Source: Memorabilia p290.
DIFFICULT TO DATE THOUGH PROBABLY AFTER SUMMER 1900; DEFINITELY BY 1903
Isabel moved to Handsworth in Birmingham to live near some (unnamed) friends who shared her theosophical interests. She doesn’t say who they were. After only a year, they moved away from Birmingham, so Isabel moved back to Liverpool. Isabel got to know Sir Oliver Lodge and his wife Mary while she was living in Handsworth. Mary Lodge was an artist.
Comment by Sally Davis: the TS was beginning to flag in its efforts to keep up with Isabel’s almost continual moving from place to place. I’m certainly struggling to cope. One thing I can tie down is Oliver Lodge and family in Birmingham: they arrived in the spring of 1900, after Oliver had reluctantly agreed to become the first head of the new University of Birmingham. They moved into a house called Mariemont, in Edgbaston. The Lodges came to Birmingham from Liverpool, though Isabel doesn’t mention having been acquainted with them there. They did, however, have at least one mutual friend: the spiritualist F W H Myers.
Source for the move: Memorabilia p290.
Source for a new address: Theosophical Society membership register though again without a precise date. The TS noted Isabel’s latest address as 23 Wretham Road and the TS member who kept the members’ register updated made a note that it was in Liverpool. However, streetmap shows it was in Handsworth, Birmingham.
Source for Oliver Lodge though see also wikipedia for Oliver Lodge and his wife Mary F A Marshall.
Past Years: An Autobiography of Sir Oliver Lodge. Hodder and Stoughton 1931: pp271-75; pp276-77; pp314-315. There’s no mention at all of Isabel in Lodge’s book.
The source giving 1903 for Isabel living in Birmingham is: Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940 p145 entry for Isabel de Steiger.
Isabel’s friendship with the Sinnetts declined.
Source: Memorabilia p266.
CENSUS DAY 1901
As so often, Isabel was not in the UK as far as I can see. Most of her relations were, though. Her eldest sister (the unmarried one) Constantia, was still living at Old Christleton Hall just outside Cheshire, with Theodosia, the elder daughter of Joshua Verney Lovett Lace and his wife (the other Theodosia). Isabel’s sister Helena and her husband, Rev John Turnbull, had been at Great Linford rectory for less than a year. Their sons were all working now and lived elsewhere, so only their two daughters were at home - Constance, and Christine. With their household scaled down, the Turnbulls only employed a cook and a housemaid now. Their son Verney Turnbull was in London, working as a journalist and lodging in Camberwell with Ralph Sapolin, a teacher, and his sister, the Turnbulls’ ex-governess Louise. Isabel’s sister Rosamond and her husband Edmund Charles Burton were still living at The Lodge, Nelson Road Daventry. Although only one of their children was still at home - the youngest daughter, Blanche - the Burtons still employed a large staff: a cook, two housemaids, one kitchen maid and a ladies’ maid. Their son Edmund Gerald was in London, lodging in a boarding house at 12 York Street Marylebone. He hadn’t yet joined the family legal firm though he would return to Daventry later in 1901 after his marriage to Maud Attenborough.
Mentioning some of Isabel’s friends, the Crosfields - William, Fanny and their daughter Dora - were now living in Sefton Park West at 3 Fulwood Park. Isabel’s trustee Henry Cassels Kay and his wife Jane were still living in 11 Durham Villas Campden Hill.
Source: 1901 census.
Source for Edmund Gerald Burton’s marriage: via www.genesreunited.co.uk to Northampton Mercury issue of 29 November 1901; Edmund Gerald and Maud Burton would move into Newnham Grange near Daventry after their honeymoon.
Isabel may have lived in London for a few months.
Source. I haven’t found any direct evidence for this; but Isabel does seem to have gone to more meetings in and around London in 1902 than you would think she would while living elsewhere.
1902 AND LATER
Isabel subscribed to the magazine Hibbert’s Journal.
Source: Memorabilia p271. Although Isabel associates it with her time in Edinburgh, its first issue was not until 1902.
Information on wikipedia gives the full title, which shows clearly why Isabel might want to read the magazine regularly. It’s Hibbert’s Journal: a Quarterly Review of Religion, Theology and Philosophy. An annual subscription in 1910 cost 10/-. Oliver Lodge was a regular contributor.
Isabel went to a lecture by Ponnambalam Rama-Nathan, a Tamil from Sri Lanka who had written commentaries on the gospels of St Matthew and St John.
Source for Isabel at the lecture: Superhumanity: A Suggestive Enquiry into the Mystic and Material Meaning of the Christian Word Regeneration London: Elliot Stock 1916 p28 but she’s not sure when it happened - she can only pin it down to “in London a few years ago” and she doesn’t mention what organisation invited him to speak. A likely date of 1902 is mentioned in
Florence Farr: Bernard Shaw’s New Woman by Josephine Johnson. Gerrard’s Cross: Colin Smythe 1975: p93; because Florence Farr heard Rama-Nathan lecture, read some of his pamphlets, and met him for the first time.
They are not in the British Library catalogue but the wikipedia page of Sir Ponnambalam Rama-Nathan, Tamil politician and solicitor-general of Sri Lanka, has the booklets that Isabel remembered and Florence Farr read:
An Eastern Exposition of the Gospel of Jesus According to St Matthew published 1898.
An Eastern Exposition of the Gospel of Jesus According to St John published 1902.
The most likely organiser of the talks is the Theosophical Society.
Isabel’s friendship with Francesca Arundale ceased altogether after Francesca went to live permanently in India.
Comment on the date, by Sally Davis: I found the date of Francesca’s departure on a wikipedia wiki on Arundale. See the earlier files in this life-by-dates sequence for Isabel’s friendship Francesca Arundale, active member of the Theosophical Society in the 1880s.
Source for the decline of the friendship: Memorabilia p266. There was no quarrel, it would appear; the two women just stopped writing to each other after a while.
An illustration by Isabel was the frontispiece of A E Waite’s A Book of Mystery and Vision.
A Book of Mystery and Vision by A E Waite, published London: Philip Wellby 1902. This was a book of poems by Waite, a limited edition of 250 copies. Isabel’s illustration took as its starting point some verses that depict a person sitting on a cliff above the sea, in contemplation of “paths untrod, Sung on by all life’s voices”. Seen not by me but by Roger Wright, via archive.org 17 July 2013.
ALMOST CERTAINLY 1902 though Isabel seems to be remembering it as earlier
Isabel went to hear Ebenezer Howard give a talk on garden cities. She invested in a company that was being set up to fund the building of the first garden city; and did some publicity work for the scheme.
Comment by Sally Davis: the two biographies of Howard that I looked through both suggest that he didn’t publicise his garden city scheme until around the time that his book on it was published. To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform was issued in a limited edition by Swan Sonnenschein in 1898. Serious fund-raising for building a garden city doesn’t seem to have taken place before June 1902 when the Garden City Pioneer Co was founded. It was wound up 18 months later and First Garden City Ltd was set up with a share issue published in September 1903; it was this company that bought the land in Hertfordshire which became Letchworth Garden City. I suppose it must be this last company that Isabel is referring to in Memorabilia; she says she had one share in it; got a dividend of 1/6 after three years; and later gave her one share to one of her nephews. It’s a puzzle, though: the meetings that formed the two companies were well publicised and well attended, including by the great and good. Isabel, however, describes the talk she attended as not publicised at all – she found out about it through a friend – and attended by about half a dozen people. Perhaps she’s conflating two separate meetings.
Source for Isabel having heard the talk; though not for a date of 1902: Memorabilia p99.
Wikipedia on Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928); Una Stubbs is a descendant of his. And these two biographies:
Sir Ebenezer Howard and the Town Planning Movement by Dugald Macfadyen. Manchester University Press 1933. On p20: Howard’s ideas were influenced by a novel Isabel may have known: Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, published in the US only in 1888; though this biography says Howard didn’t read it until 1898. The first lectures on garden cities were not until 1898. Garden City Association: pp24-25; Garden City Pioneer Co p38; First Garden City Ltd p39.
Lifelines 18: An Illlustrated Life of Sir Ebenezer Howard by John Moss-Eccardt. Shire Publications Ltd 1973. This biography pp14-15 implies that Howard read Bellamy’s novel much sooner, and worked on the ideas that became the garden city movement for ten years before his book was published. But it doesn’t mention any early lectures on the subject.
At www.rickmansworthherts.com an article: The Effect of Sir Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City Movement on 20th Century Planning. By Norman Lucey. This article also says that Howard’s garden city scheme was developed over many years; but without further details. This is the source for the meeting of the Garden Cities Association at Port Sunlight.
The 1898 edition of Howard’s book wasn’t well-known. The British Library only has the 2nd edition, with its revised name: Garden Cities of Tomorrow. London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co Ltd 1902.
5 JUNE 1903
Henry Cassels Kay died in hospital after being involved in a carriage accident.
Probate Registry 1903
At journals.cambridge.org, the first page of Kay’s obituary in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (New Series) volume 35 no 4 October 1903 pp851-87
Comment by Sally Davis: Cassels Kay’s death - so sudden and so awful - robbed Isabel not only of a long-standing friend, but also of a link with her dead husband - they had all known each other in the 1870s in Egypt. Cassels Kay had been the sole trustee of the trust fund that provided Isabel with her income. Isabel was perfectly capable of managing her own money but I haven’t found any evidence either way, about whether the trust fund continued after Cassels Kay died.
24 JULY 1903
Isabel was one of the 14 members of the GD’s 2nd Order who announced their intention of breaking away from the GD to form a new order, the Independent and Rectified Rite or Order (known in shorthand as the RR et AC). The group was led by A E Waite.
Source: R A Gilbert’s The Golden Dawn Companion p169.
7 NOVEMBER 1903
The Independent and Rectified Rite/Order was constituted. There’s no list of who was present at the ritual but I would suppose that Isabel would have been there. The RR et AC continued until Waite closed it down in 1914 but I don’t know whether Isabel remained a member for that whole period.
Source: as for 24 July
Comment by Sally Davis: just noting that there’s no mention of this new Order in Isabel’s book, not even an oblique one. She may not have attended many of its meetings - if any - as they all took place in London and Isabel never lived there after the 1890s.
Isabel’s friend Charles Massey persuaded Isabel to publish what became On A Gold Basis. Isabel hadn’t thought of publishing her many writings on the occult in this form until Massey suggested it. She offered them to the Theosophical Publishing Society, the publishing arm of the TS, but the editor, and then Annie Besant, rejected them on the grounds that they were too Christian. Massey took up Isabel’s case with the TPS, but the firm was adamant, and in the end Massey resigned from the TS over it.
Source for the story of On A Gold Basis: Memorabilia p148.
Comment by Sally Davis: records in the Probate Registry say that Charles Carleton Massey of 124 Victoria Street died on 29 March 1905; so his campaign to persuade Isabel, and his arguments with the Theosophical Publishing Society, must have happened before then.
The first issue of Occult Review was published. Isabel was a regular subscriber, a keen reader and regular contributor to the magazine until her death.
Source: Occult Review volume 1 number 1 January 1905. It was a monthly magazine, published by William Rider and Son Ltd. From 1905 until the mid-1920s it had the same editor, Ralph Shirley.
1 JUNE 1905
Isabel’s niece Josephine Sutton, daughter of her brother Joshua Verney Lovett Lace, died aged only 41.
Source: probate registry 1905, 1925.
POSSIBLY AS EARLY AS 1905, OR AS LATE AS 1907
Isabel began to subscribe to the magazine The Seeker, A Quarterly Magazine of Christian Mysticism, further described by its editor as “devoted to the search for God and the true self”.
Source for the magazine: British Library catalogue.
Some information on The Seeker from The Expository Times 1914 p471: it was founded by the Rev George William Allen in 1905. Before 1914 he had been succeeded as its editor by Walter Leslie Wilmhurst. It survived the first World War but ceased publication in 1919.
28 JUNE 1905
Isabel resigned from the Theosophical Society.
Source: Isabel’s membership record in the TS membership registers.
Comment by Sally Davis: Charles Massey’s death, and the rejection of the papers that became On A Gold Basis, led to Isabel deciding she’d had enough of the TS; however, she did change her mind.
Isabel’s article Last Hours of a Mediaeval Occultist was published in Occult Review. She had been reading Aurofontina Chymica, or a Collection of Fourteen Small Treatises Concerning the First Matters of Philosophers, published in Latin in London in 1680. The body of the article was Isabel’s translation of the third treatise, which concerned an alchemist and doctor who had converted from Judaism to Christianity. Isabel took issue with recent scholars who had accused the writers of the treatises of fraud.
Source: Occult Review volume 2 number 8 August 1905 pp73-75.
Isabel’s niece Blanche Burton, daughter of her sister Rosamond, married Henry Bruce Campbell of Little Everdon, a barrister.
Sources: via www.genesreunited.co.uk to Northampton Mercury issues of 16 November 1906
and 19 April 1907.
20 AUGUST 1907
Isabel’s brother-in-law Edmund Charles Burton, the solicitor (husband of her sister Rosamond) died.
Source: probate registry 1907 and just noting that he had not made Rosamond his executor, he had chosen two of his sons-in-law instead - Thomas William Thornton and Norman McCorquodale.
Comment by Sally Davis: I wonder very much how Isabel had got on with this hunting-shooting-local-government type man; and what she made of her sister having married him. And what did Edmund Charles make of his sister-in-law Isabel, with her esoteric leanings and her independence of mind?
Isabel rejoined the Theosophical Society.
Source: Isabel’s membership record in the TS membership registers.
On a Gold Basis was published, finally, by Philip Wellby, a publisher that Isabel had done work for in the past.
Comments by Sally Davis: perhaps Isabel shouldn’t have bothered! Because On A Gold Basis
continued to cause her grief: both spiritualists, and theosophist followers of Annie Besant, shunned her for having published it rather than keep her occult work a secret. The reviews were reasonable, though. The Theosophical Review’s reviewer was rather surprised to find it more like a student’s note-book than a treatise. However, he noted that in her introduction, Isabel had stated that she hadn’t wanted to offer cast-iron solutions, only to suggest possibilities and to encourage readers to study the esoteric works of the past, as well as those of the present. The review in Occult Review was also favourable, describing the work as making “fruitful and suggestive inquiries into modern problems of thought and life” and Isabel as “one of the most capable writers on the higher Alchemy” with an “industrious, truth-seeking mind”.
Source for the publication: first edition.
Source for the hostile reaction of theosophists: Memorabilia p127, p147.
Sources for the reviews:
Theosophical Review volume XL number 240 August 1907 in the review section: p563-65 review by “A.A.W.”, a regular reviewer at this time. There’s an article in Theosophical Review volume XXXIII number 196 September 1903 to February 1904: pp443-450; by an Arthur A Wells. I imagine he is ‘A.A.W.’
Occult Review volume 6 number 4 October 1907 p227. The review was written by the regular reviewer whose writing name was ‘Scrutator’.
Isabel was one of several annoyed readers who wrote to Occult Review to disagree with a recent article on Anna Bonus Kingsford and Edward Maitland. Curiously enough, it was the photographs of Kingsford and Maitland that Isabel had disliked - she thought they didn’t do the sitters justice.
Source: Occult Review volume 6. The offending article, by Scrutator, was in the Occult Review’s Modern Mystics series and was published in volume 6 number 4 October 1907 pp191-203. Isabel’s letter of complaint appeared in volume 6 number 5 November 1907 pp296-97. That so many people took issue with Scrutator’s article seems to have embarrassed Ralph Shirley: in volume 9 number 4 April 1909 pp183-88 he devoted a large part of his editorial to a discussion of Kingsford and Maitland and the importance of The Perfect Way.
1 MAY 1908
Isabel resigned from the TS for the second time; only this time she didn’t change her mind. .
Comment by Sally Davis: the final straw was probably Annie Besant’s rise to absolute power in the TS after the death of Colonel Olcott. Isabel wasn’t the only long-standing member of the TS to regard with despair the election of Annie Besant as its president-for-life: in my biographies of the members of the GD who were members of TS as well, I’ve noticed quite a few resigning either just after she was elected, or just before, when it was clear that her election was inevitable.
Isabel said of her resignation, that “Mrs Besant and Mr Leadbeater as its leaders had lost my conscientious respect.” In fact, Isabel had never liked Annie Besant’s style of leadership, which she described as, “a sort of personal mania to rule alone”. She had also noticed, since Besant had become the TS’s dominant personality, an increasing tendency especially amongst younger and newer members, to know less and less about the alternatives to Blavatsky’s approach - to have read only Blavatsky’s writings.
Sources: Memorabilia pxx, p150, p263; and the TS membership register.
A bit more comment by Sally Davis: Isabel was thinking of Dr Kingsford, of course, and her emphasis on western, Christian esotericism; but also perhaps even of A P Sinnett’s Buddhist-based theosophy. Besant was more interested in Hinduism than Buddhism; and where she led the TS was likely to go in future.
Some information from wikipedia on Annie Besant’s involvement in theosophy: she first discovered theosophy as late as 1889. She joined the TS at once, and quickly became a leading member. She met Leadbeater in 1894 and always supported him afterwards; they worked together eg on clairvoyance. Leadbeater was ejected from the TS in 1906 after accusations that he had encouraged boys in his care to masturbate. But when Besant became the TS president, in 1907, he was let back in again.
Comment from Sally Davis on the accusations against Leadbeater: how much Isabel knew about them I can’t tell, of course; probably more than the brief reference to him that she made in Memorabilia. However, I think her main objection to what happened in 1906 and 1907 was that Besant had reinstated a man against whom such accusations had been made and had overturned a decision made by the TS’s ruling body. Rumours that Leadbeater was a homosexual continued to circulate for the rest of his life.
Isabel had moved to 399 Old Chester Road Tranmere, on the edge of the Rock Ferry district.
Source: see Eugenics Society below.
Isabel joined the newly-founded Eugenics Education Society.
Source: via google to the Annual Report of the Eugenics Education Society volumes 2-6 1909 p40: a list of members living in the Liverpool area includes Madame de Steiger of 399 Old Chester Road Rock Ferry.
Comment by Sally Davis: I was really quite shocked to discover this - eugenics has such horrific connotations these days after the Nazis and others took its assumptions and aims to their logical conclusion.
The EES had two aims: the prevention of procreation by those deemed unfit (particularly, the poor who were users of the Poor Law); and the encouragement of procreation amongst those deemed the fit. I couldn’t find any EES membership lists at the British Library or in the EES collection at the Wellcome Institute; so I don’t know for how long Isabel continued to be a member. She certainly still held eugenicist views when she prepared Superhumanity for publication in 1915; though she disagreed with Nietzsche’s views that the evolution of the super man would end the need for god.
Sources for the EES and its views during the time Isabel was definitely a member; not exhaustive but just giving an impression of what the EES stood for:
Times Thurs 15 October 1908 p4: coverage of a talk by the EES’s president Francis Galton in which he confirmed that unlike most eugenics societies, the EES would promote procreation by the right kind of citizen as well as the more usual prevention of procreation by the wrong kind.
Times Sat 9 Oct 1909 p7 a short report on a talk at the EES: Eugenics and Military Service, the gist of which was that the labouring classes were too weak to make good soldiers.
Eugenics and the Superman: A Racial Science and a Racial Religion by Maximilian A Mügge. Isabel would certainly have read this paper, because it was originally published in The Eugenics Review issue of October 1909 before being sold as a separate pamphlet by the EES of 6 York Buildings Adelphi. In the paper, Mügge puts the work of Francis Galton and Nietzsche together - scientist and theorist - as the basis for the creation of the super man, who would be “the accumulated, condensed virtue of all ages and nations”, by which Mügge meant the best of Buddhism, Sparta, Athens, Rome and “our Teutonic ancestors” (both quotes from p2).
A modern assessment of the EES:
Eugenics, Human Genetics and Human Failings. The Eugenics Society, its Sources and its Critics in Britain. Pauline M H Mazumdar. London, New York: Routledge 1992. The book stresses that eugenics was seen by the EES as a means of social control of the poor by the professional classes; and that members refused to acknowledge the part played by environment and social background in poverty - in keeping poor people poor.
The eugenics efforts of the Nazis are well known, but the eugenics experiments of the Americans are not: see Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism... by Steve Silberman. Penguin Random House 2015.
17 MAY 1909
Isabel’s old friend William Crosfield died.
Source: Probate Registry 1909.
Comment by Sally Davis: William Crosfield died in Liverpool Town Hall - I suppose while doing business of some kind there. As with the death in 1903 of Henry Cassels Kay, William Crosfield’s death broke a link with Isabel’s husband. Rudolf had now been dead over thirty years but I imagine it was still particularly sad for Isabel to hear of the death of his surviving executor. William had left his widow and daughter comfortably off so Fanny and Dora were able to continue to live at 3 Fulwood Park: that’s where they were on the day of the 1911 census though with a slightly reduced staff of cook, one housemaid and a parlour maid.
Source for 1911: census entry.
??1909 though the friendship may date back as far as the 1840s
Isabel became or continued to be a close friend of Mary Elizabeth Pitt-Taylor, of The Lawn Rock Ferry.
Comment by Sally Davis: Isabel and Mary Elizabeth Pitt-Taylor may even have been related, through the marriage of Isabel’s uncle Ambrose Lace to Margaret Clarke in 1822. Mary Elizabeth was the daughter of William Clarke and his wife Sarah Ann; born in 1844 at Gerard Street Liverpool. Because Clarke is such a common name, and so often mis-spelled, I haven’t tried to establish whether she and Isabel’s aunt Margaret were related.
If Isabel and Mary Elizabeth Clarke were related, then of course they had known each other from Isabel’s adolescence and Mary Elizabeth’s childhood. If they weren’t, then it’s likely that they got to know each other well when Isabel moved to Old Chester Road, very near to where Mary Elizabeth had been living since the 1870s.
In 1871 Mary Elizabeth Clarke - whose father had moved on from being a book-keeper to being in business on his own account - married Arthur William Pitt-Taylor, son of John Pitt-Taylor, a judge on the north-western circuit. Arthur worked in Liverpool as a cotton broker, with offices in the Queen Insurance Buildings. He and Mary Elizabeth moved into the house called The Lawn, in Rock Ferry, after their marriage and were still living there in the mid-1920s. They had three sons. Their son Francis became a doctor and was working at the Birkenhead and Wirral Children’s Hospital during 1898-99. When he left, GD member William MacFarlane was appointed to replace him; though I don’t know whether he met Isabel.
In her Will Isabel left Mary Elizabeth Pitt-Taylor her oval garnet and gold brooch. Mary Elizabeth did survive Isabel, but only by a few months. Her husband Arthur died in 1933.
Baptism: www.lan-opc.org.uk baptisms at Christ Church Hunter Street, Baptism Register 1813-51 p134 entry 1068 10 February 1844.
Marriage: also at www.lan-opc.org.uk, marriages at St George Everton. Marriage Register 1869-1872 p175 entry 349.
Gore’s Directory of Liverpool and its Environs issue of 1889 p7.
Francis Stanhope Pitt-Taylor as a doctor and at the children’s hospital: University of Manchester Register of Graduates seen as a snippet on google.
Will of Isabelle Elizabeth de Steiger dated 6 March 1924.
Probate Registry 1933 entry for Arthur William Pitt-Taylor.
A friend took Isabel on a drive in his car, around Queen’s Drive and Liverpool’s garden suburb at Wavertree. Isabel was delighted with what she saw - “new roads...adorned with trees and gardens and delightful little houses”. Her admiration for City Engineer James Alexander Brodie – designer of the Queen’s Drive road scheme - knew no bounds.
Memorabilia pxx, pxxii. Isabel doesn’t name the car driver, just calls him “a medical friend of mine”; but she must mean Henri Dubourg, whom she later named as executor of her Will. Henri and his brother were both GP’s in Liverpool. They were members of the GD’s daughter order Stella Matutina: R A Gilbert’s The Golden Dawn Companion p166 has a list of people who were active in SM at least between 1910 and 1914. Both Henri and his brother William were on it.
An account of Liverpool Garden Suburb from shortly after people moved in: seen at www.bbc.co.uk, Mersey Times but originally published in Garden Suburbs, Villages and Homes issue 2 summer 1912: Life in a Garden Suburb by Bryce Leicester. London: Co-Partnership Publications Ltd. The building of the houses started in 1910 and the first residents – who were tenants, not owner-occupiers – began to move in during 1912.
Design Culture in Liverpool 1880-1914: the Origins of the Liverpool School of Architecture by Christopher Crouch. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 2002: p13, p178, p182.
Comment by Sally Davis: Isabel’s medical friend was roused to take her on this trip to Liverpool’s new outskirts by listening so often to her condemning the ugly sprawl that had marked the expansion of Liverpool in the mid-19th century. The arterial road Queen’s Drive was begun in 1904; 6½ miles around and a minimum of 120 feet across, it was designed by City Engineer James Alexander Brodie to ease traffic flow while bringing green space into the city. It wasn’t part of Brodie’s brief to build a garden surburb near it, but in 1910 the Co-Partnership Tenants Ltd put forward a plan to build such a suburb on land enclosed by Queen’s Drive at Wavertree. The design of the houses in Liverpool Garden Suburb was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement – like Letchworth, in which Isabel was an investor (see 1902). In Memorabilia Isabel doesn’t have anything to say about the insanitary horrors that suburbs like Wavertree were designed to replace. Her enthusiasm was for the design and for the way the suburb was laid out, with its air of bringing the countryside to the city. Although it seems rather harsh of her, her attitude was consistent with her firm belief that art and beauty were as important to human society as drains and fresh air.
Isabel doesn’t date her afternoon out, but it was probably quite a few years after 1910, perhaps even after World War 1.
13 APRIL 1910
Mary Anne Atwood died at Knayton Lodge, her house near Thirsk. In her Will, Mrs Atwood left Isabel a large sapphire ring.
Source for Mrs Atwood’s death: probate registration.
Sources for Isabel’s response: Occult Review volume 11 number 5 May 1910 p279 and
Memorabilia p239. On the ring: Will of Isabelle Elizabeth de Steiger dated 6 March 1924 in which she left the ring to her nephew Verney Turnbull.
Comment by Sally Davis on Isabel’s response to Mrs Atwood’s death: Isabel saw herself as having the “prime duty” of editing and otherwise preparing Mrs Atwood’s book to be published for a second time. As soon after the death as May 1910, she also had a letter published announcing her intention of writing a short biography of Atwood, asking for people who had letters from Atwood in their possession to contact her, and acknowledging Atwood’s influence on her own On a Gold Basis.
Mrs Atwood’s great but almost unread book was A Suggestive Inquiry into Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy published privately in 1850 by Mrs Atwood under her maiden name of Mary Anne South. Isabel must have been doing the editing and notes over the next few years, at the same time as two other important projects.
The other result of the death of Mrs Atwood was Isabel’s decision to put together an account of her relationship with Mrs Atwood and Dr Kingsford: published in 1927 as my main source for this life-by-dates – Memorabilia.
LATE 1910 TO 1925
Isabel worked on and off on her last painting. She originally called it The Lady of Illlusion, but changed it to Castles in the Air, probably in 1917.
Comments by Sally Davis on Castles in the Air: it was quite a long life, by now, that Isabel was attempting to sum up - Isabel was 76 in 1912. No more paintings are mentioned by Isabel as having been completed or even started after it. I think Isabel meant it to be her last work as an artist.
- confirming Isabel as the painter: one of several pieces of paper attached to the back of the picture’s frame has “Painted by Isabelle de [Steiger missing from right-hand end]” on it.
- the date is not so straightforward. On three different pieces of paper stuck to the back of the frame are three slightly different dates:
“1910” written in Isabel’s handwriting
“1910 to 191” with the last number in the end-date missing
“1917”, also in Isabel’s handwriting.
It all points, I think, to a long gestation period, with fallow times and many changes of mind.
The painting’s meaning for Isabel: on Memorabilia p220 Isabel writing in 1925 when she was still working on it from time to time: on p219 she calls it a reminder of what she could have achieved if she had concentrated on her painting and not chosen to “follow many interests” ie spiritualism, theosophy and alchemy. In footnote1 on p219 she says that painting had helped her through her first years as a widow, when by her husband’s death she’d been given a freedom she had never wanted. Isabel was intending to exhibit Castles..: on p280 says that Castles was “destined to be hung in the Walker Art Gallery in 1926". As at September 2017 I still haven’t been able to find a copy of the WAG’s autumn exhibition catalogue for that year; to confirm that Castles.. was actually shown.
Information on its two titles and that it was for sale when exhibited:
1) the words “The Lady of Illusion, from the Greek Pilgrim’s Progress” are on one of the pieces of paper attached to be back of the frame. On another piece of paper, in Isabel’s handwriting, the address “42 Hawarden Avenue; price £150”.
Memorabilia p219: when discussing Castles… Isabel makes no mention of its earlier title.
I think that ‘the lady of illusion’ is a reference to a book: at archive.org you can see a copy of The Greek Pilgrim’s Progress, Generally known as The Picture; by “Kebes, a disciple of Sokrates?” published by the Comparative Literature Press Philadelphia as their “Volume First” in the Wisdom of the Ancients series. It’s a translation from the German of a work originally in Greek; done c 1910 by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie PhD. Philadelphia: Montsalvat Press of 1501 North Marshall Street. Privately printed and published London: Leizac and Co of 46 Gt Russell Street. I couldn’t spot the actual words ‘Lady of Illusion’ anywhere; but the book was printed in a Gothic-style script that I found very difficult to read so I expect I missed them. The general idea of the book was the journey of a male seeker after truth, threatened by all sorts of snares and wrong paths, all of them described as seductive women.
2) Castles in the Air is the title on a ‘with care’ label that was stuck to the back of the frame; in Isabel’s handwriting; price £150; address Hawarden Avenue (no house number on this piece of paper) Liverpool. Slip signed off on behalf of Jackson and Sons (see below for more on them).
In an email to me of 29 May 2017 Ben Fernee of Caduceus Books said that ‘castles in the air’ is a phrase familiar to esotericists. To quote Ben: “The term "castle" is used by some witches to refer to their sacred spacre or magic circle here, and the term Château likewise in France. But I doubt Isabel would have encountered this usage. It is very obscure...Dr. Herbert Silberer uses it in Problems of Mysticism and Its Symbolism published in 1917 to refer to the Freudian view of dreams as wish fantasies. Mostly this book is about alchemical symbolism so I think it highly likely she was aware of it. Also, putting the phrase into the title field for the British Library catalogue turns up loads of hits...”
Summing up Silberer’s wikipedia entry: 1882-1923, Viennese psychoanalyst. Originally one of Freud’s circle but disagreements over the interpretation of dreams caused them to fall out. The book Ben Fernee suggested was a possible source for ‘castles in the air’ was published in German 1914 as Probleme der Mystik und ihrer Symbolik. Its starting point was the Rosicrucian text the Parabola Allegory. Silberer’s argument was that Freudian psychoanalysis can only go so far in interpreting dreams or understanding creativity.
Isabel would have agreed, I think, with Silberer’s arguments about dream interpretation. She could have read the book in German if she had been able to obtain a copy. An English translation followed very quickly: Problems of Mysticism and Symbolism translated by Smith Ely Jelliffe and published New York: Moffat Yard and Co; London: Kegan Paul 1917.
CENSUS DAY 1911
Census day 1911 found Isabel in the UK for once. She was still living in Rock Ferry at 399 Old Chester Road and still had enough money to employ the one basic general servant, Mary Jane Evans, aged 54. None of her close relations were living near her - the two sets that had been living in Cheshire were both now living in London. Isabel’s unmarried sister Constantia Lace and their unmarried niece Theodosia Lace had gone to 64 Ashley Gardens Westminster. And Cécile Marguérite Lace, widow of Charles Verney Lace, was at 36 Holland Villas Road Kensington.
John and Helena Turnbull and their daughters Constance and Christine were still living in the rectory at Great Linford. John and Helena’s son Verney Turnbull was a lodger in the boarding house at 110 Guilford Street Russell Square, run by William and Sarah Tizard; he was still working as a journalist. A lot had changed for Isabel’s sister Rosamond: after her husband’s death she had moved out of The Lodge. She was now living alone at a house called the White Lodge - still a substantial residence, with eight habitable rooms.
Constantia and Theodosia Lace, the Turnbulls, and widow Rosamond Burton were all employing roughly the same servants: a cook or housekeeper, and a housemaid or parlourmaid.
Source: 1911 census which is the first where the householder filled in the census form for their household.
AUTUMN-WINTER 1911 to 1912
Isabel spent the winter at Bournemouth. During her time there she met Alfred Russell Wallace’s daughters, although she never knew the man himself.
Sources: Occult Review volume 14 number 6 December 1911 p349; and Memorabilia p213.
18 NOVEMBER 1911
Isabel began her first attempt to write Memorabilia. Perhaps she was in Bournemouth on that day, having moved there in order to begin work. In this first attempt, she got to the end of Chapter IX, the early-1870s, before putting it to one side, writing later that it “caused me much difficulty” and that what she had written to date had been “hardly in accordance with my original intention”.
Source: Memorabilia p1 and p95 for (for once) a specific date.
Comment by Sally: it’s clear that working on Mrs Atwood’s book had caused Isabel to reflect on her own spiritual journey - which was entering yet another new phase.
DECEMBER 1911 and again FEBRUARY 1912
An article and a letter by Isabel on A E Waite’s The Secret Traditions of Freemasonry appeared in Occult Review. Although she praised Waite’s book as “magnificent and monumental” she pointed out that his attitude towards the work of Mary Anne Atwood had changed since his magazine The Unknown World and his book Lives of the Alchemical Philosophers and - in Isabel’s opinion - for the worse. She took the opportunity to announce the imminent publication of her own new edition of Atwood’s A Suggestive Inquiry....
Source: Occult Review volume 14 number 6 December 1911 pp346-349 and Occult Review volumer 15 number 2 February 1912 pp105-06.
The Alchemical Society was founded as a forum for the study of alchemy in theory and practise. Isabel and A E Waite both joined it, and maintained friendly relations despite Isabel’s recent criticisms of Waite’s attitude to Mary Ann Atwood. They were the Society’s two honorary vice-presidents during the two years of its existence. The Society held meetings each month.
Source: Memorabilia p273 but Isabel dates the founding of the Society as January 1913. Perhaps that’s the date she first went to a meeting. I’m supposing most meetings were held in London.
Source for the Society’s founding and for Waite’s changed attitude towards the work of Mary Ann Atwood: A E Waite: Magician of Many Parts by R A Gilbert. Wellingborough: Crucible 1987: p151-52.
1 JANUARY 1913
Isabel read an article in the weekly paper The Christian Commonwealth which she identified with: it argued that programmes of social reform should be seen as complementing religious commitment, not as replacing it.
Source: The Christian Commonwealth volume 33 issue 1629 of Wednesday 1 January 1913. Page 251: Religion and Social Reform, by Rev E W Lewis. The subtitle of Rev Lewis’ argument was: “does religion need to be saved from the social reformer?”, too many of whom (he argued) had no particular religious belief and wanted to improve social conditions by taking action, rather than through prayer and contemplation. Isabel agreed very strongly with Rev Lewis’ argument that social reform without religious practice would always result in a lack of quality of life; and she incorporated a reference to it in the book form of Superhumanity (its page 118). He also argued that the Church must resist any attempt by social reformers to use it for their purposes; he especially mentioned the extension of the right to vote, in this context. Religious observance and social reform were not an ‘either/or’; but if it came to a choice of one or the other, Society would be the better for choosing the Church rather than a programme of social reform. I don’t know whether Isabel would have been quite so comfortable with Rev Lewis’s parting shot, though: that if the Church, rather than social reformers, was to undertake to improve society, it could only be after the Church itself had undergone “the biggest revolution the world has ever seen”.
If Isabel read the paper’s next issue, that of Wedneday 8 January 1913, she will have seen an editorial quoting evidence for a continuation of the decline in church and Sunday school attendance that had begun in 1906; using figures from churches in Liverpool. She will also have seen a riposte to Rev Lewis’ argument, by Herbert Burrows.
Source: The Christian Commonwealth volume 33 number 1630 issue of Wednesday 8 January 1913 p273, p270.
Comment by Sally Davis: The Christian Commonwealth was first published in 1881; it managed to survive changing times, and the first World War, but ceased publication in September 1919.
Judging from adverts and articles in the issues of January 1913 its Christian stance was a broad-minded one: there was coverage of the visit to England by Abdul Baha, the current leader of the Ba’hai faith, that The Christian Commonwealth had helped to publicise and promote. There were adverts for talks on Buddhism. There were interviews with a member of the Society for Psychical Research and Mrs Sophie Bryant, current head-mistress of the North London Collegiate School. In 1913 issues cost 1d at the newspaper stall or shop; or 6 shillings and 6d for a yearly subscription.
SPRING 1913 TO AUGUST 1914
Isabel’s book Superhumanity was published in several parts in the journal The Path. This was the work Isabel was particularly thinking of when she said her writings were looking ahead to the Age of Aquarius, an Age Isabel thought would be accompanied by “a further step forward in man’s evolution”.
More information on magazine The Path from Villeneuve’s Rudolf Steiner in Britain (for full publication details see just below) p245, 248 The Path had been set up by the newly founded (or possibly re-founded) Theosophical Society Scottish Section; its first issue had been published in July 1910. It was printed by the Blavatsky Institute, whose headquarters were at Hale near Altrincham in Cheshire. The British Library catalogue has volumes 1 to 4, probably all that were issued; they cover July 1910 to September 1914.
Sources for the serialising of the book: Occult Review volume 17 number 5 May 1913 p295, Occult Review volume 20 number 2 August 1914 p120 and Memorabilia p136, p274-75.
Some sources for the Blavatsky Institute:
The Theosophist volume 32 1911 p155; catalogue.nla.gov.au, in the introduction to its issues of The Path; and www.suffolkpainters.co.uk, biography of Alice Leisenring.
Comments by Sally Davis:
1) The central figures in the Theosophical Society in Scotland were Isabel’s friends John William Brodie-Innes and his wife Frances: in the 1890s the TS Edinburgh branch used to meet at their house.
2) I’ve come across this feeling that Humanity was at or approaching the dawn of a new and better age in quite a few works by GD and TS members. Even the first World War didn’t put an end to the hopes of some of them.
19 JULY TO 2 AUGUST 1913
Isabel attended the Steiner-influenced 5th International Summer School, held at the Peebles Hotel-Hydro.
Source for the occasion: Memorabilia but I can’t find the page number!
Source for the exact dates and place: Rudolf Steiner in Britain: A Documentation of his Ten Visits. Volume 1 1902-21. By Crispian Villeneuve. Forest Row: Temple Lodge 2004 p412 quoting the official announcement, published in the TS’s members’ magazine The Vahan. Just noting from p11 of this volume that Isabel could have met Steiner in London as early as 1902. He also visited in 1903, 1904, 1905 and spring 1913; then not again until 1922.
?1913; or possibly as late as 1923
Isabel joined what she called the Anthroposophical Society of Spiritual Science.
Source: Memorabilia p135
Website www.anthroposophy.org.uk is the Society’s own: a spiritual path respecting the freedom of the individual; and recognising that freedom was something inside you, to be worked towards through spiritual development. Founded 1913 in Switzerland by Rudolf Steiner as the Anthroposophical Society; then re-founded in 1923 together with the new School of Spiritual Science.
Information from wikipedia on Rudolf Steiner: born 1861 Croatia; died 1925 Switzerland. From 1902 to 1913 Steiner was involved with the Theosophical Society in Europe.
Comment by Sally: Steiner’s idea that each person should follow their own spiritual path; and his emphasis on meditation; were tailor-made for Isabel.
14 NOVEMBER 1913
Isabel read her paper The Hermetic Mystery at an Alchemical Society meeting. It was later published in the Society’s Transactions.
Source: Memorabilia p274.
Christian David Ginsburg died.
Comment by Sally Davis: see 1864 for Isabel meeting him through the Crosfields; and 1883 for why Isabel might not have been aware that he had died; though from her mentions of the work of Jewish scholars on the books of the Old Testament, she still appreciated her discussions with him on the subject.
Isabel’s nephew Verney Cameron Turnbull’s book Stories from Robert Browning was published.
Source: the book - Stories from Robert Browning by V Cameron Turnbull with 12 illustrations by Sybil Barham. London: George G Harrap and Co of 2-3 Portsmouth Street Kingsway. 1914
Comment by Sally Davis: this may be of no relevance to Isabel at all. The book’s dedicated to Verney’s parents - Isabel’s sister Helena Turnbull and her husband the Rev John - and there’s no mention of Isabel anywhere in it. I include it in this life-by-dates for three reasons: firstly, Verney ended his working life as a reader for a publishing company - perhaps Harrap was that company; secondly, this book is the only item I’ve found published by any of Isabel’s close relations; and thirdly, while she ignored many of her nieces and nephews, Isabel did leave something to Verney in her Will.
A E Waite closed down the Independent and Rectified Rite or Order, which had been dogged by the same kind of internal strife that had bedevilled the GD. I’m not sure that the closure made much difference to Isabel as she hadn’t been a very active member of the Order.
R A Gilbert’s The Golden Dawn Companion published Wellingborough Northants, The Aquarian Press 1986 p175.
BY SUMMER 1914
Isabel had moved to Llangollen, and rented a house called Vron Dêg. She lived there until late 1915 or early 1916.
Occult Review volume 20 number 1 July 1914 pp45-47; and Occult Review volume 21 number 6 June 1915 pp356-57.
National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, Minute Books of the Llangollen branch; December 1914 to December 1915. Seen by Barbara Lawson-Reay who sent me the details.
Once again Isabel felt herself called upon to defend the reputation of Anna Bonus Kingsford, and to a lesser extent Edward Maitland; this time against an article in the magazine The Seeker. What had upset Isabel particularly was the article’s suggestion that Dr Kingsford was not a genuine mystic, just a woman exploiting occult teachings for her own ends; and that she was making money during her lifetime from selling patent medicines.
Source: Occult Review volume 20 number 1 July 1914 pp45-47. The article that had so annoyed her had been published in The Seeker’s issue of May 1914.
I think the War delayed the re-publication of Mrs Atwood’s book.
WHILE ISABEL WAS LIVING IN LLANGOLLEN so summer 1914 to end 1915
She was still sketching and painting.
Liverpool Autumn Exhibition catalogue for 1925 p54 catalogue number 1058 a small oil painting by Isabel called The River Dee at Llangollen.
DECEMBER 1914 TO DECEMBER 1915
Isabel was on the committee of the Llangollen branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, stepping down only because she was about to leave the district. She and Bertha Aikin also ran a members’ reading group that year.
National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, Minute Books of the Llangollen branch; December 1914 to December 1915. Seen by Barbara Lawson-Reay who sent me the details by email November 1917.
Comment by Sally Davis: Barbara has been researching the members of Llangollen’s NUWSS and has come up with a possible reason why Isabel moved there – even if it was for only a short time. She has found that Bertha Aikin, née Gorst, had been born in Thornton Hough near Rock Ferry; and that she was an artist and etcher. Perhaps Isabel had known Bertha in Liverpool.
BY JUNE 1915
Isabel had inherited a manuscript entitled Divine Revelations and Prophecies, apparently written down by Mrs Jane Lead (sic). Isabel was particularly curious about one prophecy, headed, ‘Remarkable Prophecy by a Jew’ which predicted the birth of an Englishman who would build a new Jerusalem and convert the Jews to Christianity. She wrote to Occult Review wondering if any readers knew who the Jewish prophet might have been.
Source: Occult Review volume 21 number 6 June 1915 pp356-57. Looking through the volumes for the next few years, I couldn’t find any reply to Isabel’s query.
Comment by Sally Davis: Isabel didn’t mention who she had inherited this manuscript from; or how long she had owned it herself. Perhaps it had been Mrs Atwood’s.
END OF 1915/BEGINNING OF 1916
Isabel left Llangollen.
Source: at cymru1914.org is the edition of the Llangollen Advertiser for 17 December 1915 in which there’s an advert for Vron Deg, available to be let.
Comment by Sally Davis: I suppose she moved back to Rock Ferry; she was certainly living there again by March 1917.
Isabel’s articles in the magazine The Path (1913) were published in book form as Superhumanity: A Suggestive Enquiry into the Mystic and Material Meaning of the Christian Word Regeneration.
Source: the book, published London: Elliot Stock of 7 Paternoster Row EC.
Comment by Sally Davis: in the Preface Isabel admitted that, as articles, her ideas had only reached “a small circle of readers”. Their response, though, had been “so gratifying and stimulating” that she had been encouraged to publish the articles as a book. She felt like a Cassandra in doing so, however. Superhumanity would be drawing attention to an “unforeseen crisis” of Christianity that was being overlooked by a world at war. If something was not done about the crisis as a matter of urgency, the human species was in danger of a second Fall and Christianity would lose its status as the world’s dominant religion and source of social organisation. The second Fall would also delay or even prevent the achievement by the human species of a higher level of spiritual development: the superhumanity of the title. Isabel envisaged that super-human status would be achieved by means of eugenics - the procreation of those who were more spiritually advanced than the rest of society and the discouragement of procreation amongst those who were less so.
Source for Isabel’s reasons for publishing: Preface pv-vi.
1917 AND PROBABLY FOR MANY YEARS BEFORE
Isabel was a regular reader of the Daily Mail for which she had an ”esteem” which was “extreme”. However, an article called ‘Psychic Brain Storms’ had annoyed her and she wrote to the Occult Review to denounce it, especially its “contemptible” treatment of the work of spiritualist Sir Oliver Lodge - apparently the Mail had called his latest publication a “Spook Book”.
Source: Occult Review volume 25 number 3 March 1917 pp174-75.
BY MARCH 1917
Isabel had moved back to Rock Ferry.
Source: Occult Review volume 25 number 3 March 1917 pp174-75.
Isabel’s Superhumanity was published in book form, by publisher Elliot Stock. The subtitle Isabel had chosen for the work consciously echoed Mrs Atwood’s book. It was “A Suggestive Inquiry into the Material and Mystic Meaning of the Word Regeneration”.
Source: Occult Review volume 26 number 4 October 1917 p241 in the forthcoming publications section.
22 FEBRUARY 1918
After a gap of several years, Isabel went back to writing Memorabilia, beginning again with Chapter X and the 1870s and possibly revising one or two chapters she’d written earlier. By this time she was aware of post-Impressionism and even Cubism, but felt that both styles reduced art solely to an expression of feeling and refused the challenge of painting in three dimensions.
Source: Memorabilia p95, p110-11.
Isabel’s new edition of Mary Anne South’s A Suggestive Inquiry into Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy was finally published, under Miss South’s married name of Atwood. Some people wrote to Isabel to congratulate her on the editing and other work she had done to get it back in the public domain. However, A E Waite in Occult Review mentioned only Walter Leslie Wilmhurst as author (Wilmhurst had done the introduction but nothing else) setting a trend that still continues of ignoring Isabel’s far greater contribution. One friend who wrote to Isabel to acknowledge what she had done was ex-GD member Sydney Turner Klein; he and Isabel had corresponded for many years and continued to exchange letters at least until 1925. Klein thought Isabel should have done the introduction herself but Isabel felt that - given the book’s intellectual nature - a man was better suited to the task of introducing it.
What Isabel considered her final task as Mrs Atwood’s last pupil was done. Looking back at the re-issue at the end of the 1920s, she felt depressed about the outcome. She felt that hardly any more people had read the re-issued work than had read the original publication.
Publication details for the new edition of Mary Anne South’s book: A Suggestive Inquiry into Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy by Mary Anne Atwood, published in Belfast by William Tait and in London by the well-known esoteric publisher and book-shop owner J M Watkins. With an Introduction by Walter Leslie Wilmshurst. Watkins knew many members of the GD and published books by several of them; however, he was never a GD member himself.
Source for Waite’s misleading review: Occult Review volume 28 number 1 July 1918 pp44-46, article by A E Waite: The Hermetic Tradition.
Source for Isabel’s reflections: Memorabilia p221, p240.
Comment by Sally: for a website which completely ignores Isabel’s contribution, see wikipedia’s page on the book, where Wilmshurst is given all the credit and Isabel’s name isn’t even mentioned.
20 MAY 1918
Isabel’s sister Rosamond Elizabeth Burton died.
Source: Probate Registry 1918.
The effort she had made, over several years, to resurrect Mrs Atwood’s great work, had left Isabel feeling tired and in low spirits but she was still reading Occult Review regularly, and with care. She wrote to agree with an article by Richard Bush in which he argued that a child was conceived by the actions of the parents, not by the direct action of God. However, she did still believe that there was a “spiritual tincture” in a human foetus that lifted it above the foetus of any other animal. This spiritual tincture gave Man a capacity to rise to a super-human state of being, provided Man had true faith in God.
Source: Occult Review volume 28 number 1 July 1918 pp47-48.
Comment by Sally Davis: because Memorabilia was about Isabel’s life in the occult more than her life with her family, she didn’t mention the death of her sister as a reason for her low spirits this year. It was over 30 years since their two brothers had died, but with Rosamond’s death a new threshold had been crossed. But even the war might have been getting Isabel down like it was everyone else as it remorselessly entered its fifth summer of fighting, having brought food shortages in 1917 and being about to bring Spanish flu.
SATURDAY 14 DECEMBER 1918
Voting took place in the 1918 General Election. As a result of the Representation of the People Act 1917, Isabel was eligible to vote in a general election for the first time. She was 83.
Source for the date: see wikipedia.
25 MARCH 1920
Isabel’s niece Theodosia Lace died, the last of the children of Isabel’s brother Joshua Verney Lovett Lace.
Source: Probate Registry 1921.
Isabel began on Memorabilia chapter XIII. In that chapter and those that followed she covered her meetings with Kingsford and Atwood, spiritualism and theosophy - the beginnings of her spiritual quest.
Source: Memorabilia p125.
Isabel’s brother-in-law Rev John Turnbull, and her sister Helena Turnbull, died within weeks of each other.
Source for both deaths: Probate Registry 1922.
Comment by Sally Davis: Rev John seems to have retired from active work as the rector of Great Linford a few years before his death. Leaving the charge of the parish to a curate, he and Helena went to live at 6 High Street Olney. At some point after the death of Theodosia Lace (in 1920) Constantia Lace went to live there too. Also living there permanently were John and Helena’s two daughters, Constance and Christine. Their sons went also there to live, in between jobs and when they retired - so that there were Turnbulls living at 6 High Street Olney until the 1960s. I have to say that there’s something odd about John and Helena’s family: six children, none of whom ever seems to have married.
In January 1922 an article by S Foster Damon appeared in Occult Review in which he likened what spiritualists called ectoplasm to what alchemists called “first matter”. Isabel was inspired to write in, not discussing whether Foster Damon was right or wrong, but describing the contradictory reactions of alchemists to their creation of first matter, a process that was not only illegal, but against the laws of nature, and very dangerous as well. Alchemists were willing to take the risks of offending both God and men, though, on the chance that they might create gold by chemical process. She ended the article with a quote from Philalethes, whose work she knew well.
Source: Occult Review volume 35 number 5 May 1922 pp298-99.
BY MAY 1922
Isabel had changed her address for what was probably the last time, moving across the Mersey to 42 Hawarden Avenue Liverpool, on the edge of the Aigburth district where she had begun her married life.
Source: Occult Review volume 35 number 5 issue of May 1922 pp298-99.
Comment by Sally Davis: Hawarden Avenue was also close to Fulwood Park where her friends William and Fanny Crosfield had lived, and their daughter Dora was still living.
IN 1924 and possibly up to Isabel’s death
Isabel was still employing one servant, a woman called Clare or Clara Reece.
Source: Will of Isabelle Elizabeth de Steiger 6 March 1924.
Comment by Sally Davis: I’ve searched for the woman Isabel actually calls ‘clare’ Reece, but can only find (on the 1911 census and elsewhere) women called Clara; so that’s a bit confusing. If Clare or Clara was still working for Isabel when Isabel died, she will have been one of Isabel’s beneficiaries.
Isabel prepared her Will. It was signed on 6 March 1924.
Source: the Will.
Comment by Sally Davis: the witnesses were a Dr Parry Jones of 9 Hawarden Avenue; and an Ernest Johnson whose address I can’t quite read except that it’s in Liverpool somewhere.
31 MAY 1924
Another of the generation below Isabel died: Herbert Arthur Sutton of Kelham House, Newark-on-Trent, the widower of her niece Josephine.
Source: Probate Registry 1924.
Isabel covered the years just before the first World War, and finally brought her life up to date, in Memorabilia chapters XXI to XXVII. She was living very quietly, with very few friends but quite a few correspondents including Sydney Turner Klein and A E Waite.
Source: Memorabilia p220-221.
Comment by Sally Davis: A E Waite was an ex-GD member, of course; and Sydney Turner Klein been in the GD in the 1890s.
John Robert Henry Dubourg’s daughter Gladys married Lancelot Edwards and went to live in Essex.
Isabel showed one last art work, at the Walker Art Gallery autumn exhibition. It was a landscape, The River Dee at Llangollen.
Source: Liverpool Autumn Exhibition 1925 catalogue; p54 catalogue number 1058: oil painting, for sale at £10/00; one of a set on the staircase to Room X.
Comments by Sally Davis: I hadn’t heard of this work until I was sent a copy of the relevant page in the catalogue by Alex Kidson in June 2018. So thank you, Alex. It’s only the second work I’ve found by Isabel exhibited after 1900 and – like the other one – it’s a small landscape; though I note that Isabel was still painting in oils.
25 MAY 1926
Dora Crosfield, daughter of Isabel’s close friends William and Fanny Elizabeth Crosfield, died.
Sources: Probate Registry 1926 and www.toxtethparkcemetery.co.uk an Index to burials in Toxteth Park cemetery. In the list of burials 1920-29: Dora Margaret Crosfield date of burial 28 May 1926.
28 AUGUST 1926
A short codicil to Isabel’s Will was signed.
Source: Will of Isabelle Elizabeth de Steiger. Unlike the main body of the Will from 1924, the codicil was typed. It was witnessed by schoolteacher Florence Huntley, and office worker Ernest Gabrielson.
Comment by Sally Davis: I bet thereby hangs a tale! The codicil leaves what was then quite a large sum of money to one of Isabel’s nieces, one not mentioned in the Will itself, and not one of the unmarried women nieces Isabel had, who might have been in more need of the money.
Despite her intentions and preparations, Isabel’s Castles in the Air was NOT exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery autumn show.
On Memorabilia p280 Isabel stated in so many words that she was preparing to exhibit Castles… at the Walker Art Gallery in 1926. On the back of the painting are indications of how far the preparations had gone: there’s a label of the Liverpool picture-framing firm of R Jackson and Sons; and Isabel had stuck a piece of paper on the back giving a price of £150 and her address in Hawarden Avenue. Evidence that the painting wasn’t in the 1926 exhibition was sent me on 7 June 2018 by Alex Kidson, who looked at the 1926 catalogue for me when I couldn’t find a copy. In case Isabel had mistaken the year, Alex checked 1925; but Castles... wasn’t in that show either.
Comment by Sally Davis on why Castles… wasn’t in the exhibition. Castles… is such a personal painting that I’ve been surprised that Isabel wanted to exhibit it at all; perhaps, when the chips were down, she couldn’t bring herself to put it on show. However, it’s also sad but possible that Castles... was rejected by the committee that oversaw the selection process. Isabel’s views on subject-matter and style had been sounding and looking out-moded by the 1890s; and by the mid-1920s her name and that of her family were no longer known in Liverpool. Time had moved on.
R Jackson and Sons had been founded by Robert P Jackson at 3 Slater Street Liverpool in 1866. The firm still exists, in premises not far from its original address: see www.rjacksonandsons.co.uk.
1 JANUARY 1927
Isabel de Steiger died at her home at 42 Hawarden Avenue, a few weeks short of her 91st birthday. The two executors of her Will were John Robert Henry Dubourg and Léonie Topham Steele.
Sources: Probate on Will of Isabelle Elizabeth de Steiger; Probate Registry 1927; and Occult Review volume 45 number 2 February 1927 pp78-79.
Comments by Sally Davis: in On A Gold Basis and again (with more urgency) in Superhumanity, Isabel had discussed the concept of death as “the supreme initiation”, as the gateway to eternity; so that your life needed to be a preparation for that moment. This was something that she had read about in the works of Jacob Böhme, and probably talked over with Anna Bonus Kingsford. No one can say that during her life, Isabel had not done her very best to prepare herself; I’m sure she was ready.
On a more mundane level, Isabel had continued mentally alert until her final illness: only a few days before contracting pneumonia she had written an eleven-page letter to Occult Review, defending Mary Anne Atwood’s views on alchemy. The letter wasn’t published. Times had moved on - Occult Review had a new editor, who paid tribute to Isabel in his editorial for the February issue, but didn’t think her of sufficient interest for a separate obituary. However, he did wish Isabel’s soul well after her “long and active” life, sure that it would now be undergoing the spiritual regeneration that she had so fervently believed in.
Sources for Isabel’s attitude to death as a passage to the world beyond:
On A Gold Basis: A Treatise on Mysticism. London: William Rider and Son Ltd 1909: p24 mentioning the work of Böhme.
Superhumanity: A Suggestive Enquiry into the Mystic and Material Meaning of the Christian Word Regeneration London: Elliot Stock 1916: p163 with a footnote citing Kingsford’s The Perfect Way.
Memorabilia: Reminiscences of a Woman Artist and Writer by Isabelle (sic) de Steiger was published in London by Rider and Co, publishers of Occult Review. A E Waite had written a Preface for it.
Source: the book.
Now that the Dubourg family have sent me a copy of Isabel’s Will I can write a short section on who was bequeathed something in it - and who was not.
Source: Will of Isabelle Elizabeth de Steiger dated 6 March 1924 and one Codicil dated 28 August 1926.
Isabel’s executors were her two friends Léonie Topham Steele and John Robert Henry Dubourg.
WHO BENEFITED? And who didn’t. Comments by Sally Davis:
When Richard Dubourg first sent me a copy of Isabel’s Will, I emailed him back that I hardly knew any of the beneficiaries! I’m still not sure about the identification of one of them, whose name I found difficult to read. Not all of them were family. In fact, non-family members did well out of the Will while most of Isabel’s nephews and nieces were ignored in it.
Isabel left several people pieces of jewellery:
- Mary Pitt-Taylor got an oval brooch in gold with garnet decoration
- Léonie Topham Steele was left Isabel’s topaz cross and her amber necklace
- if Clara Reece had still been in Isabel’s employment when Isabel died, she will have got Isabel’s silver watches (as well as other things)
- Constance Turnbull (who was also one of the legatees) got all Isabel’s other jewellery, Isabel mentioning two rings in particular - a small diamond and sapphire ring and one with an amethyst with diamonds set round it
- this is the person whose name I can’t quite decipher: a Miss ?E Bewley was left Isabel’s gold chain
- a signet ring with the de Steiger family coronet on it was to be returned to the de Steiger family, whose property Isabel clearly thought it was
- Verney Cameron Turnbull got a large sapphire ring that Isabel had inherited from Mary Ann Atwood. I’d love to know where that is now.
As well as the silver watches, if Clara Reece was still working for Isabel when Isabel died, she would have inherited all Isabel’s clothes and all her furniture and other items in the house which were not specified as going to anyone else.
To me, this is the interesting bit: what Isabel left to Henri (actually John Robert Henry) Dubourg. He got all the pictures Isabel still had amongst her possessions, and all the photographs she had of her paintings; a black and white engraving of a Christ figure; and some coloured Egyptian panels which she had put over the doors in the hallway (Isabel had probably been carrying them about with her since she had lived in Egypt). Isabel also returned to him some colour-prints he had given her which she had hung on the walls in her bedroom. Perhaps hoping that he might derive some financial benefit from it, Isabel left him the right to any royalties from her three occult works (which they had probably spent many hours discussing): The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary (in which she was translator not author); On a Gold Basis; and Superhumanity. Lastly, John Robert Henry Dubourg got the manuscript of Isabel’s Memorabilia, which he duly saw through the publication process.
Isabel left £5 to Charles Barlow, manager of the Bank of Liverpool and Martin’s Limited at Rock Ferry; perhaps as a ‘thank you’ for financial help he had given her.
Isabel’s niece Constance Helena McCorquodale (one of her sister Rosamond Burton’s daughters) got £300. This was an afterthought, in a Codicil signed two years after the Will.
Everything else was given equally to her niece Constance Turnbull and Constance’s brother Verney Cameron Turnbull (two of the six children of Isabel’s sister Helena Turnbull). The ‘everything else’ must mostly have been any stocks and shares Isabel owned, as the contents of the house were all going to other people unless Clara Reece had left Isabel’s employment.
To me, who amongst Isabel’s family was NOT left anything is as intriguing as who did benefit. Isabel left nothing to her only surviving sister Constantia Lace. Maybe Isabel supposed that Constantia would die before her; but she also left nothing to any of the descendents of her brother Joshua Verney Lovett Lace whom Constantia had cared for for so long. In leaving money to Constance McCorquodale, Isabel was benefiting the child of Rosamond Burton whose financial circumstances were probably the most comfortable; while ignoring Constance’s three sisters and one brother, one of whom might even have been a god-child. And she also left nothing to the other four Turnbulls, children of her sister Helena. I suppose that to benefit all of them would have reduced the value of the bequests to very little; but I do feel that thereby hangs a tale, probably several tales, of family indifference or even strife. That Verney Cameron Turnbull should be left an item Isabel had been bequeathed by Mary Anne Atwood suggests that he had taken at least some interest in Isabel’s occult studies; but I haven’t found any other indication of that - he isn’t mentioned at all in Memorabilia and none of Isabel’s publications are dedicated to him.
AFTER ISABEL’S DEATH
Isabel’s sister Constantia Mary Lace died aged 96 in the Turnbulls’ house at Olney, Buckinghamshire.
Source: Probate Registry 1929.
Comment by Sally Davis: Constantia was the first Lace sister to be born; the only one not to marry; and the last to survive. Perhaps there’s a message in there somewhere!
John Robert Henry Dubourg died in Liverpool.
Source: Probate Registry 1934. William Ernest Dubourg was his executor.
Isabel’s niece and beneficiary Constance Mary Verney Turnbull died.
Source: Probate Registry 1943.
Comment by Sally Davis: as far as I’ve been able to discover, none of the Turnbull children ever married. Certainly, Constance Turnbull didn’t do so. Without obtaining a copy of Constance’s Will I’m not able to say who were her beneficiaries; probably her brothers (as her sister Christine was already dead). The electoral registers for Buckinghamshire (seen at www.myheritage.co.uk) show Constance’s brothers Arthur, John and Verney living at 6 High Street Olney in 1951; all now retired and all apparently unmarried.
Isabel’s beneficiary Verney Cameron Turnbull died.
Sources: Probate Registry 1965, 1966.
Comment by Sally Davis: Verney was the second-last of the Turnbull children to die; he was living at 6 High Street Olney at that time. His executor was Rev Ronald Collins, whose task it will have been to see that Mary Anne Atwood’s ring - if it was still in Verney’s possession - was received by his heirs. Perhaps his heir was the last surviving Turnbull, his brother John Gervaise. John Gervaise died in 1966 at a nursing home in Olney. His Will had named Verney as his executor and had not been altered when Verney died.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
15 June 2018
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