ISABEL DE STEIGER 1836-1927, continuing her life-by-dates: 1881 to autumn 1882, with Isabel continuing her career as a painter while also becoming more involved in London’s occult scene.

This particular UPDATE is December 2022, putting in a bit more information on Ann (or Anne) Judith Penny.


Just re-stating the Golden Dawn connection:

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.

THE LAYOUT BELOW which I hope isn’t too difficult to read.

What Isabel was doing, tends to be in italics. My comments, and the sources, are typed in my usual Times New Roman.

Lastly, before we start, a quick note on her name: she was baptised with it spelled in the French way - Isabelle - and did return to that spelling from time to time in her life. For most of her life, however, she used ‘Isabel’ and I’ll stick with that.


Isabel was elected a member of the Albemarle Club.

Source: Memorabilia p156

Comment by Sally: I haven’t found many references to the Albemarle Club, but a short page in wikipedia says that it was a private members’ club which had women members as well as men. That makes it virtually unique in London’s contemporary club scene. It hadn’t been going long when Isabel joined - it was founded in 1874, at 13 Albemarle Street (hence its name). Oscar Wilde was a member in 1895 and the Albemarle Club was where the sequence of events began which led to Oscar’s conviction for homosexuality.

POSSIBLY AS EARLY AS 1881 though the only evidence I have is from 1913

Isabel began to read the newspaper The Christian Commonwealth regularly.

Source for the newspaper: the British Library catalogue has a full run of issues of it, which was published weekly from 1881 to September 1919.

Comment by Sally Davis: the only mention of The Christian Commonwealth that I’ve found in Isabel’s writings is on p118 of her book Superhumanity (published 1915): she refers to an article in its issue of 1 January 1913, about the decline in religion. It’s possible that she had always been a regular reader, however - looking at the contents and adverts in the issues of January 1913, I’d say that the paper covered just the kind of religious and spiritual issues that interested her. Its writers and tone were mostly Christian but there were also adverts for books and talks on Buddhism; some coverage of spiritualism and the Society for Psychical Research; and a great deal of coverage of a visit to England by the current leader of the Bahai faith, Abdul Baha.

Source: The Christian Commonwealth volume 33 issue 1629 Wednesday 1 January 1913.

8 JANUARY 1881

The first issue was published of the weekly occultist newspaper, Light (which had various subtitles). In that first issue was a report on the most recent meeting of the Council of the British National Association of Spiritualists, at which Isabel’s resignation from the Council had been accepted.

Sources: Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter. London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus. Volume 1 January-December 1881, volume 10 1890 and volume 11 1891.

Comment by Sally Davis: the Saturday which saw the first issue of Light was a red-letter day in Isabel’s life though she probably didn’t recognise its importance at the time. Isabel was a regular reader for several decades, and a regular writer of letters to it as well; becaming acquainted with occultists Ann Judith Penny and Mary Ann Atwood as a result.

In the 1880s Light was closely associated with the British National Association of Spiritualists and the BNAS’ descendant organisations, the Central Association of Spiritualists and (from 1884) the London Spiritualists’ Alliance. However, its content didn’t change a great deal during the 1880s except to emphasis events in London a little more.

Comment June 2016 by Sally Davis on the early years of the magazine Light: I’ve just been contacted by Leslie Price, archivist at the College of Psychic Studies and founder of the online magazine Psypioneer. Leslie corrected a mistake I’d made when mentioning Light’s early editors. I imagine Isabel knew all of them, at least as acquaintances, so here is a list of the first four of them: John Stephen Farmer; Rev Stainton Moses, until his death in September 1892; W Paice MA, although he also died, shortly after being appointed; and then, Edmund Dawson Rogers.

Leslie Price also drew my attention to a recent article on the founding of Light, based on the reminiscences of Edmund Dawson Rogers, who was such an important figure in spiritualism in the 1880s and 1890s. As well as setting up Light, he also had the idea which became the Society for Psychical Research; and was the second president of the London Spiritualist Alliance. See that article at Psypioneer volume 4 number 11, November 2008: pp276-80. The article includes a reproduction of the original share issue for Light’s owner, The Eclectic Publishing Company Limited. I imagine Isabel became a subscriber to Light, for 10 shillings and 10 pence per year, rather than buy it week by week. I’m not so sure that she would have bought shares in the company, though - as her income was limited, she might have thought it was too much of a risk.

To explain the entry for 10 January 1881, A BIT OF PREAMBLE FROM 1880:

A group within the new BNAS Council waged a campaign to be rid of its Secretary, Miss Burke. They succeeded in ousting her at a meeting in December. Isabel didn’t attend the meeting, but she resigned from the Council shortly afterwards.

Source: The Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science volume 16 1880 pp284-85 issue of 10 December 1880; p297 issue of 17 December 1880; p306 issue of 24 December 1880; pp311-12 issue of 24 December 1880.

Comment by Sally Davis: the reason Isabel gave the BNAS Council for not wanting to be a member any longer was that she was too busy to give the BNAS’ affairs the proper level of attention. However, see my life-by-dates for 1880, and the entry for 10 January below, for the real reason why she had decided to resign.

10 JANUARY 1881

A concert was held at the Dilettante Rooms at 7 Argyll Street to raise money for Miss Burke, recently sacked as secretary of the British National Association of Spiritualists.

Source: The Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science volume 16 1880: p306 issue of 24 December 1880.

Comment by Sally Davis: the crass behaviour of the BNAS Council towards Miss Burke meant that she lost her home as well as her job. The account in The Spiritualist of the meeting that finally voted her out, made it clear that Isabel had resigned from the Council over Miss Burke, not because she was too busy. However, Miss Burke had resisted all attempts to make even more fuss over her replacement by Thomas Blyton; and I also think Isabel didn’t want to make relations between her and the pro-Blyton faction within the BNAS any worse than they were already. So she left it at saying she had no time for BNAS committee work. The concert was organised by BNAS members who had sided with Miss Burke – Isabel’s friend George Wyld was one of the most active. The activist in charge of tickets was future GD member Robert Palmer Thomas. I don’t know whether Isabel went to the concert but I hope she showed some solidarity with Miss Burke in that way.


Isabel showed two works at the Society of Lady Artists: a sketch of Shatucha the Bedouin Girl; and a genre scene, Spanish Tambourine Girl.


The Society of Women Artists Exhibitors 1855-1996 editor Charles Baile de Laperrière, compiler Joanna Soden. Hilmarton Manor Press 1996. Volume 1 A-D p328 as De Steiger, Isabel; painter. Shatucha was catalogue number 632, for sale at £5; Spanish Tambourine Girl catalogue number 651, £8.

7 MARCH 1881

Isabel went to the BNAS to hear a talk by her friend Francesca Arundale on reincarnation.

Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter. London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus. Volume 1 January-December 1881: p71 issue of 5 March 1881; full text of the talk on p83 issue of 19 March 1881. That Isabel went to the talk was mentioned by Arundale in a letter to Light which was published on p109 issue of 9 April 1881.

19 MARCH 1881

Isabel’s first appearance as a contributor to Light was a letter on the Ancient Mysteries.

Source: Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter. London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus. Volume 1 January-December 1881: p87 issue of 19 March 1881.

BEGINNING 1881, TO 1893

One of the letters Isabel had published in Light led to a correspondence through its pages with another regular contributor to the journal, the author and occultist Ann or Anne Judith Penny, who became known as an authority on the works of Jacob Boehme/Böhme.

Sources for the correspondence: Memorabilia p187-188, p189, p191, p193. Isabel wrote Memorabilia to promote the posthumous reputations of women occultists she had known, meaning Anna Bonus Kingsford and Mary Ann Atwood but not Ann Judith Penny. See below October 1882 for one possible reason why Isabel didn’t include Ann Judith Penny in her list.

Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research. Published London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 2 Duke St Adelphi. Volume 12 January-December 1892. Issue of 2 July 1892 p322: letter from A J Penny whose wording suggests the two women did meet in person – something not made clear Memorabilia. Writing in response to a letter a few weeks earlier from Isabel, Mrs Penny said that if Isabel were visiting Mrs Penny, they could have a good talk about the subject in question, which was what kind of person made a good spiritualist medium.

A comment from Sally Davis on the fact that Isabel and Mrs Penny communicated through the pages of Light. They could have just written directly to each other, and perhaps they did. However, both women wanted their ideas to be read by a wider audience, as well as each other, so exchanging their views via Light became a tradition with them. Perhaps it was even a kind of in-joke between them though neither of them seems to have much sense of humour.

A small amount of biographical information on Mrs Penny:

It is not easy to find information on Ann or Anne Judith Penny. I imagine most historians quail at the thought of looking through early 19th century records for a woman named Ann Brown; I know I did. Even her year of birth seems uncertain though most sources that give one at all go with 1825, for example Magic and Mysticism: an Introduction to Western Esoteric Traditions by Arthur Versluis 2007: p120. This makes her 11 years older than Isabel.

Ann Judith was from a very different background to Isabel; she grew up in rural Oxfordshire in a society still based on agriculture, hierarchy and deference. I couldn’t discover anything about Ann’s mother but her father, the Rev Walter Brown, was chaplain and librarian to the dukes of Marlborough; and held two livings that were in the gift of the Spencer Churchill family, Great Stonesfield and Handborough, near Blenheim Palace. Rev Walter and his family lived at Great Stonesfield from 1810, when he was appointed. He died when Ann Judith was eight. Ann Judith’s much older brother, Rev Walter Lucas Brown, was a tutor in Greek at Oxford University and rector of Wendlebury, near Bicester in Oxfordshire. Amongst his students at Oxford was John Ruskin; the friendship between tutor and pupil continued after Ruskin graduated and Ruskin knew other members of the family.

Isabel writes in Memorabilia that Ann Judith Brown (Penny) and Mary Ann South (Atwood) were both members of a circle that collected around the occultist and visionary James Pierrepont Greaves. Greaves was interested in the writings of Jacob Böhme/Boehme and corresponded with members of the transcendentalist group in North America. I’m not sure that Ann Judith will have met Greaves – he died in 1842 when she was only 17 – but the people who had known him continued to meet for years afterwards and presumably introduced new members like Ann Judith.

In 1865 Ann Judith Brown married Edward Burton Penny, who had retired from his family’s import business to concentrate on his own studies of St Martin and Böhme/Boehme. Edward Burton Penny had been born in 1804; he could have known Greaves personally. While they were married, the Pennys lived at Topham, just south of Exeter. Edward Burton Penny died in 1872, so Isabel won’t have known him. At some point after her husband’s death, Ann Judith moved to Cullompton in Devon; and lived there until she died. She took no personal part in London’s occult social life.

Sources for Ann Judith Brown’s family:

Wikipedia on the village of Stonesfield.

Account of the village of Stonesfield at using information originally published in the History of the County of Oxford volume 11.

At // an article written 1942 by M V Taylor: The Roman Tessellated Pavement at Stonesfield Oxfordshire. The area around Stonesfield was rich in Roman remains. Rev Walter Brown was one of several antiquaries who investigated the Roman pavement around 1812-13 before he turned his attention to the nearby Roman villa.

Death of Ann’s father:

Gentleman’s Magazine 1834 p115 in a list of deaths during the year: Rev Walter Brown had died 2 November 1834 aged 59. Rector of Stonesfield from 1810; Prebendary of Canterbury, an appointment granted him by King George III, in 1804.

Rev Walter Lucas Brown, who died in 1862:

At, an article by Alexander Bradley: Pupil and Master. Published Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 volume 32 number 4 Fall 1992. On its p747 Bradley describes Walter Lucas Brown as one of the few tutors Ruskin had any time for: he actually liked him, and respected his intellect.

At // UCL Special Collections catalogue number GB 103 MS ADD 117 is five letters from John Ruskin to Walter Lucas Brown, written c 1844; and one letter to a Miss Brown who could be Ann Judith, though it might be one of her sisters or a niece.

Census information 1861; probate registry entries 1862.

For Ann Judith Brown/Penny and Mary Ann South/Atwood in the circle surrounding Greaves:

Memorabilia p234 though Isabel spells his name wrongly as Grieve.

There is a wikipedia page on James Pierrepont Greaves (sic) 1777-1842.

Ann Judith’s husband Edward Burton Penny:

Census 1851, 1861; probate registry 1872.

As a translator of occult works in French:

Mystical Philosophy and Spirit Manifestations. Selections from the Theosophic Correspondence between Louis Claude de St-Martin and Kirchberger Baron de Liebistorf 1792-97. Privately published 1863, Exeter.

Man, His True Nature and Ministry. As translator of Louis Claude de St-Martin’s Le Ministère de l’homme-esprit. London: William Allan and Co 1864.

At the website of the Royal Albert Museum Exeter, //, there are some biographical details to go with a gift of clothes made in México that Ann Judith donated to the museum after her husband’s death.

Ann Judith Brown published a number of works between 1859 and the mid-1860s but Isabel may not have been aware of that, as most were issued as written by the author of her first full-length work, Morning Clouds, which had the sub-title ‘Consisting of Advice to the Sorrowful’. It’s hard to tell just from the titles but I don’t think any of the books were occult works. From around 1866 there were no more full-length books; and after 1881, Light became Ann Judith Penny’s main outlet for her occult research and thoughts. These were published as long articles issued in sections over several issues of the weekly magazine. She now wrote as ‘A J Penny’, choosing to disguise her gender, though by the mid-1880s Light’ s editors and some of its readers knew who she was. It must be from her published articles in Light that Ann Judith Penny became known in the UK as an authority on Böhme/Boehme. Her works on him were issued in book form but not until many years after she died.

Sources for Ann Judith Penny’s writing:

Morning Clouds (Consisting of Advice to the Sorrowful etc). Published anonymously, London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longman and Roberts. 1857 with another edition 1858.

For information on Jacob Böhme or Boehme and why he might have interested Ann Judith Penny, there’s a good and detailed page on wikipedia: 1575-1624, a German Lutheran mystic and writer, author of (amongst other works) Die Morgenroete im Aufgang, also known as Aurora (1600, 1619). His argument that the Fall was a necessary stage in the evolution of the Universe was considered heretical by many.

In 1889 and again in 1893, Isabel exhibited paintings of the mythical Aurora, goddess of the dawn. Perhaps they were inspired by ideas in Jacob Böhme/Boehme’s work, suggested to her by Mrs Penny.

31 MARCH 1881

Isabel went to the BNAS again, this time to attend a conversazione held to celebrate the 33rd anniversary of modern spiritualism.

Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter. London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus. Volume 1 January-December 1881: p107 issue of 9 April 1881.


Isabel was abroad but many of her relations were in England.

Isabel’s older, unmarried sister Constantia was still living at Christleton Old Hall near Chester, with their nieces Theodosia and Josephine and their nephew Charles, the children of Joshua Verney Lovett Lace and his wife Theodosia, both now dead. This was a very well-to-do household, employing a governess, a housekeeper, a lady’s maid, two housemaids and a kitchenmaid.

Helena and her husband Rev John Turnbull were still living in Temple Ewell on the outskirts of Dover. All their children were at home (bar the youngest who hadn’t been born yet): Constance, Peveril, Arthur, John and Verney. As well as a governess, Helena and John were able to afford to employ a cook, a housemaid and a nurse.

Rosamond and Edmund Charles Burton were living at 29 High Street Daventry, with their children Evelyn, Rosamund, Constance, Blanche and Edmund Gerald. They had visitors staying with them on census day - author Hermon C Merivale and his wife Elizabeth. This too was a wealthy household: the Burtons employed a governess, and six other servants, all women though who did what was not specified in the census.

Source: 1881 census.

Comment by Sally Davis: Daventry was relatively easy to get to by train from London where Isabel was living at this time. Ewell was very convenient for those travelling to and from the continent. Isabel never mentions the Turnbulls or the Burtons in Memorabilia. However, in 1887 she exhibited a painting of the Old Court at Daventry, so she did visit Rosamond and her family sometimes.


Isabel gave the talk at the BNAS’s fortnightly discussion meeting. Her subject was Art and the Supernatural. In it she argued that - contrary to modern assumptions - “earth-bound Spirits” looked just like people and therefore could be painted as easily as people. Astral light could also be painted - medieval artists had shown it as the ‘nimbus’ or ‘aureole’ of saints. The idea for the talk had been triggered by an article she had read a few months before, in the Cornhill Magazine.

Source: Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter. London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus. Volume 1 January-December 1881 p100; pp122-23 issue of 23 April 1881, the full text.

The fact that she had given the talk was also mentioned in The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 2 1881 p158 issue of 1 May 1881; though with no details of what she had said.

Comment by Sally Davis: all events organised by the BNAS were held at their offices, 38 Great Russell Street London WC.

MAY 1881

Isabel exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists for the second and last time, showing A Dancing Girl.


The Royal Society of British Artists 1824-1893 and The New English Art Club 1888-1917. Compiled by Jane Johnson for the Antique Collectors’ Club Research Project. First printed 1975; V&A’s copy is the reprint of 1993: p130 as de Steiger: Isabel. A Dancing Girl was catalogue number 500, price £7.


Isabel exhibited her Valkyries picture for the first time, in the spring exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall.

Comment by Sally Davis: as with the Cleopatras, so with the Valkyries, I’m not sure how many paintings there are. I think there is only one, exhibited five times between 1881 and 1886, every time with a slightly different title. Isabel doesn’t mention this painting in Memorabilia; perhaps because it or they took a long time to get sold, if it sold at all. After this first outing, Isabel let two years go by before showing it again, at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1883; at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 1884; and at the Walker Art Gallery in 1886 - see that entry for a reference to the poem on which it was based.

Source for this first exhibiting of it:

Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences Catalogue of the Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, Architectural Drawings and Art Workmanship 1881. This year p3 it also showed 200 paintings judged good enough for the Royal Academy summer exhibition but not hung in it due to a lack of space there. On p28 catalogue number 308 which is an oil painting - (my quotes) “The Three Valkyrie Maidens - Messengers of the Gods, proclaiming from a lone rock in the Northern Ocean to the sea-birds and the fishes the death of Balder (sic) the Beautiful”. The exhibition also included a large group of paintings lent by the Duchess of Edinburgh: from Spain, and Renaissance Italy and northern Europe.

See wikipedia for the death of Baldr the Beautiful, son of Odin and Frigg; the first in the sequence of events which ended with the destruction of Ragnarok. The Valkyries attended the funeral.


Isabel went on a trip to the English West Country but the weather was so bad (!) that she moved on to France instead, intending to stay at either Fontainebleau or Barbizon. She ended up not wanting to stay at either and thinking her whole summer had been wasted.


The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 2 1881 issue of 1 October 1881 pp301-02: article signed by Isabel in its Roving Artist column.

Comments by Sally Davis: this was the only time Isabel is known to have gone to the West Country – the dreary weather seems to have put her right off making it a regular habit. One object of the trip may have been to stop off at Cullompton (or possibly Exeter) to meet Ann Judith Penny.

Isabel knew of both Fontainebleau and Barbizon as artists’ colonies. However, when she visited them she hated both places. Nothing pleased her: not the forest; not the chateau, though she did give mild praise to its gardens; and definitely not the villages, which she thought were “ugly” and “dirty”, with ridiculously overpriced accommodation. While she was wandering about the village of Barbizon, trying to avoid chickens that were running loose and staring at “dilapidated” gardens, she did go to an exhibition by members of the Barbizon school. Some indication of how much she disliked what she saw was her amalgamation of the names of two of the group’s best-known members as Théodore Millet (she must mean Jean-François Millet and Théodore Rousseau). None of the group were excused, though - Isabel called them all “daubers of stupid vulgar subjects”: neither their brush-work style nor their choice of subject-matter were what she thought of as ‘art’; indeed she thought that “Art there was none” at the exhibition.

Source for the Barbizon group’s style; and the two artists whose names Isabel mangled - see the group’s wikipedia page which has a small reproduction of Millet’s 1857 The Gleaners on it, a work whose style and very ordinary subject-matter is typical of the group as a whole.


Isabel exhibited An Eastern Dancing Girl at the Walker Art Gallery autumn exhibition in Liverpool.


11th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1881. List of exhibitors p121. And p64 catalogue number 1066 for sale at £6/10 and although she obviously considered it a modest work, possibly even a sketch, it was an oil painting.


Isabel opened her studio in 8 Hornton Street to women artists who wanted to paint nude models.


The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 2 January-December 1881 p352 issue of 1 November 1881 on the small ads page; and again on p362 issue of 1 December 1881, just above the News column. The evenings were specifically designed for women artists and women art students to spend time painting what Isabel carefully referred to as the “undraped model”. Isabel would be charging for the three-hour sessions, though the advert didn’t say how much, so perhaps the price was open to negotiation.

BY LATE 1881

Isabel had sold all four of her Cleopatra paintings.

Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 2 1881 p143. I saw this report in a google snippet. I think the article was a report on an exhibition. I couldn’t see which one but it was probably that year’s Walker Art Gallery autumn exhibition. The report said that Isabel had “just sold the last of four Cleopatra pictures”; and that she was working on two other paintings based on classical subjects.

Comment by Sally Davis: if Isabel was working on two paintings with classical subjects, she must still have been under the influence of Alma-Tadema. I’m not going to speculate on which two paintings Isabel was meaning.


After a gap of four years, Isabel exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin again. She sent one painting: Morning Effect.

Source for the painting exhibited:

Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts: Index of Exhibitors 1826-1979 compiled by Ann M Stewart. Volume 1: A-G. Dublin: Manton Publishing 1986. On p210 as de Steiger, Mme Isabel. Entry for 1882: Morning Effect as catalogue number 434, price £12/12.


Mrs Algernon Kingsford” - Anna Bonus Kingsford – gave the monthly talk at the British National Association of Spiritualists’ rooms at 38 Great Russell Street. Her subject was: Violationism, or Sorcery in Science.

Comment by Sally Davis: I couldn’t find any indication of who was present to hear this talk, but I imagine Isabel went to it, if for no other reason than to give her friend support. From the way Light referred to her I’d say this was Dr Kingsford’s first talk at the BNAS.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume II January-December 1882: p43 issue of 28 January 1882 as forthcoming; on pp55-58 issue of 14 February 1882, a short summary of the talk (which I think was about vivisection) including the reference to her as “Mrs Algernon Kingsford”. That was the correct way to address a married woman, according to strict Victorian etiquette; but it does annoy me – and I think it annoyed her - that even a qualified physician, campaigner, writer and public speaker had to be described only as the wife of her husband.


Isabel went to the BNAS’s monthly talk, which this month was a debate on reincarnation. Her friend Francesca Arundale spoke in support of its existence. Arguing that it did not exist was Tien-Sien-Tie, the spirit guide of the trance-speaker Mr J J Morse. In the discussion afterwards, Isabel reminded everyone that not all spirit guides agreed with Tien-Sien-Sie: both Ski and James Nolan – spirit guides of Mrs Hollis-Billings – said that reincarnation did exist.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume II January-December 1882: p92 as forthcoming and naming the two debaters; p132 a reference to Mr Morse as a well-known trance speaker; pp103-05 issue of 4 March 1882 a short report on the debate and names of some of those who contributed to the post-debate discussion; and p111 issue of 11 March 1882 more coverage of the debate, including what had been said by Isabel and by Anna Bonus Kingsford.

Comment by Sally Davis: this debate lit the blue touch-paper as regards reincarnation, with face-to-face exchanges on the subject which seem to have got rather strident and were followed by letters and articles in Light and elsewhere, by Anna Bonus Kingsford and George Wyld MD amongst others.


Anna Bonus Kingsford gave a talk on The Constitution of Man to a group of people she described as “my private circle”.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume II January-December 1882: pp127-28 issue of 18 March 1882; the quote is from p128 and you can see the beginnings of the Hermetic Society in this event. No date; and no venue but I suppose it must have been held Dr Kingsford’s London house, which (p283) was at 11 Chapel Street Park Lane.

Comment by Sally Davis October 2022: I used to think that this talk was taken from Kingsford’s The Perfect Way, but now I’m not so sure. The Perfect Way’s 5th Lecture is called The Constitution of Existence but doesn’t seem to be particularly about the human race.

BEFORE APRIL 1882. ?March

Anna Bonus Kingsford read what was published as The Perfect Way to her “private circle”. Isabel was one of the group.

Comment by Sally Davis: as I’ve said immediately above, I’m not sure whether or not the talk on the Constitution of Man was part of the reading of The Perfect Way, so I include the reading of the book separately here.

Source for the reading of the whole book, probably in several sessions: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume XVII 1897 p 547 issue of 13 November 1897. At the end of a long letter on a different subject Isabel mentioned that she had been in a group that heard Anna Bonus Kingsford read the contents of The Perfect Way before it was published.

APRIL 1882

Anna Kingsford’s The Perfect Way was published.


Memorabilia Preface pvii; and British Library catalogue: The Perfect Way; or the Finding of Christ was published in London by Field and Tuer; Edward Maitland as co-author. A revised edition was issued in 1887 and a 3rd edition in 1890. It’s still the work for which Anna Bonus Kingsford is best known - if she’s known at all.

Month of publication: Times Tuesday 25 April 1882 p12 in the New Books column as “Just published”: The Perfect Way, a series of lectures. Published in London by Field and Tuer; in Hamilton Canada by Adams; and in New York by Scribner and Welford. The author’s name was not mentioned.

Comment by Sally: of course, Isabel had heard the lectures and read a lot of the content of this before it was published. In any case, what Isabel remembered best about Anna Bonus Kingsford is made clear many times in Memorabilia. Listening to Kingsford’s talks on western mysticism, and even just being in a group with her, all chatting as friends with this common interest - that was what was precious to Isabel.

October 2022: the full text of The Perfect Way is now available at

4 APRIL 1882

George and Emily Wyld gave a vegetarian dinner for 18 of their acquaintances at their house at 12 Great Cumberland Place.

Comment by Sally Davis: one of the guests – calling him or herself Quorum Pass - sent a letter to Light about the event, having not liked the food. The letter contained the full menu and – as a vegetarian myself – I don’t know what he or she was complaining about; perhaps he or she was an unrepentant meat eater! He or she described the guests as a mixture of vegetarians and theosophists, as if the two were mutually exclusive. They weren’t named – alas! - but are likely to have included Isabel, Anna Bonus Kingsford, Francesca Arundale, Edward Maitland and other friends.


For the dinner: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume II January-December 1882: p174 issue of 15 April 1882.

George Wyld is on wikipedia but here’s a bit on Emily:

Notes of My Life by George Wyld. London: Kegan Paul Trench Trübner and Co 1903. On p17 Wyld says he married Emily Martineau, daughter of Dr Martineau the preacher. This is quite wrong! And makes me wonder how far I can trust the other information in the book – which (thankfully, as it turns out!) does not contain a single reference to Isabel. Family history web pages and several other such sites all say he married Emily Kennedy, and the standard family history data websites I use confirm that in 1852 George Wyld married Mary Emily Kennedy (born 1829 and known as Emily) daughter of stock-broker Benjamin Kennedy and his wife Sophia. George and Emily had six children.


Isabel’s painting Mariamne was shown in that year’s Royal Academy exhibition. By this time she was paying for an artist’s studio at The Studios, Holland Park Road, a short walk from her home.


Royal Academy Exhibitors from 1880 Volume 1 A-D p312 and just noting here that she’s listed as De Steiger. Mariamne was catalogue number 596; the volumes don’t give information on whether the exhibited items were for sale.

Memorabilia p107, p110, p130-31.

Comment by Sally Davis: it must have been a great day for Isabel when she found that the RA had accepted one of her paintings at last. However, she had no illusions about why that had happened: in Memorabilia she put it down to the staff having mis-read her name. In the catalogue she figured as “Miss F Steeger”.


Isabel showed her painting Semiramide at the Royal Albert Hall spring exhibition. I think it was the last time she exhibited anything at the RAH.


Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences Catalogue of the Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, Architectural Drawings 1882. As in 1881, this exhibition included a number of paintings which couldn’t be squeezed into the Royal Academy for its spring show. A note on the copy of the catalogue that I saw at the National Art Library said that it was a first edition and some paintings that were shown in the exhibition were not listed in it. So it’s possible that Isabel showed more works than the one I found: p19 catalogue number 164, Semiramide which was an oil painting, for sale at £20.

Comment by Sally Davis: the next catalogue in the volume I looked at in the National Art Library was from an exhibition in 1887. I checked in the Times to see if this meant that catalogues from 1883 to 1886 were missing, but it looked from the small adverts that no art exhibitions were held in those years. Isabel didn’t show any works in the 1887 exhibition, the last in the NAL’s set.

Isabel showed Semiramide twice more in 1883, with its more familiar title Semiramis, at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

MONDAY 22 MAY 1882

Anna Bonus Kingsford was the speaker at this month’s BNAS meeting. This time her subject was The Systematisation and Application of Psychic Truth.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume II January-December 1882: p236 issue of 20 May 1882 as forthcoming and I note that Light was now referring to Mrs Algernon Kingsford as “Mrs Anna Kingsford MD”; pp264-67 issue of 3 June 1882 with the text of the talk but no mention of any names other than Dr Kingsford’s.

Comment by Sally Davis: I think Isabel did go to this talk because she followed it up by sending an impassioned letter to Light:

16 JUNE 1882

Isabel’s letter was published in Light, mentioning Dr Kingsford’s talk as its inspiration. It was essentially a rallying cry to spiritualists at a time when their message was being ignored or attacked. She urged them to stand firm against the views of materialists and scientists; to continue to campaign against vivisection, compulsory vaccination and killing animals for human food; and not to avoid engaging with their critics. They should – Isabel declared – act in such a way as to be seen by the public as enlightened, and they should “repudiate the doctrine of death with invincible resolve”.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume II January-December 1882: pp289-90 issue of 16 June 1882.

Comment by Sally Davis: I think is the most martial letter I’ve seen Isabel write. Though she was not much of a campaigner herself, she was at least trying to urge others on when they were flagging. Though she never says so in Memorabilia, this letter suggests she must have been a vegetarian by this time.


Isabel showed a painting of a “single figure” at the recently-opened British Fine Art Gallery at 200 Regent Street.


The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 3 1882 p207 issue of 1 July 1882 - a short review of the exhibition, naming a few of the artists but none of their pictures. Isabel’s single figure was picked out as one of the better paintings in an exhibition dominated by mediocre works. The reviewer called it “forcible in colour, and French in technique”.


The third edition of Chandos Leigh Hunt’s ‘how to’ book on mesmerism was published, with illustrations by Isabel that hadn’t been in the earlier, smaller, issues.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume II January-December 1882: pii of issue of 24 June 1882 as “just published”: an advert for the “revised and greatly enlarged” 3rd edition of Chandos Leigh Hunt’s Private Practical Instructions in the Science and Art of Organic Magnetism. A series of small drawings by Isabel, done to demonstrate how to mesmerise or hypnotise, were one of the revisions but the advert didn’t mention them unfortunately.

Some information on Chandos Leigh Hunt by Sally Davis: Emily Honoria Leigh Hunt (1854-1927) is not mentioned in Memorabilia, but it’s likely that Isabel had known her for a while when she agreed to contribute to the booklet’s improved edition. I think Miss Leigh Hunt took the name ‘Chandos’ when she began working as a stage mesmerist, probably in the 1870s. Later she set up a private practice as a healer, using mesmerism. She held views similar to Isabel’s on a number of issues – compulsory vaccination, vivisection, vegetarianism – but unlike Isabel was an active campaigner for those causes. She also supported rational dress and common ownership of land – causes that Isabel was not interested in. In 1878 Chandos Leigh Hunt married another professional healer, Joseph Wallace. They lived in Bloomsbury where they ran a successful business as healers, publishers and makers of herbal medicines; as well as having a large family.

Sources for Chandos Leigh Hunt, later Leigh Hunt Wallace: ancestry, freebmd, probate registry.

A Treatise on All the Known Uses of Organic Magnetism, Phenomenal and Curative by Miss Chandos Leigh Hunt, who describes herself on its front page as a “Professional Magnetiser”; and on the inside page gives details of her own work and (anonymously) that of her future husband. London: James Burns of 15 Southampton Row; the firm specialised in small pamphlets. No publication date but it’s probably from the late 1870s.

The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England by Alex Owen. Virago 1889 pp123-37 and mentioning a short profile of her in the 1889 Annual of the Independent Labour Party.

1 JULY 1882

A letter from Isabel was published in the magazine The Artist and Journal of Home Culture. She began by stating in bald terms that artistic and musical talent was gifted equally to men and to women - if men were better artists it was because women were less well trained. Then she went on to discuss the moral issues surrounding the use of naked female models by male artists.


The Artist and Journal of Home Culture volume 3 1882 p231.

Comments by Sally Davis: I think this must be the letter which (according to her own report, in Memorabilia pp107-08) caused works by Isabel to be rejected by the Royal Academy and the Society of Lady Artists; but if it is, it’s not at all the sort of letter I thought it would be. It’s not really about the disadvantages women faced when training to become artists - that’s summed up in one short paragraph. Most is about the effect on a young woman’s reputation - specifically her sexual reputation - of working as an artist’s model, alone and naked in the studio of a male artist. Isabel argued that when a female artist’s model sat for a woman artist, not only was the model’s moral reputation kept intact, her sense of self-worth was enhanced. It was therefore a Christian duty of women artists to continue to paint from the nude. A note from the editor, below the letter, expressed his agreement with Isabel’s arguments; but Isabel later felt that she had reaped the whirlwind from male artists and even some female ones, for having set out her views and had them published.

May 2017: It has taken me several years to find the letter and in fact I’d long ago given up looking for it, as when Isabel was be-wailing the consequences of making her arguments in public, she didn’t say where her comments were published. The letter was a riposte to a speech by J C Horsley RA at the Newton Abbot School of Art. Isabel hadn’t been at the talk but had read a report of it in The Artist magazine.

Information on John Callcott Horsley RA from his wiki says that he was a painter of genre scenes, mostly of subjects from history or the theatre. Even in his own lifetime he was known as ‘clothes-Horsley’ for his vocal opposition to use of naked life models and paintings of nudes. Paintings of nudes became popular in the mid-1880s, a trend coming into Britain from the Paris Salon. A letter against paintings of nudes being shown in public was published in the Times 20 May [1885], supposedly written by a “British Matron” but actually written by J C Horsley.

At, : 1817-1903, died-in-the-wool Royal Academician: trained at the RA; elected ARA 1855 full member 1864; treasurer of the RA.

Comment by Sally Davis: seeing he was so influential at the RA, perhaps it was Horsley himself who made sure that paintings submitted by Isabel were rejected by its hanging committees, as the controversy over nudity in Victorian British art continued to rumble on.

BY JULY 1882

There had still been no review of The Perfect Way in Light.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume II January-December 1882: for example on p281 issue of 17 June 1882 and p333 issue of 29 July 1882 the editorial included the reviews of four books each week, none of which were The Perfect Way.

15 JULY 1882

There was a rather unfortunate first piece of publicity for The Perfect Way in Light: a letter from its authors saying that they were challenging a critical review of the book published in The Theosophist.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume II January-December 1882: p330 issue of 15 July 1882. With follow up p378 issue of 19 August 1882 in which Maria Countess of Caithness described The Perfect Way as a new Gospel; p407 issue of 9 September 1882 Wyld and Penny; for Isabel see 7 October 1882.

Comment by Sally Davis: perhaps any publicity is better than none. The letter of 15 July 1882 brought a series of letters in reply, from Maria Countess of Caithness, from George Wyld enclosing a critical one from Anne Judith Penny, and in due course from Isabel.


On the back of her triumph over the RA, Isabel showed Mariamne again, at the Walker Art Gallery. At one or other of the two exhibitions, the painting was bought by Warren de la Rue.


12th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1882: p132 Steiger, de; at The Studios, Holland Park Road; and p23 Mariamne as catalogue number 261.

Memorabilia pp130-131 where its name is wrongly printed as ‘MariaNne’.

See wikipedia for more on Warren de la Rue (1815-89) a son of Thomas, the founder of the publishing and bank-note printing firm, and from 1871 its managing director. He’s just as well known now as a spare-time astronomer and chemist: president, Chemical Society; FRAS; FRS; and Légion d’Honneur for his pioneering work on astronomical photography. He has a lunar crater named after him.

At there’s a brief mention of him, as some of his astronomical photos are now in the Getty Collections. He gave up his astronomy when he took over the running of the firm, donating the equipment in his observatory to the University of Oxford.

7 OCTOBER 1882

A letter from Isabel appeared, objecting to a letter about The Perfect Way which had appeared in a recent issue of Light; and one published by the Times which called the members of the Central Association of Spiritualists a group of “knaves and dupes”.

Source: Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research volume II January-December 1882: p446 issue of 7 October 1882 including Isabel’s not-quite-correct quote from the letter to the Times.

Comments by Sally Davis: the letter about The Perfect Way that had worried Isabel was one that Ann Judith Penny had sent George Wyld on the subject, which he had sent on to Light (p407 issue of 9 September 1882). Isabel was alarmed that criticisms such as Mrs Penny had made would discourage people from reading The Perfect Way, which Isabel thought was a “most striking work”. She urged Light’s readers, particularly Mrs Penny’s admirers, to make up their own minds by reading The Perfect Way, especially its Lecture III: The Various Orders of Spirits and How to Discern Them. Mrs Penny was a devout, conservative Christian. In her letter to George Wyld, Mrs Penny had said she disapproved of the way in which The Perfect Way seemed to be setting itself up as a new Gospel. While being careful to be complimentary about Mrs Penny’s work in general, Isabel wrote that she was sure that Mrs Penny’s assessment of The Perfect Way was wrong. To Isabel The Perfect Way was a light shone on current misconceptions of the biblical Gospels; and on “the illusions of the astral plane”. In a rare personal reference to her own troubles, Isabel said that she put The Perfect Way on a par with Isis Unveiled in making her believe that her own life was worth living. They made their readers “rejoice in their own existence”.

Carl von Buch’s letters to the Times were rather harder for Isabel to counter, as both of them described how mediums had been caught “in the act of personating a spirit” - that is, pretending to summon a spirit guide which was really themselves in different clothes. The earlier of the two was particularly embarrassing, as the exposure had happened during a séance at the BNAS, which were supposedly held under the strictest conditions. The best Isabel could think of to say about them was that there had been much discussion in spiritualist magazines over the past two years, about spirit communications; but no conclusion had been reached on their nature.

A bit on Carl von Buch.

His two letters to the Times:

Times Mon 22 January 1880 p11: The Capture of a Spirit. Written on 10 January and signed by Sir George R Sitwell, Carl von Buch FCS and John C Fell MIME, professor of Mechanics; all giving the address 23 Rood Lane London EC. Their letter related in some detail how at a séance on 2 January 1880, they had caught Florrie Corner (née Cook) pretending to be the spirit of a dead child called Marie. Mrs Corner’s fraud had been made easy – if not aided and abetted – by senior members of the British National Association of Spiritualists, at whose rooms the séance had taken place.

As a senior member of the BNAS Isabel could hardly not have known about this debacle, and her letter to Light makes it clear she knew that von Buch and his friends had written about it in the Times.

The letter Isabel was specifically objecting to: Times 19 September 1882 p8: The Capture of a Spirit; though von Buch was writing on his own this time. He referred to his earlier letter; and then to the recent incident in which Miss C E Wood had been caught doing exactly the same as Florrie Corner. “As long as the world exists there will be dupes, and therefore knaves to dupe them” was what was misquoted by Isabel; demand creates supply. Possibly, spiritualism was a legitimate field for scientific study. However, there ought to be more efforts by attenders at seances to expose fraudulent mediums, who traded on “the most sacred of human feelings, the sanctity of the dead”.

Given what was said in those letters, this reference seems odd: Studies in Psychical Research by prominent psychic researcher Frank Podmore; on p23 says that at least in January 1880, von Buch was editor of The Spiritualist magazine.

The Medium and Daybreak 1882 p619 had a Signor Damiani referring – like Isabel – to von Buch’s letters in the Times, and the exposure of the materialisation medium Catherine E Wood during a séance in Peterborough. The ‘outing’ of C E Wood was covered in a lot of detail in Light 1882 including p410 issue of 16 September 1882 a report on how two men amongst the sitters that evening grabbed hold of her guide called Pocha, who had materialised in the room, and showed everyone that it was Miss Wood herself, wearing different clothes.

I found several references indicating that von Buch’s main source of income was as an electrical engineer. He died in 1911, aged 53. I looked in freebmd around 1858 for a birth registration but couldn’t find one; perhaps he was born in Germany.

Sources for his professional life:

He was the author of Aluminium and its Alloys published London: Dunn Collin and Co 1883.

Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review volume 27 1891 p531 issue of 31 October 1890 refers to him as a partner in Messrs Poole and von Buch, electrical engineers, of 11 Queen Victoria Street London EC. Von Buch had recently joined the board of directors of the Electrical Engineering Corporation Ltd.

The Electrical Journal 1908 p383 has a reference to von Buch being discharged from bankruptcy on the payment of sureties to the value of £500.

At which uses Burke’s for its data, there’s an entry for him having married Jane Lynch Maitland, daughter of Stuart Cairns Maitland. There was no date for the marriage. They had four children.

Probate Registry entries for 1911; freebmd.


19 December 2022

Email me at

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: