This is the second of my three files on Florence
Elizabeth Sherard Kennedy, who was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the
Golden Dawn at its Isis-Urania temple in
Believe it or not, this is one of my short
biographies. It covers
Short it may be, but this biography is still in three pieces:
Laings, which you can find on my GD Index page under ‘the two Macraes’. It includes coverage of Cecilia,
This file is the second one of the three:
And then there’s the third one:
My basic sources for any GD member are in a section at the end of the file. Supplementary sources for this particular member are listed at the end of each section.
Just reiterating here that his is the second file of three: what I have found on FLORENCE ELIZABETH SHERARD KENNEDY, née Laing; who was known as Flo or Floy to her friends.
IN THE GD
In 1893, with the GD looking for a new set of
rooms for meetings and rituals, the sisters were entrusted with the task of
inspecting a possible venue in
They also tended to act as one during the various controversies that engulfed the GD in the mid-1890s.
The first of those was GD founder Samuel Liddell Mathers’ expulsion of Annie Horniman from the GD in the autumn of 1896. It was thought at the time, and has been the general view since, that Mathers did it because Annie had stopped paying him and his wife Mina/Moina the allowance she had been giving them for the last few years. I think there’s also evidence that Mathers felt threatened by Annie’s increasing influence within the GD, where she was respected for her understanding of magic and as a hard-working member of Isis-Urania temple.
Mathers tried to out-flank those who were likely
to criticise his decision, by widening his field of attack - he made charges of
insubordination against quite a few other GD members, including both
Mathers’ fury at Annie Horniman’s refusal to
finance him any more was because he had no other income. He did not intend to get paid work and
perhaps even thought it was his and Mina’s right to have their magical work
supported by the Order with money. The
end of Annie’s funding meant that for the rest of the 1890s, GD members
regularly found themselves having to send money to the Mathers, to finance
their occult work, their rent and their other expenses. Though it must have gone against the grain
The later 1890s in the GD’s Isis-Urania temple
were characterised by the growth of groups within the larger group, where small
numbers of members would meet regularly to pursue particular interests. The first such group was begun by Frederick
Leigh Gardner and Frederick William Wright, in the spring of 1897. They invited Westcott to join them, he
invited Reena Fulham Hughes and Cecilia Macrae to join, and the group ended by
being Westcott’s group.
It was Florence Kennedy that
Cecilia sent a second letter, telling
In the late 1890s Florence Farr often visited
The friendship between the two Florences made it
inevitable that Florence Farr should invite Florence Kennedy to join her Sphere
Group, set up to delve further into Egyptian magic, a branch of magic that
Florence Farr had researched. The
records of this group - if there were any - haven’t survived, but it’s thought
to have been in existence between 1897 and 1901, and the members of it are
known, more or less, as Robert Felkin made a note of their names. As well as the two Florences, and Cecilia
Macrae, there was Marcus Worsley Blackden, another expert on Egyptian magic and
one who had actually been to
AFTER THE GD
ANY OTHER ESOTERIC INTERESTS?
It’s possible that Florence Kennedy was a member of the Hermetic Society. No list of the members of the Hermetic Society was ever published, however, so only a few names of members are known. The Society was founded by Anna Bonus Kingsford and her occult co-worker Edward Maitland, for the study of western esotericism. It met between April and July in 1884, 1885 and 1886. In 1886 if not before, both founders of the GD were members: William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers.
The membership registers of the Theosophical
Society show both
The GD records that have survived don’t seem to
Except in a few cases, where they were actively
involved in the most prominent spiritualist societies, it has been difficult to
tell whether GD members were spiritualists.
Most spiritualism went on in people’s homes and was not reported even to
local spiritualist newspapers. However,
during a run through copies of the magazine Light I found that
Florence’s sudden, brief, interest in the doings
of the LSA must have come about because in mid-January 1887, the Macraes had
invited the well-known medium William Eglinton, to be the medium at two seances
at their house, 6 Cambridge Terrace Regent’s Park; and Florence was present at
both seances. Eglinton was best known as
an automatic writing medium but in the seances at the Macraes’ house he also
made lights and a ghostly figure appear, moved furniture about the room, and
levitated to the ceiling before collapsing, too exhausted to continue (as well
he might). On 16 January 1887, two days
after the second séance, Charles Colin Macrae wrote an account of what had
happened. He sent it to Light, with a
paragraph of corroboration by Cecilia and a letter
There’s no clue in the joint article in Light as
to whether this séance with Eglinton was the first that
Freemasons’ Library: GD collection GD2/2/8a Receipts for items borrowed from William Wynn Westcott during period 1891-1892. Receipt signed 1 May 1892 by Cecilia Macrae.
Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses by Mary K Greer.
Howe (publication details in Sources section): p102; pp142-44; p170; p173; pp181-82.
Warburg Institute Gerald Yorke Collection catalogue number NS73 - letters mostly to Frederick Leight Gardner, but occasionally copies of letters sent by him:
- copy of a letter from Frederick Leigh Gardner to Florence Kennedy 14 October 1897.
- letters William Wynn Westcott to Frederick Leigh Gardner 17 May 1897 and 31 May 1897 about the group Gardner and Wright were trying to bring together.
- two letters from Cecilia Macrae to Frederick Leigh Gardner, 19 October and 24 October 1897; from Oakhurst Oxted.
FLORENCE’S EGYPTIAN/SPHERE GROUP:
Cauda Pavonis was the newsletter/journal of the Hermetic Text Society. At www.alchemywebsite.com/cauda.html there is a list of articles published in it, beginning 1982 but it’s not published any longer. When it was published it was issued by the Department of English, Washington State University at Pullman. Volumes 11-16 1992 pp7-12 article by Sharon E Cogdill on Florence Farr’s Sphere Group.
The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn: Letters of the Revd William Alexander Ayton to Frederick Leigh Gardner and Others 1886-1905 edited and with introduction by Ellic Howe. Aquarian Press 1985: p93, letter from William Alexander Ayton to Frederick Leigh Gardner of 9 October 1900.
There’s a wikipedia page, saying that she moved to London in 1892 and studied at the Slade. She’s also in ODNB.
There’s no mention of Florence Kennedy in Collected Letters of W B Yeats Volume I. Collected Letters of W B Yeats Volume II 1896-1900 does mention Florence and Althea Gyles on p611 footnote 8.
Collected Letters of W B Yeats Volume III 1901-04 p32 footnote 4 another list of Sphere Group members, with the same 12 names but also suggesting p33 Reena Fulham Hughes, who is not on the Cauda Pavonis list. Florence’s payments towards Althea Gyles’ treatment: P198 and footnote 1; letter dated 9 June 1902.
The founding of the Society in spring 1884, and its meetings over the next three years, were covered by Light; but only to the extent of announcing dates of meetings and speakers; and publishing the texts of talks that weren’t going to be published elsewhere. In 1884 when the Society was founded, some of the committee members were named in Light. After that, only the speakers at meetings, and some people who took part in the subsequent discussions were named. From those meagre pickings I have been able to discover that future GD members William Forsell Kirby and Isabel de Steiger were members. I can hazard a guess at some other people but the Society was a private one and no full list of members was ever published in Light or elsewhere. So if Florence was a member, I haven’t come across any proof.
I did a sweep through issues of Light from its first year, in 1881, to 1890; and also read 1894, 1897 and 1900. 1887 is the only year Florence Kennedy appeared in it. Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published by the Eclectic Publishing Company of 16 Craven Street London WC; which had close links with the London Spiritualist Alliance. The account of the séance with Eglinton: pp83-85 issue of 19 February 1887. Massey’s talk at the LSA: p61 issue of 5 February 1887. Cecilia attending talks which Florence didn’t go to: p121 issue of 19 March 1887; p227 issue of 21 May 1887; p313 issue of 9 July 1887.
Theosophical Society Membership Register June 1898-February 1901 p37
Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett, unedited version published by the Theosophical History Centre London 1986. Mostly written 1916 but an addition starting again from p1 at the end. There’s no mention of Florence in this account, though several of Cecilia. A P Sinnett was still going to stay with Cecilia and her husband as late as 1918.
Cecilia Macrae (born 1848) and Florence Kennedy (born 1853) were two of the five daughters of Samuel Laing (1812-97) and his wife Mary Dickson Cowan (1819-1902); there were also five sons, three of whom died young.
FLORENCE AS AN ARTIST: PART 1
I’ve said in my file on the Laing family that I haven’t got any certain information about how the Laing sisters were educated: what they learned and who taught it them is a mystery. However, in the 1880s paintings by Florence were accepted by major galleries for exhibition; and she must have learned that standard of painting somewhere. This is a piece of speculation, but I’m going to suggest that Florence attended painting classes in Dresden during the winter of 1869-70. She certainly was in Dresden at that time, because she met the American artist Anna Lea (later Anna Lea Merritt) there that winter. Anna had gone to Dresden specifically to learn to paint in the studio of Heinrich Hofmann. In her Memoir, Anna doesn’t actually say that Florence was a fellow art student; but I think it’s a reasonable assumption to make.
Heinrich Hofmann was famous for most of his career as a painter, but changing styles in art were making his work look very old-fashioned by the end of his life and have caused him to be forgotten since. After a training in Germany, Belgium and Italy, he settled in Dresden in 1862 and remained there until his death in 1911. His religious paintings were much admired at the time and much copied, especially his paintings of scenes from the life of Jesus. He was appointed to a professorship at the Dresden academy, but not until June 1870; so Anna Lea - and Florence, if my hunch is correct - must have been private pupils, working in his studio.
Florence was the only member of the Laing family that Anna Lea says she met that winter. Anna’s Memoir reads as if Florence was in Dresden on her own, but I’m sure she was not - she was only 16. The Laings often visited Germany and had many friends there. I doubt if Florence’s parents would have let her go to Dresden for a stay of - possibly - several months, if she had not been able to stay with people they knew.
Anna Lea left Dresden for Paris early in 1870. She was settling in nicely there when the Franco-Prussian War broke out and caused her to have to opt for England as the place to continue her painting lessons. Hearing of Anna’s unexpected arrival in London, Florence invited her to Sunday tea with the whole Laing family. In her Memoir, Anna describes both Florence and Cecilia Laing (later Macrae) as becoming life-long friends as a result of that tea party; but in the Memoir Cecilia is mentioned far more, and Florence not at all after around 1900. It’s likely that Anna Lea Merritt and Florence Kennedy were close friends in the 1880s. However, a break-point in their relationship came in 1891, with both Anna and Florence renting houses in the country but not near each other. Anna moved permanently to Hurstbourne Tarrant on the edge of Salisbury Plain; she mentions Cecilia visiting her there, but not Florence. Florence and her husband took a house in Kent near the border with Surrey; while keeping a house in London as well.
In the 1880s Anna Lea Merritt was living in Tite Street Chelsea, where her friends included the artists Whistler, Burne-Jones, G F Watts, Lord Leighton, Holman Hunt and others. It’s possible (see the third file in this sequence) that Florence knew them already but if she didn’t, she could have met them through Anna.
As part of her training, Anna Lea asked many of her acquaintances to sit for their portrait. She was especially pleased with the one she did of Florence, and Florence allowed it to be shown at the Royal Academy in 1879.
If Florence and Anna continued to train as painters together, in England, in the early 1870s, Anna doesn’t mention it in her Memoir. One critic spoke in 1879 of Florence’s painting A Quiet Corner as being “French-like in execution”. He also described her technique as “delicate” but that doesn’t mean anything in particular: it was something frequently said by male critics of paintings by women, signifying that their work had not stepped outside the allotted female sphere of the small and the un-heroic. I haven’t come across anything that says where, when or with whom Florence might have acquired the ability to paint in a style that British critics associated with France; though I do put forward some suggestions below, in my third file on Florence Kennedy.
Love Locked Out: the Memoirs of Anna Lea Merritt with a Checklist of Her Works ed Galina Gorokhoff. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts. No publication date but the British Library stamp has “Sep 83": pxiv for Anna’s account of her art training, and the sudden enforced move to London. On pxv: Anna Lea married the painting conservator and art critic Henry Merritt in 1877 but he died only a few months afterwards. On pxvi for Anna’s Chelsea based artist friends. Ppxix-pxix: the move to Hurstbourne Tarrant, where died on 7 April 1930.
Mentions of Florence: p55, p77, p81, p195. Just noting here that Edward Sherard Kennedy is not mentioned at all in Anna’s Memoir.
The books’ checklist of paintings begins p239 with works from 1867. Anna’s portrait of Florence Laing: p241.
Anna Lea Merritt’s portrait of Florence must be the one you can see at this blog:
//nataliavogelkoff.com/tag/florence-laing-gennadius. Florence kept it and it is now in the Gennadius Library in Athens. See also www.ascsa.edu.gr
On Heinrich Hofmann, there’s a wikipedia page with the correct training and professional details but the wrong name: Heinrich Karl Johann Hofmann. The man who taught Anna Lea Merritt and perhaps Florence Laing was Johann Michael Ferdinand Heinrich Hofmann.
Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler. Siebzehnter Band 1924 p260 in German so I couldn’t read the list of his works.
Benezit Dictionary of Artists volume 7. Published Gründ 2006 in English: p196 with the same name as in the Lexikon but with very little information.
Building News and Engineering Journal volume 38 p535: review of the 1879 exhibition at the Grosvenor Galleries. Florence’s oil painting A Quiet Corner was in the exhibition.
The third file in this sequence on Florence Kennedy looks at the years 1879 to 1900, the period in which Florence was married to her first husband, Edward Sherard Kennedy.
BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.
Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden. Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01. I have recently (July 2014) discovered that some records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have survived, though most have not; however those that have survived are not yet accessible to the public.
For the history of the GD during the 1890s I usually use Ellic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923. Published Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972. Foreword by Gerald Yorke. Howe is a historian of printing rather than of magic; he also makes no claims to be a magician himself, or even an occultist. He has no axe to grind.
Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.
Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.
Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette. Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.
For the GD members who were freemasons, the membership database of the United Grand Lodge of England is now available via Ancestry: it gives the date of the freemason’s first initiation; and the craft lodges he was a member of.
To take careers in craft freemasonry further, the website of the the Freemasons’ Library is a good resource: //freemasonry.london.museum. Its catalogue has very detailed entries and the website has all sorts of other resources.
You can get from the pages to a database of freemasons’ newspapers and magazines, digitised to 1900. You can also reach that directly at www.masonicperiodicals.org.
Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.
To put contemporary prices and incomes into perspective, I have used www.measuringworth.com/ukcompare which Roger Wright found for me. To help you interpret the ‘today’ figure, measuringworth gives several options. I pick the ‘historic standard of living’ option which is usually the lowest, often by a considerable margin!
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
23 April 2018
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: