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 London, in May 1891. As well as Florence, five other people were initiated that evening: Florence’s sister Cecilia Macrae; Cecilia’s sister-in-law Louisa Ida Macrae; Augustus Montague Cooper; Agnes Alicia de Pallandt; and Emily Katherine Bates.
Florence chose the Latin motto ‘Volo’. She was not the first person to have opted for it - Oliver Firth, initiated in 1888, had got there first. However, Florence was allowed to have her choice because Firth was a member of the GD’s Horus, temple in Bradford, so that references to them weren’t likely to get mixed up.
Florence and her sister were committed Isis-Urania temple members during the 1890s. They both did the necessary study and were initiated into its inner, 2nd Order, in the autumn of 1892. However, whereas Cecilia Macrae was involved with Stella Matutina, as late as the 1920s, Florence did not join any of the GD’s daughter orders.
Believe it or not, this is one of my short biographies. It covers Florence’s life until the death of her first husband. She lived for 50 more years! With access to Florence Kennedy’s papers, I am sure I could have written a full-length book. However, the papers are in Athens. I’d love to go and work through them, but I can’t afford to stay in Greece long enough to do them justice.
Short it may be, but this biography is still in three pieces:
- the Laings, which you can find on my GD Index page under ‘the two Macraes’. It includes coverage of Cecilia, Florence and their siblings growing up in a very wealthy family; and also of their first cousin Agnes Cathcart, née Baxter, who was a GD member in Edinburgh.
This file is the second one of the three:
- Florence in the GD and TS, and her early art training.
And then there’s the third one:
- Florence and her husband Edward Sherard Kennedy; their work as artists; and the last few years of the marriage.
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
Florence and her elder sister Cecilia joined the GD together and they tended to act as a duo within the Order. In order to be allowed into the GD’s inner, 2nd Order, members had to study a wide range of occult texts and pass a series of exams. In May 1892, Cecilia borrowed a large number of manuscripts from William Wynn Westcott’s unofficial GD library (essentially, his own collection of occult books) in order to begin this daunting programme. I’m sure she intended to work through them with Florence. The careful study of difficult documents, and the being examined on them by experts in the field, were not something either sister is likely to have done before. They both passed the exams, though, and became 2nd Order members in the same month.
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 Albert Street, just behind Mornington Crescent station. They visited it together, and agreed that it wasn’t suitable. The search eventually ended with the renting of rooms in Oakley Square, a few minutes’ walk away.
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 Florence and Cecilia. The sisters were some of Annie’s many personal friends in the GD - presumably that’s why Mathers accused them. But it was Florence that Annie wrote to later, telling her that the cutting off of her supply of money to the Mathers was the real reason why she had been ejected; which suggests that Florence was the sister that Annie knew best. In December 1896/January 1897 Frederick Leigh Gardner organised a petition that pleaded with Mathers for Annie to be reinstated. Florence and Cecilia both signed it; but when Mathers made it a matter of obedience that the petition be dropped, both submitted to his authority. However, the necessity for submission to Mathers had made Florence very angry, more so than Cecilia: Florence had thought that the wording of the petition had been sufficiently humble to appease even Mathers, and was disgusted to find that it wasn’t. She went to William Wynn Westcott (the other founder of the GD) to ask him to intervene; only to find Westcott doing what he usually did in a GD crisis - nothing, thereby avoiding conflict with more aggressive personalities. Westcott told Florence that the GD members should bow to Mathers as a great magician, even on issues that didn’t really involve magic.
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 with her, Florence did send £10 to them to tide them over one of these crises, in 1897.
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. Florence was the last to be recruited into this sub-group: I expect Westcott was aware that he had disappointed her in the uproar over Annie Horniman. She agreed to join, though, provided the group met at times that were convenient. Monday afternoons were convenient to her and during 1897 the group mostly met at those times. However, by March 1898 Florence and Mrs Fulham Hughes had both given up going; Florence possibly doing so for reasons not connected with the GD.
Florence and Cecilia got on reasonably well with Frederick Leigh Gardner, but they seem to have been in a minority. Others - particularly the younger women - complained so often about his rudeness, arrogance and militaristic way of ordering the rituals, that in the end, in 1897, Florence Farr (now in charge of the GD’s daily administration) decided she couldn’t have such a divisive personality in the Isis-Urania temple any longer, and sent him to run the Horus Temple in Bradford instead.
It was Florence Kennedy that Gardner wrote to on 14 October 1897, complaining that Florence Farr had made her decision without hearing his side of the argument, and demanding that he have his say. But it was Cecilia who wrote back to him to say how sorry she was to hear that he had been ordered out of Isis-Urania. Cecilia was wondering how much longer the GD could continue in the face of so many upheavals and arguments. The sisters discussed whether they should both send in their resignations. In the end, they decided they wouldn’t, in case their departures should be the final straw when it seemed that the GD might unravel at any moment.
Cecilia sent a second letter, telling Gardner what she and Florence had decided to do. The letter didn’t contain any suggestion that Florence shared her sadness at Gardner’s enforced departure. If Florence wrote back to him, the letter hasn’t survived. There were reasons for why Florence’s views may have differed from Cecilia’s on this issue. Florence may have shared the majority view of Gardner’s behaviour. It’s also likely that Florence would have supported Florence Farr’s decision in any case: the two Florences had become good friends. I’m sure Gardner was aware of this, which is why it was Florence’s help he had tried to obtain, rather than Cecilia’s, in fighting his dismissal.
In the late 1890s Florence Farr often visited Florence and Edward Kennedy at their country home - The Cottage, Edenbridge, in Kent. In fact, Florence Farr had written the letter dismissing Gardner from the Isis-Urania temple, at The Cottage, when she was staying there in August 1897; and had probably discussed the problems caused by Gardner’s behaviour with Florence Kennedy. Florence Farr went to stay with Florence Kennedy for a longer period in 1900, to support her in the months after husband had died.
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 Egypt; Harriet Butler; Robert Felkin; Edmund Hunter; Dorothea Hunter; Henrietta Paget; Helen Rand; Robert Palmer Thomas; and Ada Waters. Though Felkin didn’t include her name in his list, it’s possible that Reena Fulham Hughes might also have been in the Group. When Mathers himself was ejected from the GD in 1900, it was members of the Sphere Group who took over the management of the Order; though Florence Kennedy was not one of those appointed.
AFTER THE GD
Florence’s husband Edward died in January 1900 and she was not an active member of the GD after that. However, friendships made through the GD were still important to her. In 1902, W B Yeats mentioned in a letter that Florence had been paying £3 a week for the last year, for Althea Gyles to be cared for in a sanatorium. Margaret Alethea Gyles, known as Althea Gyles (1868-1949), was from an Anglo-Irish family and was a related to Florence and Cecilia in a distant way; but she was also a friend of Annie Horniman; and for a short while had some kind of relationship with Aleister Crowley, who was in the GD from 1898 to 1900. She was an artist and illustrator, poet and novelist; but her chaotic lifestyle and self-neglect made her the despair of all who knew her and were probably the reason why she was not thought suitable to join the GD herself. In 1900 she had been sent to the Hospital for Diseases of the Chest, on City Road in London, and perhaps this was the treatment that Florence’s money was funding. I don’t know how long the payments went on.
ANY OTHER ESOTERIC INTERESTS?
The membership registers of the Theosophical Society show both Florence and Cecilia joining the TS between 1898 and 1901. That registers may not tell the whole story though. Handwritten notes on Florence’s record describe her as a long-serving member, and as a member of London Lodge. London Lodge was founded in 1876, before the TS itself was set up in London, and for many years it held itself aloof from the TS in general, had its own finances and kept its own records. So there’s actually no telling when the sisters first joined the TS. Later on (the TS’s records don’t say exactly when) Cecilia and Florence moved from London Lodge to join Blavatsky Lodge, where Helena Petrovna Blavatsky herself held sway from May 1887, when she settled in London, to her death in May 1891, around the time the sisters joined the GD. William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers were both active members of Blavatsky Lodge during the 1880s, and that it was most likely through them that Florence and Cecilia were invited to join the GD.
The GD records that have survived don’t seem to know about Florence’s remarriage (in December 1902); but the TS knew her new surname. In December 1900 Florence acted as co-sponsor for a new member, so she must still have been going to TS meetings regularly at that time. The new member was Miss Margaret Scott-Kerr of St James’s Park; Florence’s co-sponsor was Katherine Burke. Florence continued to send the TS a £20 donation/subscription each year until February 1909. At that point she resigned, one of the many members to do so when Annie Besant was elected TS president for life, in succession to Colonel Olcott. Cecilia resigned a few weeks later. Despite the change of lodge, and despite her resignation from the TS, Cecilia kept up a friendship with Alfred Percy and Patience Sinnett, who had been London Lodge’s foremost members in the 1880s. Florence, however, doesn’t seem to have been particularly friendly with the Sinnetts.
I haven’t found any evidence that Florence was a spiritualist. It is hard to tell whether people were spiritualists as spiritualism was a very locally, even family-based pursuit and there was no over-arching organisation with a membership list that can be consulted now. However, it’s unlikely that Florence and Cecilia Laing’s family held seances at home: their father, Samuel Laing, did not believe that the dead were trying to contact the living through the agency of spiritualist mediums.
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. Rochester Vermont: Park Street Press 1995: p184 quoting Yorke Collection: New Springback Folder, letter Florence Kennedy to Frederick Leigh Gardner 6 January 1897. Beware her p246 though: she says that Florence Kennedy died in 1900; it was Florence’s husband who died.
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.
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
3 June 2017
Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: