Cecilia Mary Bruce Macrae was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Isis-Urania temple in London, in May 1891. It was a busy evening. As well as Cecilia, five other people were initiated: Cecilia’s sister Florence Kennedy; her sister-in-law Louisa Ida Macrae; Augustus Montague Cooper; Agnes Alicia de Pallandt; and Emily Katharine Bates.


Cecilia chose a Latin motto, ‘Macte virtute’, but shortly afterwards she changed her mind and substituted another Latin phrase, ‘Vincit Qui Se Vincit’, usually shortened to VQSV or ‘Vincit’. She was initiated into the GD’s inner, 2nd Order 18 months later, on 3 October 1892. She was one of the GD’s longest-serving members, still active in its daughter order Stella Matutina in the early 1920s.


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.



This is what I have found on CECILIA MARY BRUCE MACRAE née Laing. For more on her background, there’s a separate file on the Laing family.


UPDATE JULY 2018 on two counts

I’ve recently been reading through issues of Light, the main spiritualist magazine in Britain during the 1880s. I hadn’t really expected to find Cecilia Macrae in their pages, but she did appear on a very few occasions. Just as I was preparing some new paragraphs on Cecilia as a spiritualist, to add to the biography below, Peter Grose contacted me with news of a stained glass window dedicated to Cecilia’s mother, in the church at Meonstoke in Hampshire. Thanks are due to Peter for the information and for sending photographs with further details; though I’m still puzzled about the window, for reasons I outline in the section on Cecilia’s married life.



As the wife of a prominent lawyer and businessman, and as a mother, Cecilia had many commitments. She managed large households and a had busy social schedule. However, it’s clear from the GD’s surviving documents that she was very serious about her membership of the Order.


A few months after Cecilia joined the GD, Grace Aurelia Murray was initiated. The address Mrs Murray gave the GD for correspondence was Cecilia’s house in Cheyne Walk; she was a friend of both Cecilia and Florence Kennedy. It’s likely that Cecilia was also responsible for recommending Mary Eliza Haweis to the GD: Mrs Haweis and her family moved into 16 Cheyne Walk, a few doors down from where Cecilia was living, over New Year 1884 and Mary Eliza was initiated into the GD a few weeks later. Agnes Cathcart, first-cousin of Cecilia and Florence, also joined the GD, in March 1894. It’s possible she first heard of its existence from her cousins. However, she was initiated in Edinburgh, not London, where she also knew GD members John and Frances Brodie-Innes, and her introduction to the GD is more likely to have come from them.



Candidates for initiation into the GD’s 2nd Order had to study a wide range of different esoteric subjects, and pass some exams. I’m sure Cecilia and Florence worked through this daunting programme together. They began in in May 1892, when Cecilia took advantage of William Wynn Westcott’s willingness to lend his own books and manuscripts, to borrow a large number of magical texts. Both sisters were ready for their second initiation only a few months afterwards.



In the late 1890s, members of the GD began to meet in small groups to do magic together in addition to and apart from the Order’s formal rituals. It’s an indication of how skilled a magician Cecilia wanted to be, and how much she enjoyed her membership, that she was a member of two of these.



Frederick Leigh Gardner and Francis W Wright started to set up the first of them, in the spring of 1897. William Wynn Westcott was keen to join this group and eventually it became his group rather than Gardner’s and Wright’s. Cecilia and Reena Fulham Hughes accepted Westcott’s invitation to join. Westcott also asked Florence Kennedy, who said she was willing provided its meetings were at a convenient time for her. The group - including Florence Kennedy - did meet, at least into 1898. Florence Kennedy and Reena Fulham Hughes dropped out quite soon, however, and no records of what magic the group did have survived.


Cecilia and Florence also joined the Sphere Group, founded to focus on Florence Farr’s speciality of Egyptian symbolism and invocation. More information has survived about this group. At some point, Robert Felkin compiled a list of its members. As well as beings from the astral plain, the members were Felkin himself; Florence Farr and her sister Henrietta Paget; Cecilia, and Florence Kennedy; Ada Waters; Marcus Worsley Blackden (another Egyptian magic expert); Helen Rand; Robert Palmer Thomas; Edmund Hunter, his wife Dorothea and his cousin Fanny Hunter. There’s also reason for thinking Reena Fulham Hughes was a member though she is not on Felkin’s list. The Sphere Group continued to operate at least until 1901.



Perhaps Cecilia saw the GD as a place where she and her sister could spend time away from the social engagements that took up so much of the rest of their days. When life in the GD started to get very turbulent, in the mid-1890s, she worried about its future. Once or twice she trembled on the verge of resigning from the Order, at times of particular stress in it, but she always decided to keep up her membership.


In 1896, Annie Horniman was ejected from the GD by Samuel Liddell Mathers. Many members felt that Annie had been treated unfairly and Frederick Leigh Gardner began to organise a petition to reinstate her. Around Christmas 1896/early January 1897 (the letter is undated) Cecilia signed the petition. However, when Mathers saw the petition as a challenge to his authority, Cecilia was also amongst those who agreed to accept him as the final arbiter of who should or should not be in the Order. The petition was dropped and Annie remained outside the GD for several years.


Cecilia’s relations with Frederick Leigh Gardner were good; she found him “fraternal, and Kind in manner”. (She means ‘fraternal’ in the magical sense of fratres and sorores, of course). However, many GD members, especially the younger women, found him abrasive and intimidating. And when he was put in charge of the organisation of Isis-Urania’s rituals, his approach to them was considered by many to be too rigid to allow the action to develop spontaneously. In the end, weary of listening to so many complaints about him, Florence Farr, as head of the GD in England, suspended him from Isis-Urania and sent him to run the Horus Temple at Bradford instead. On hearing this news, in October 1897, Cecilia took the trouble to write to Gardner saying how sorry she was to hear of his enforced departure from the London temple. This latest disruption of life in the GD had come at a particularly emotional time for Cecilia - her father, Samuel Laing, had died two months before. Consequently, she found herself unable to decide what if anything she should do about Gardner’s suspension, except to wait upon events. She wrote again to Gardner a few days later, saying that she had talked the situation over with her sister. With many misgivings, she and Florence Kennedy had agreed not to make any noise about the way Gardner had been treated, at a time when the GD seemed so unstable it might disintegrate any day.


It’s likely that Florence Kennedy dropped out of the GD when her husband died at the beginning of 1900. Cecilia was still a member of the GD and of the Sphere Group between February and April 1900, when the Order broke dramatically with the past; but being in mourning for her brother-in-law, she didn’t take an active part if what happened. The sequence of events began with Mathers telling Florence Farr that the documents allowing the GD to be founded were fakes; and ended with the expulsion of Mathers and some of his closest supporters from the Order and the setting up of a new hierarchy to run it. The new hierarchy was largely composed of members of the Sphere Group. However, Cecilia’s name isn’t in any of the records that survive (they are pretty sketchy) for the period from 1900 to the GD’s final disintegration into two daughter orders during 1903; though she may have been - probably was - going to some rituals and meetings.




Another third period of mourning prevented Cecilia from taking a more active part in the GD’s collapse during 1903: her mother Mary died in the summer of 1902.


After several months of fruitless negotiations about the GD’s future as 1903 wore on, Robert Felkin decided to go it alone with a solution: at the end of the year, he founded the Amoun Temple. He intended it as a new temple within the GD and the names of its first new members were added to the GD’s membership roll. However, it soon began to be thought of as the first temple in a new order, Stella Matutina. The first new recruits were initiated in 1904. Although W B Yeats was the temple’s most senior member - having been in the GD longer than any of the other founders - Amoun Temple was dominated by Robert Felkin and his acquaintances. One of them was a neighbour of the Felkins, Christina Mary Stoddart: she was initiated in October 1907, when she was living at 56 Bassett Road. Until the first World War Amoun Temple even held its meetings and rituals in the Felkins’ house at 47 Bassett Road North Kensington.


It’s through Christina Stoddart that I’m able to say that Cecilia was an active member of Amoun Temple; despite her name not appearing on either of the lists of its members that still exist from before World War 1. In a letter to Georgie Yeats, written in 1919, Christina mentioned that she’d recently spent an enjoyable evening with Cecilia. Christina referred to Cecilia by her GD motto, not her name; and as a friend of long-standing to both women, known to them both through magic.


In 1919 Robert Felkin - now living in New Zealand - ordered that the Amoun Temple be shut down. However, it was still going two years later and its members were fighting back. In April 1921, Cecilia agreed to join a committee of Amoun Temple which would investigate claims Christina Stoddart had been making, that Robert Felkin had never been given authority to run any daughter order of the GD. The other members of the committee were Dr William Carnegie Dickson (son of GD member Dr George Dickson of Edinburgh) and John Brodie-Innes. I couldn’t find any evidence that the committee had ever reached a decision on the matter they had been asked to research. Once again, deaths were probably what intervened: that of Cecilia’s husband in November 1922 and that of John Brodie-Innes himself in December 1923.


Information is lacking but it looks as though Cecilia didn’t take an active role in SM after her husband’s death.




The Hermetic Society was founded in 1884 by Anna Bonus Kingsford (its perpetual president) and her occult co-worker Edward Maitland. It was created to be a forum for talks on western esotericism, and was active from April to July in 1884, 1885 and 1886. Apart from Kingsford and Maitland, only a few people are known for certain to have been members; and I don’t know whether Cecilia Macrae was. If she was a member she might have met both Samuel Liddell Mathers and William Wynn Westcott; they were members, at least in 1886.



The involvement of GD members in spiritualism is a tricky thing to investigate. Communicating with spirits, or with the dead, was a very locally-based, even family-based, pursuit and there was no over-arching organisation with a membership list that can be consulted now. However, while working my way through copies of the spiritualist magazine Light I did find evidence that early in 1887 – not before and not afterwards – Cecilia, her husband and her sister Florence Kennedy went to talks at the London Spiritualist Association. They and Florence’s husband Edward went to its usual meeting place, the banqueting hall of St James’s Hall (which had entrances on Piccadilly and Regent Street) on Friday 28 January 1887 to hear Charles Carleton Massey give a talk on The Application of Spiritualism to Scientific Research. Three other future members of the GD attended this talk: Isabel de Steiger, who was a friend of Massey; Catherine Amy Passingham; and Annie Louisa Procter. Perhaps they were all introduced. Charles Colin Macrae might even have known Massey already: Massey had qualified as a barrister although by the late 1880s he wasn’t working as one.


Florence and Edward don’t seem to have been impressed by the LSA: I can’t find any evidence that they ever went to a talk there again. However, before they too dropped out, the Macraes went to one talk together, on Thursday 30 June 1887, when the speaker was Mr E Cassel, on Death. Future GD members Henry and Rose Pullen Burry were at that talk. Cecilia also went to a couple of talks on her own. On 10 March she heard W Paice give a talk entitled Whence and Whither? Future GD member Dr Edward Berridge was at this talk; and also Catherine Amy Passingham. And on Thursday 12 May she went to hear Rev Page Hopps; I haven’t been able to discover what he was talking about! Agnes Alicia, Baroness de Pallandt – initiated into the GD on the same day as Cecilia - was at this talk.


This sudden and apparently short-lived interest in the doings of the LSA seems to have come about because the Macraes had invited the well-known medium William Eglinton to be the medium at a couple of séances at their home, 6 Cambridge Terrace Regent’s Park. The séances took place in mid-January 1887 and Florence Kennedy was the only other person present at them. During the séances, Charles Colin Macrae had made notes. Two days after the second of them, he wrote an account of what had happened in them and sent it to Light; with a paragraph of corroboration from Cecilia and a letter confirming much of the Macraes’ descriptions from Florence. All three pieces of writing were published in Light’s issue of 19 February 1887.


It’s not clear from the account whether this was the first séance any of the three had ever attended; or whether it was just the first time Eglinton had visited the Macraes. It is clear that the Macraes were well aware that the previous year Mrs Sidgwick – wife of the president of the Society for Psychical Research – had called Eglinton a fraud, provoking outrage amongst spiritualists and a vigorous campaign in defence of his livelihood by Eglinton. Charles Colin Macrae was anxious to make it clear to Light’s readers that Eglinton had had very little opportunity to arrange any fraudulent spirit-manifestations, during his time in the Macraes’ house; and that Cecilia and Florence Kennedy had kept hold of Eglinton’s hands throughout both seances. Eglinton was best known as an automatic writing medium but during the seances with the Macraes and Florence Kennedy, he also made lights and a ghostly figure appear, moved furniture about the room (including a sideboard with its full array of bottles and glasses) and levitated to the ceiling. Not all of the three saw every phenomenon: Charles Colin didn’t see the lights; Florence Kennedy saw the ghostly figure and was also the only one to hear voices.



Cecilia’s membership of the Theosophical Society is listed in the membership register covering June 1898 to February 1901. Her entry is in the middle of a group whose dates of application aren’t noted down, but she paid her first annual subscription to the TS in 1901. 1901 was a particularly disturbed year at the GD, and perhaps Cecilia was thinking it would be a good idea if she joined another organisation where she could meet people with similar interests. She was originally a member of the TS’s London Lodge, before changing to Blavatsky Lodge. She resigned from the TS altogether in March 1909; a lot of members did so at that time, disturbed by Annie Besant’s reinstatement of Leadbeater as a TS member, against whom so many unpleasant allegations had been made.


Alfred Percy, author of Esoteric Buddhism, and his wife Patience, had helped found London Lodge in June 1878. The Sinnetts went to stay with the Macraes in the country in the summer of 1905 and the friendship survived Cecilia’s move to London Lodge’s main rival lodge; and Patience Sinnett’s death in 1908. Cecilia and her husband were still friendly with Alfred Percy Sinnett many years after Cecilia had left the TS - he went to stay with them in Bournemouth in August 1918.



Cecilia’s curiosity about western and eastern esotericism was given permission, you could say, by ideas she must have been familiar with through the men in her life. Her father, Samuel Laing, was an agnostic who was not afraid to say so at a time when few were prepared to go that far in public. And her husband, Charles Colin Macrae - while never being a member of either the GD or the TS - had religious views that were definitely Christian, but very unorthodox. He was acquainted with two radical preachers, Moncure Daniel Conway and Rev Charles Voysey.


Moncure Daniel Conway (1832-1907) was the Unitarian minister of South Place chapel in Finsbury, London, from 1864 to 1865 and again from 1893 to 1897. Born in Virginia into a Methodist family that supported the Confederacy, his views on religion and politics had been changed in 1854 when he met Ralph Waldo Emerson. He had come to England in 1862 as a prominent supporter of the abolition of slavery; and had stayed on at South Place chapel and as a pamphleteer, biographer (of Thomas Paine and Nathaniel Hawkins for example) and literary agent. In 1884 Conway went to India on a fact-finding mission, travelling with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Like any 19th century traveller, he took with him letters of introduction to people who would ease him into their social circles, including one from Charles Colin Macrae to Lewis P Delves Broughton, a barrister colleague from the 1870s when Charles Colin had been working in Calcutta. Perhaps, in the mid-to-late 1860s Charles Colin had been a member of Conway’s congregation; I imagine he had at least read some of Conway’s books.


Rev Charles Voysey must be one of the last people to be accused of heresy in England. He was called before a meeting of the archdiocese of York in 1869 and found guilty of beliefs inconsistent with employment in the Church of England. He appealed to the Privy Council but in 1871, the PC confirmed the decision reached in York. Rev Voysey was given one week to recant (coverage of the trial has a very 16th-century ring to it) but refused to do so. In the 16th century he might have been burned at the stake but in 1871 he just lost his Church of England living. A committee - the Voysey Establishment Fund - was set up to pay for a church building in which he could continue preaching the kind of sermon that had brought him to the attention of the Church of England authorities. While the money was being raised, the Fund paid for him to hold a service each Sunday in St George’s Hall in Langham Place, London. Early members of the VEF included other radical clerics and two of the scientists whose researches had done so much to undermine belief in the central tenets of Christianity: Charles Lyell the geologist; Charles Darwin and several other members of the Darwin family; and bishop J W Colenso whose views had got him exiled by the Church of England to an appointment in South Africa. The feminist writer Frances Power Cobbe was also a vocal supporter.


Most of the views that the Church of England found so horrifying in the 1860s would probably not cause much uproar now; though some still would. In the first pamphlet issued by the VEF, Rev Voysey’s beliefs were set out:


- people should think for themselves in matters of religion

- people should do good without expectation of reward

- that God is unity, there is no Trinity

- that Jesus was not divine or even partly divine: he was human and there was no miraculous birth

- there was no Fall and therefore no need for atonement

- everyone has a hope of everlasting life; there is no eternal torment

- no revelation should be accepted by anyone without question: a person’s reason and their conscience are the supreme authority

- knowledge of God is a process towards better understanding; there is no such thing as sudden, complete enlightenment.


In refusing to believe in the trinity of father, son and holy ghost, Rev Voysey was in the same corner of that particular debate as the Unitarians. Rev Voysey came to call this set of beliefs ‘theism’ although a core belief in the Christian god still remained.


I’ve written out what Rev Voysey believed because in 1878 - shortly after he and Cecilia Laing were married - Charles Colin Macrae became vice-President of the Voysey Establishment Fund; which suggests he was a regular listener to Rev Voysey’s Sunday lectures and a reader of his publications. In 1885 Rev Voysey was finally able to open his Theistic Church when the VEF bought the lease of an unused chapel in Swallow Street, Piccadilly; a move that Charles Colin Macrae must have guided through its financial and legal pitfalls. Voysey continued to preach there until his death in 1912 though the congregation dispersed very soon afterwards.


Two of Rev Voysey’s daughters were initiated into the GD: Frances, wife of John William Brodie-Innes; and her sister Henrietta Voysey who was a professional, trained nurse. I think that the Macraes knew all the Voysey family before the GD was thought of, and they also hired Rev Voysey’s architect son, C F A Voysey (who was never a GD member), to do work for them on their country house.


It’s clear that Charles Colin Macrae was an active theist and defender of Rev Voysey’s very modern take on Christianity. Although I do not know of any lists of those who went to the Theistic Church on Sundays in the late 1880s and 1890s, I’m assuming that Charles Colin Macrae did so regularly; and that Cecilia did as well.




Introductions to the GD:

Grace Aurelia Murray: RAG p147;

Mary Eliza Haweis: RAG p152. There is a biography: Arbiter of Elegance by Bea Howe, although it is not good on dates. Published London: Harvill Press 1967 p164; p265.

Agnes Cathcart: see my biography!

Cecilia in the GD:

GD collection at the Freemasons’ Library; formerly owned by R A Gilbert. Call number GBR GD2/2/8a: a receipt dated 1 May 1892, written by Cecilia, for books and manuscripts on loan from William Wynn Westcott’s own library.


Warburg Institute Gerald Yorke Collection catalogue number NS73, which contains a number of letters to Frederick Leigh Gardner from different GD members, spanning the 1890s to the 1920s; with a few copies of letters Gardner sent to GD members. There are letters by Cecilia and references to her in some others.

- Cecilia to Gardner [December 1896/January 1897]

- in a letter William Wynn Westcott to Gardner 17 May 1897

- Cecilia to Gardner 19 October [1897]

- Cecilia to Gardner 24 October [1897]


The Sphere Group:

Cauda Pavonis was the newsletter/journal of the Hermetic Text Society, published by the Department of English, Washington State University at Pullman. It’s no longer published, alas! But some issues from the early 1908s are at www.alchemywebsite.com/cauda.html Volumes 11-16 1992 pp7-12 article by Sharon E Cogdill on Florence Farr’s Sphere Group.

Collected Letters of W B Yeats Volume 3 1901-04 p32 note 4; p33 give the same list of members.



Yeats’s Golden Dawn by George Mills Harper. London: Macmillan Press 1974. George Mills Harper’s book is based on documents that were in Yeats’s library when he died. When Harper was using them, they were in Anne Yeats’ possession. They’re now (April 2017) in the collection of the National Library of Ireland: see www.nli.ie/yeats. Founding of Amoun Temple: p124; its closure by Felkin p129. Christina Mary Stoddart’s evening with Cecilia p130. Appendix R pp287-89: list of GD members issued 26 June 1902, which doesn’t include Cecilia. Amoun Temple in 1921: p138, pp311-12.


STELLA MATUTINA from RAG’s Companion: beginning p161 for lists of members; Cecilia isn’t on either of them; Christina Stoddart is on p164. P41 for the history of Amoun Temple to 1916 when the Felkins emigrated to New Zealand.

Death of John William Brodie-Innes: Probate Registry 1924.



Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published London: Eclectic Publishing Company and closely associated with the London Spiritualist Alliance. Volume 7 1887: p61 issue of 5 February 1887; p121 issue of 19 March 1887; p227 issue of 21 May 1887; p313 issue of 9 July 1887. The account of the séance with William Eglinton: pp83-84 issue of 19 February 1887. On Eglinton’s feud with Mrs Sidgwick, and the support he had from LSA members: Light volume 6 1886. On p536 there is confirmation that Mrs Sidgwick made her accusation during a talk at the Society for Psychical Research on 3 May 1886. The response of spiritualists featured in almost every issue from May to October and pages 474 to 502 of the issue of 16 October 1886 were taken up with letters and other documents collected by Eglinton to support his argument that (p502) “I possess abnormal powers not explainable by...science”.


Hermetic Society: its formation and the texts of many of its talks were covered by Light between 1884 and 1887. One or two of the early committee members were mentioned in Light; the speakers and occasionally people making an interesting contribution to the after-talk discussion were named; but it was a private society and no list of members was ever published.



At www.theosophy.wiki a history of the London Lodge based on writings by Emily Kislingbury and other prominent members of it.

Theosophical Society Membership Register June 1898-February 1901 p261.

The Theosophical Society’s journal Lucifer volume 3 September 1888 to February 1889 issue of 15 September 1888 p82 an uncredited review of Samuel Laing’s booklet: Agnosticism and Christianity.

Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett; an un-edited version published by the Theosophical History Centre London 1986 and now easily available online. The autobiography was signed off in June 1912 but Sinnett then wrote an additional few pages in 1916: p83 of original and p5 of the 1916 additional section.



For Moncure Daniel Conway 1832-1907 see his wikipedia page.

See Conway Hall’s web pages for more on the South Place chapel, which changed its name in 1888 from the Religious Society of Finsbury to South Place Ethical Society. Conway Hall, named after Moncure Daniel Conway, is the home the South Place chapel’s descendant, the Ethical Society. There’s also a wiki at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway_Hall_Ethical_Society

At www.blavatskyarchives.com/conway3.htm is an extract of Conway’s book about his trip to the east: My Pilgrimage to the Wise Men of the East published 1906. He mentions the letter of introduction Charles Colin Macrae had given him.

Rev Charles Voysey:Oxford Dictionary of National Biography volume 56 pp608-09: Charles Voysey 1828-1912.

Lewis P Delves Broughton:

Thacker’s Bengal Directory 1870 issue when Charles Colin Macrae was practising as a barrister in Calcutta. On p27 of the residents’ list: L P Delves Broughton, barrister and registrar of the diocese of Calcutta.

Bengal Directory 1884 p973 in the residents’ list: L P D Broughton was still a barrister but he was now also the administrator-general of Bengal; home address, 3 Outram Street Calcutta.

Cornish Sermons H-V 1-19 British Library catalogue reference 4478.f.82. Number 16 of the set is a publicity pamphlet, Voysey Establishment Fund, issued after the meeting that founded it, in July 1871. For Voysey’s theology: p15. Beginning p9: list of contributors so far. On p10: “Miss F P Cobbe” had given £1. There was no donation from Charles Colin Macrae; he was in India at the time.

At www.darwinproject.ac.uk, in web pages run by the University of Cambridge: letter from F A Hanbury on behalf of the VEF; to Charles Darwin 4 September 1871 acknowledging his donation of £5. Footnote 2 for other donors to the VEF at this early stage. Hanbury’s address was 24 Old Square Lincoln’s Inn and the list of donors was very City and law-based.

Theological Tracts British Library catalogue reference 4372.g.6 1-18 includes An Historical Sketch of Theism. Published Williams and Norgate of Henrietta Street Covent Garden and South Frederick Street Edinburgh. It was originally a talk given at a meeting of the VEF on 27 November 1878 by Charles Colin Macrae as the VEF’s new vice-chairman. Just noting here that on its p4, Macrae had defined modern theism as belief in “one God” which nevertheless “rejects all traditional religion”. For Macrae, theism was the opposite of atheism.




Cecilia was a daughter of Samuel Laing and his wife Mary Dickson Cowan. For more details on Cecilia’s parents, see the first file in this set: the Laings. Here I’ll just say that the families of both Samuel and Mary were from Orkney; and that Samuel Laing (1812-97) was an MP and advisor to Liberal governments on the legalities and finance of railways. At the same time, he made a fortune as an investor in, and manager and director of, railway and other companies.


Samuel Laing and Mary Cowan married in 1840. They had ten children:

- Samuel born 1843 died 1870

- Malcolm born 1846

- Robert probably born late 1847/early 1848; died before 1861, probably 1858

- Cecilia Mary Bruce the future GD member, born 1848

- Mary Eliza born 1850

- Agnes born 1851

- Florence Elizabeth the future GD member born 1853

- Francis Kelly born 1854 died 1874

- Theresa Uzielli born 1855


- Henry Rudolph born 1858.


The family lived in increasing affluence between houses in central London, Brighton and Sydenham; though while Samuel Laing was on government business in India in the early 1860s, Mary Cowan Laing and the children were living in Scotland.


None of the Laings’ daughters ‘came out’ by being presented at court and doing the round of the high-society balls and garden parties. Though the Laings were very wealthy, they moved in political, business and industrial circles rather than aristocratic ones. Samuel Laing wrote books on Darwinian evolution and the origins of man and the Laings’ friends also included scientists and challengers of accepted ideas like T H Huxley and Edwin Ray Lankester.


The American journalist, playwright and traveller Charles Godfrey Leland, (who wrote as Hans Breitman) described the kind of social gatherings the Laings were able to hold as “brilliant and refined”. Leland and his wife were on a prolonged tour of Europe while Leland’s latest play was on the stage in the West End. They reached Brighton in August 1870 after several months doing the social round in London. They were soon introduced to the Laings, who were in Brighton for the summer. Despite the fact that the Laings were supposedly in mourning for their son Samuel, who had died in the spring aged only 26, they were still organising dinners, hunts, balls and excursions. The day trips included one to Lewes in a special train laid on by Samuel Laing as managing director and chairman of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. In July of the following year the Lelands met Mary Cowan Laing, Cecilia and Florence in Germany, at the Hotel des Quatres Saisons in Homburg on the Rhine, where they had all gone to enjoy the celebrations surrounding the unification of Germany under the Prussian king who now became Emperor Wilhelm I.


Census day 1871 fell between those two marathons of socialising. On census day Cecilia was engaged in the visiting that was such a necessary part of the life led by her social class. She was staying with Robert Lowther and his wife Laura, at 57 Queen’s Gardens Marylebone. They were an elderly couple - he was 81, she was 48 - but perhaps Cecilia was a friend of Laura Lowther’s niece Laura Martindale, who was 20 and living with them. I couldn’t quite read what was written in the ‘occupation’ box for Robert Lowther but there was definitely a reference to his having been in India. I found some references to a Robert Lowther present during the siege of Lucknow (1857-58); perhaps Cecilia’s host was that man and Samuel Laing had met him during his spell in India in the 1860s. Robert Lowther was wealthy enough to employ a butler, footman, cook and under cook, a lady’s maid and a housemaid.


I have no idea what education Cecilia and her sisters had received. It’s safe to assume that it would have prepared them for continuing in their parents’ social circle, as wives and mothers and mistresses of a large household that entertained a great deal; but what exactly was taught them and by whom is a mystery. Census days shed light on just 24 hours in a decade; but the Laings did not have a governess in their household on any census day between 1851 and 1891. My guess is that their daughters may have gone to school in Edinburgh during the early 1860s and had lessons later from individual teachers who came to their parents’ houses by the hour. Cecilia and Florence, at least, showed a willingness to pursue excellence in some subjects: Charles Leland wrote that Cecilia was described as the “first amateur pianiste” in England by no less a person than George Henry Lewes; and Florence’s paintings were accepted for exhibition by major art galleries including the Paris Salon.


Most of what I know about Cecilia in her later life comes from a memoir written by her close friend, the artist Anna Lea Merritt. Wealthy Americans making prolonged visits to Europe were a feature of the social scene in which the Laing daughters grew up, but the Laings met the family of Joseph and Susannah Lea of Philadelphia in a rather less typical way, after Florence Laing and Anna Lea took the same art classes in Dresden in the winter of 1869-1870. When the classes were over, Florence Laing went back to England and Anna Lea went to Basel and then to Paris. Anna meant to make a long stay in France to get some more art training, but had to escape to London in July 1870 when the Franco-Prussian war broke out. Florence invited Anna to meet the rest of the Laings at dinner and Sunday tea, and that led to the two families meeting and becoming friendly.


The Leas went back to the USA in 1871 or 1872 but Anna - now determined to be a professional painter - was allowed stay in Europe. She continued to be friends with Florence but was closer to Cecilia and there’s no mention of Florence in Anna’s memoir after 1900.


Anna painted Florence, Cecilia and Charles Colin Macrae, and Mary Cowan Laing. Florence’s portrait was probably done while they were both in Dresden, certainly before 1879. Anna painted Cecilia and her husband in 1879; their two sons in 1888; and there’s a portrait of Charles Colin alone, dressed in highland costume, from 1900. The portrait of Cecilia’s mother was done in 1898.


Cecilia and Anna both married in 1877; but Anna’s husband, the painting conservator and art critic Henry Merritt, died only a few months later while Cecilia’s lived until the 1920s. Both women’s mothers then died in the same year, 1902. Cecilia’s mother was living with Cecilia and her husband when she died. Once again, Anna was the unlucky one: her mother died in Pennsylvania and Anna hadn’t seen her for many years. Anna describes Cecilia as “pouring out sympathy and faith in the spirit world around us” and Anna needed that ability in Cecilia, in the months after her mother’s death. And it was Cecilia, not Florence, that gave timely help when Anna was struggling financially, especially in the early 1890s when she moved out of London to Hurstbourne Tarrant, north of Andover in Hampshire, and took on a house that needed a lot of repair work done on it. Samuel Laing helped too, sending her a lot of books.


Anna had left London for health reasons, not because she preferred country life, and during her first years in Hampshire she felt very lonely. Cecilia was one of three women friends who visited her regularly at that time. It was Cecilia who first encouraged Anna to write stories about village life; and then encouraged her to try and get them published. They first appeared in Century Magazine and then in book form, published by Kegan Paul, where Cecilia’s friend A P Sinnett worked as a manager. Anna thought of Cecilia as more a sister than a friend - a substitute for Anna’s own sisters (five of them) who had returned to the US with her parents.



Charles Leland:

Memoirs by Charles Godfrey Leland “(Hans Breitman)”. London: William Heinemann 1893. In two volumes. There’s no index. Volume 2 p270; p215 mentions that while in Belgium, the Lelands had met the London-based publisher Nicholas Trübner and his wife. The Trübners were the people who introduced the Lelands to their friends when they reached England in 1870, including George Eliot and G H Lewes, Edwin Arnold, Lord Napier of Magdala, Lord and Lady Tennyson; Lord Bulwer-Lytton; and Richard Monckton-Milnes. The Laings definitely knew George Lewes and probably all the other people on that list though I don’t have direct evidence for them knowing the others. The Lelands in Brighton: pp253-263; meeting Mary Laing, Cecilia and Florence again in Germany in 1871: p270.

Census 1871.

Robert Lowther:

At www.myheritage.com, which has interesting information but no sources.

Familyseach India-EASy GS film number 498985 for the marriage of Robert Lowther to Laura daughter of Benjamin Martindale; 10 June 1847 at Allahabad.

Anna Lea Merritt:

Love Locked Out: the Memoirs of Anna Lea Merritt with a Checklist of Her Works edited by Galina Gorokhoff. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts. No publication date but BL stamp has “Sep [19]83". On meeting the Laings: p55, p81. The books’ checklist of Anna’s paintings doesn’t list anything earlier than 1867. On p241: Anna’s portrait of Florence Laing must be the “Miss Laing”; which was probably done as a student-to-student work. On pp241-242 the post-honeymoon portraits of Charles and Cecilia Macrae were almost certainly commissions - Cecilia giving Anna Lea Merritt work, at the outset of her career. They were never exhibited. They are in a list of works from 1879. On p241, the painting of Charles Alexander and Frank Laing Macrae was done in 1888 (when they were 8 and 6) and exhibited that year; this will also have been a commission. On p246 Anna’s best-known painting was her Love Locked Out. It was exhibited at Royal Academy in 1890 and is now in the Tate’s Chantrey Collection. P249 the list of Anna’s works from 1898 includes two copies of a small portrait of a Mrs Laing which I would take to be Mary Cowan Laing, Cecilia’s mother. And p250 for the portrait of Charles Colin in highland costume, from 1900.


By 1878 Anna Lea Merritt’s work was good enough to be accepted by the Royal Academy:

The Royal Academy Exhibitors 1769-1904 volume 3. Edited by Algernon Graves. Published London: Henry Graves and Co Ltd and George Bell and Sons 1906. Entry p231 for Mrs Henry Merritt formerly Anna Lea.

1879 catalogue number 28: Florence daughter of Samuel Laing Esq MP; and two other paintings

1886 catalogue number 134: St Cecilia, with a reference to Tennyson. I was wondering if Cecilia might have been the model for this painting

1888 catalogue number 323: sons of C C Macrae Esq.



Cecilia Laing married Charles Colin Macrae and her youngest sister Theresa married Arthur Byass on the same day in July 1877, at the fashionable St Paul’s Church Knightsbridge. Arthur Byass’ family were partners in the Gonzalez Byass sherry importing firm. Charles Colin Macrae’s mother Charlotte had died only a few weeks before. She was 57 and must surely have died very suddenly. The families decided that the preparations for the double marriage were too far forward to be cancelled or postponed.



Shetland Times of 14 July 1877 marriage notices. Seen 20 April 2017 at:





Samuel Laing will have met Charles Colin Macrae’s father, Alexander Charles Macrae, in Calcutta in the early 1860s. It’s likely he also got to know Alexander’s brother, Colin Wilson Macrae, who was a partner in Pearce Macrae and Co, import/export agents, of 1 Clive Ghaut Street Calcutta. When Samuel Laing arrived in India in 1860 as its finance minister, Surgeon-Major Dr Macrae was a senior Civil Surgeon and Marine Surgeon in the Bengal Presidency. In 1863 he was promoted to surgeon to the viceroy. I’m not sure whether Samuel Laing was still in India in 1863, but when Dr Macrae retired in 1865 and returned to England, their friendship was resumed and their children became acquainted.


Alexander Charles Macrae married Charlotte Isa Reid or Reed, the daughter of a naval officer, at Fort William Bengal in November 1842. They had five children, though only three survived their Indian youth:

- Charles Colin future husband of Cecilia Laing: born August 1843 at Dorundah

- Fanny Catherine Ouseley born 1845

- Henry George Vernon Martal or Maptal born 1847 at Howrah; probably died young

- Edgar Elliott Maptal 1853-54

- Louisa Ida the future GD member born 1856 at Fort William Bengal.


Most sources I’ve seen say that Charles Colin Macrae was the only son; so I think that Henry Macrae must have died as a child. I’ve certainly found no references to him as an adult. In 1866 Fanny Macrae married Robert George Currie of the Indian Civil Service. She died in 1870 but the friendship between the Curries and the Macraes continued. Robert George married again, in 1872, and his son with his second wife - Alexander Charles Currie - was a close friend of Charles Colin and Cecilia Macrae, and executor of Charles Colin Macrae’s Will.


There’s more about the family in my biography of Colin Charles’ sister Louisa Ida Macrae.



Alexander Charles and Charlotte Macrae sent their only surviving son to Eton. He went on to University College Oxford, and qualified as a barrister in 1868, at Lincoln’s Inn. He then went back to India and spent 11 years in legal practice and as a court official in Calcutta before returning to England in the late 1870s. He set up in practice in the City of London as a barrister, member of the Parliamentary Bar and as Standing Counsel to the India Office. He retired from work as a barrister in 1889 but expanded an involvement he had already begun - probably through Samuel Laing - as director of a number of different companies. Many of them were railway companies, including the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway; Charles Colin was elected company chairman as his father-in-law had been, in 1920 when the chairman in between them - the 8th Earl of Bessborough - died. However, one company in which Charles Colin succeeded Samuel Laing on Laing’s death was a company on the supply-side of railway building - the Blaenavon Company Limited.

The Blaenavon iron works had been bought by Robert William Kennard (1800-70) during the 1830s and even during Charles Colin’s lifetime, the Kennard family were still managing it and were its most important shareholders. The Kennards had invested heavily in Blaenavon, moving into steel as well as iron and buying land and mineral rights around the town, but it was a risky industry and various companies set up by the family to run the works had gone into liquidation. The Blaenavon Company Limited was founded to try to salvage something from the wreck in 1879, after an economic downturn had forced the Kennards to put the whole works up for sale. Samuel Laing had led the rescue bid and was the new company’s first chairman. Charles Colin’s shares - or perhaps Cecilia’s shares - must have come to them from Samuel Laing; Laing was still a director of the company at his death in 1897. See the file The Laing Family for more on Cecilia’s sister Mary Eliza who married R W Kennard’s son Edward in 1870.


During the years he was working as a barrister Charles Colin Macrae published a few books, mostly on issues and controversies in Indian law.



The Macraes are part of the clan Macleod:

See www.macleodgenealogy.org taken from The Macleods: The Genealogy of a Clan Section III: Cadet Families Edinburgh 1970 by Dr Donald MacKinnon and Alick Morrison:



Roll of the Indian Medical Service 1615-1930 compiled by Lt-Col D G Crawford. Limited edition of 200. London: W Thacker and Co; Calcutta: Thacker Spink and Co: p113 as number 1307 in the Roll.

His entries in the local directories show how quickly he was able to rise up the ranks; due to the natural wastage of personnel in India’s notorious climate and all the small wars that were being fought against native rulers.

Bengal Directory and Annual Register 1840 p245 with him in the list of Assistant Surgeons, first appointed January 1839.

Bengal and Agra Directory and Annual Register 1845 p153: stationed with the Ramgurh Light Infantry Battalion p269 a native militia based at Dorundah in Nagpore.

Bengal and Agra Directory and Annual Register 1850 p274 now on the civil (not military) list and based at Howrah

Bengal Directory and Annual Register 1854 p275 promoted to Surgeon January 1853.

Times 27 January 1858 p6 originally London Gazette Tue 26 January [1858] appointed staff surgeon of the 10th Foot; he would move there from his present post with the 6th Light Dragoons.

New Calcutta Directory 1859 p70 A C Macrae is no longer in its list of military medical officers. On p222 in its list of residents of Calcutta: A C Macrae Presidency Civil Surgeon and Marine Surgeon. Home address 9 Middleton Street.

Thacker’s Post Office Directory of Bengal issue of 1863 p37.

New Calcutta Directory 1863 Part 9-11 p253 Surgeon-Major A C Macrae, Presidency Civil Surgeon and Marine Surgeon is now also officiating surgeon to the viceroy and governo-general of India. Home address 9 Middleton Street which is also given as the home address of the next person in the listing: Colin Wilson Macrae of Pearce, Macrae and Co.

Thacker’s Bengal Directory 1866 p124 he’s no longer listed.


Alexander Charles Macrae’s family:

Familysearch India Marriages 1792-1948. India-EASy GS film number 498980: marriage of A C MacRae MD to Charlotte Isa (sic) Reid (sic), daughter of late Captain Reid RN.

Familysearch India Births and Baptisms 1786-1947. India-EASy

- GS film number 498983: Charles Colin Macrae born 16 August 1843. Mother’s former surname given as Reed

- GS film number 498983: Fanny Catherine Ouseley Macrae born 19 May 1845

- GS film number 498985: Henry George Vernon Martal (sic) Macrae born 5 June 1847

- GS film number 498991: Edgar Elliott Maptal (sic) Macrae born 10 January 1853. GS film number 498994: Edgar Elliott Macrae buried Bishop’s College Bengal 19 May 1854.

- GS film number 498994: Louisa Ida Murixa (sic) Macrae born 28 July 1856 at Fort William, St Paul Bengal.


Fanny Currie’s marriage: via www.genesreunited.co.uk to Brighton Gazette of 3 May 1866 in a list of marriage announcements: Robert George Currie, son of Sir Frederick Currie Bart; to Fanny Catherine Ouseley Macrae, eldest daughter of Alexander Charles Macrae.

Her husband, Robert George Currie:

Thacker’s Bengal Directory 1870 issue, the year of Fanny’s death. On p50 in the list of residents: R G Currie, Bengal Civil Service, is settlement officer at Shahjehanpore.

Thacker’s Bengal Directory 1875 issue. On p1386 in the list of residents: R G Currie was still based in Shahjehanpore and was still settlement officer there; but he was now also working as a magistrate and tax collector.

Bengal Directory 1884 issue: there’s no entry for him in the list of residents p1607 so he had left India.

Armorial Families entry for Robert George Currie, Bengal Civil Service; 1835-80.


Charles Colin Macrae:

Law Times volume 45 1868 issue of 2 May 1868 p11.

Who was Who volume 2 p689.

In India:

Thacker’s Bengal Directory 1870 p143 in its list of residents and pp147-148 in its law list. Thacker’s Bengal Directory 1874 p213, p1379.

Thacker’s Bengal Directory 1877 p207, p633.

Thacker’s Bengal Directory 1879 he was in the residents’ list on p683 but was described as being on leave. In fact if he married Cecilia in 1877 he must have been on leave for quite a while before this issue of the Directory was published.

Thacker’s Bengal Directory 1880 p1031 of the residents’ list: no entry for him.


Charles Colin’s legal publications in the British Library:

1870 Report of the Proceedings in the Cases of Ameer Khan and Hashmadad Khan. Calcutta: “Englishman” Press.

1871 The Law of Divorce in India. Calcutta.

1874 The Indian Contract Act. Act IX of 1872. Calcutta: Thacker and Co

1883 Criminal Jurisdiction over Englishmen in India. Originally an article published August 1883 in Fortnightly Review. Published by the British India Committee.

1883 The Art of Advocacy. Selected from The Legal Companion. Serampore: M C Ghowsh of The Law Press, 28 Grand Trunk Road.

Times Mon 9 March 1891 p9 Court Circular. Charles Colin was amongst those at a dinner at the Whitehall Club, called to honour and congratulate Sir Francis Jeune, who had just been appointed a judge. The dinner was given by the “members of the Parliamentary Bar”.


Charles Colin Macrae in business; not by any means a full list:

Company matters are well reported in the Times. I looked for Charles Colin Macrae in 1877 - the year he married Cecilia Laing - and 1910.

Times 1877 had no mentions of him at all.

By 1910 it was a very different matter:

Times Fri 25 November 1910 p22 Public Companies. 12th AGM of the British and Chinese Corporation held “yesterday” at the Cannon St Hotel. Charles Colin Macrae must have been a director by now: he made the speech seconding chairman W Keswick MP’s proposal to adopt the Annual Report. Both men got a rough ride from shareholders who thought they were being too optimistic about the Corporation’s next few years, in unpredictable times; but the Annual Report was accepted.

Times Fri 22 April 1910 p16 report on the 61st AGM of Gresham Life Assurance Ltd. Charles Augustus Hanson was the company chairman. Charles Colin Macrae made a speech in favour of adding Lord Monk Bretton to the board of directors; a motion that was passed. C H Beadnell and Henry Hoare were re-elected to the board.

Times Sat 2 July 1910 p15: big advert for a Gresham Life share issue, listing Charles Colin Macrae as one of the company’s eight directors. He was also chairman of the Railway Debenture and General Trust Co and director (though not chairman at this point) of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.

The Post Magazine and Insurance Monitor volume 71 1910 p569 has the announcement of Charles Colin Macrae’s election as deputy-chairman of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Ltd. As a JP and already chairman of the Railway Debenture and General Trust Co Ltd of 3 Bank Buildings.

Times 4 August 1910 p12 had a report on a half-year general mtg of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Co, with Charles Colin Macrae as deputy-chairman and the Earl of Bessborough as chairman. The company ran a ferry connecting Newhaven and Dieppe. The chairman and deputy-chairman had recently been in Paris improving relations with French railway companies.

Times Sat 28 May 1910 p17 report on a meeting of the Quebec and Lake St John Railway Company; called because the Railway Share Trust and Agency Co, as trustees of the Company, wanted to raise some money. Charles Colin Macrae chaired the meeting so he must have been a director of it, if not necessarily the chairman. Alderman Charles Augustus Hanson (see Gresham Life above) was involved with this company too.


A very Laing-Kennard-Macrae affair:

In South Wales Coal Annual 1907 p105 a reference to the current Blaenavon Company Ltd having been formed in 1879 with Samuel Laing as its first chairman.

Stock Exchange Yearbook 1882 p247 lists the current directors of the Blaenavon Company Ltd: Samuel Laing who is chairman; J Brand; A C Kennard; H J Kennard; E F Quilter; W Smith; and Captain F Pavy.

Mining Yearbook 1908 p650 has an advert-like entry for the Blaenavon Co Ltd. The current chairman is R W Kennard (who must be a grandson of the R W Kennard Samuel Laing knew). Other directors are: James R Baillie; A A Brand; E Kennard (Mary Eliza Laing’s husband); F J Gordon; and Charles Colin Macrae. Its head office is at 86 Cannon Street.

At www.dmm.org.uk Durham Mining Museum’s database of coal companies, using information originally published in the Colliery Year Book and Coal Trades Directory 1923: entry for Blaenavon Co Ltd which was by this time also mining coal. Charles Colin Macrae and an R W Kennard were in the list of directors. Neither of them was company chairman and most of the other directors were men who had not figured as directors in any of the earlier sources I found.


A very Laing-Macrae affair:

Times Sat 19 February 1910 p15 series of reports on the meetings of various railway companies, including the 37th AGM of the Railway Debenture and General Trust. Charles Colin Macrae was its current chairman, so it was his duty to make the speech urging the shareholders to adopt the annual report. He was heckled about the Trust’s liabilities, when he said he couldn’t understand the current low share price; and when he’d finished, he was asked awkward questions from the floor about what the Board was going to do about the situation. In due course Captain Malcolm Laing (Cecilia’s brother, born 1846) was able to second the proposal - so he must be a director of the company - and the annual report was adopted in the end.


At en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-Pass-and-Yukon, some pages on the history of the White Pass and Yukon Railway, which was built after the Klondike gold rush. Charles Colin Macrae was an early shareholder in the company, which bought the rights to build the railway in 1898.

Times Tues 15 November 1910 p17 a report on the 13th OGM of the White Pass and Yukon Railway Company, which was chaired by Charles Colin Macrae. Since last meeting the Company’s Board of Directors had had to authorise expenditure on heavy machinery. There was mention in Times’ coverage of the meeting, of the problems of operating on the Yukon River during the winter (when of course it was iced over for several months). As result of the expenditure, the Company was restricting its dividend to 2% this year.

Stock Exchange Handbook The Manual of Statistics volume 35 1917 Charles Colin Macrae is the chairman of the British Columbia Yukon Railway Co. Other directors include Henry Rudolph Laing (Cecilia’s youngest brother). The company’s head office was at 7 Moorgate St and its Company Secretary was there, but its Treasurer worked in Chicago and other senior employees were based in Canada. The annual meetings were held in October, in London.


Times Fri 9 September 1910 p11 the Court Circular page had a report on a meeting of those interested in investing in Mexico. Charles Colin Macrae was elected - with many others - to the organising committee of a dinner which would be held to celebrate 100 years of Mexican independence.

The Directory of Directors published by the Stock Exchange. Issue of 1914 p691: Charles Colin Macrae still had an office at 8 Bank Buildings EC. The snippet showed the beginning of the list of his current chairmanships:

Blaenavon Co Ltd

British and Chinese Corporation Ltd; chairman

Chinese Central Railways Ltd; chairman

Gresham Fire and Accident


A longer list of the companies Charles Colin Macrae was involved with are listed in his obituary in the Times Fri 1 December 1922 p15f Railway Debenture Trust; Railway Share Companies; British and Chinese Corp; Chinese Central Railway Co; London Caledonian Trust; Law Debenture Corp; the Newhaven Harbour Co; Gresham Life and Fire Insur Soc; the Trust Union Ltd; the Stirling Trust.



Cecilia and Charles Colin Macrae had two children, both boys: Charles Alexander Macrae, born in October 1878 in Scotland; and Frank Laing Macrae, born in London a few days before census day 1881. On census day 1881, Cecilia and Charles Colin were at home at 7 Lancaster Street, near Lancaster Gate on the north side of Hyde Park - a wealthy neighbourhood but not as wealthy as the streets on the south, Knightsbridge side. As Frank was only a few days old, a month nurse had been added temporarily to their normal staff of cook, two housemaids, parlour maid and a skivvy. Although Charles Alexander was only two, the Macraes did not have a nursemaid in the household on census day; perhaps they were between nursemaids, but the absence might also indicate Cecilia wanting to do at least some child-care herself - which was rather unusual for a woman of her social status.


The 1891 census was taken a few weeks before Cecilia was initiated into the GD. Cecilia and Charles Colin were living at the address she gave William Wynn Westcott (the GD’s administrator) for correspondence: 26 Cheyne Walk Chelsea. It was a wealthy neighbourhood but also popular in artistic circles. The Macraes were still keeping house with a cook, two housemaids, and a parlourmaid; but with a kitchen maid, rather than the general skivvy. They had no male servants as yet. Also in the household that day were Charles Alexander, aged 12; and Cecilia’s nephew, Samuel Laing born 1870, the son of her eldest brother - another Samuel - who had died before his son was born. Frank was at school, at New College Eastbourne. Frederick Schreiner, brother of novelist Olive Schreiner, had set up the school in 1872 and it had quickly established a reputation for being progressive - its religious stance was Nonconformist; it took pupils with backgrounds in trade; and from the number of non-teaching staff it employed, I’d say it took good physical care of its pupils. I find it interesting that Charles Colin Macrae had not wanted to send his son to Eton, the school he had attended himself.


Charles Alexander may have been attending a different school, where the Easter holidays had already begun, on census day 1891. However, I couldn’t find any evidence of his being at school elsewhere, and he may have been educated at home. I think he might have had what the Victorians might have termed ‘delicate’ health: in her memoir, Cecilia’s friend Anna Lea Merritt remembered that he had been deemed not “fit for military service”.


Cecilia’s father Samuel Laing died in August 1897. His estate of £96000-odd (about £65 million in 2017 terms) was divided up and Mary Cowan Laing went to live with the Macraes. A few months later, Mary made her Will, leaving all her own possessions to Cecilia, who was also her only executor. Perhaps Cecilia was her mother’s favourite daughter. With Cecilia’s inheritance and her mother’s widow’s jointure, the Macraes had more money to spend in the succeeding years: they started to employ expensive servants like butlers; in London they moved from rather bohemian Chelsea to Onslow Gardens off the Brompton Road; and they were able to afford a second house for weekends and summers in the country.


The Macraes may have leased or rented Oakhurst, in Oxted, Surrey - the first of their country retreats - before Samuel Laing’s death. I’ve had some trouble tying down exactly when the Macraes moved into Oakhurst, but they were definitely there by October 1897 when Cecilia sent two black-bordered letters from that address to GD member Frederick Leigh Gardner. The choice of Oxted must have been because it was only a couple of miles from Florence’s country house at Edenbridge in Kent; the Kennedys were spending most of their time there from about 1891. In 1898 the Macraes had some alterations done to Oakhurst; for which they employed the architect Charles Francis Annesley Voysey, son of Rev Charles Voysey and brother of GD members Frances Brodie-Innes and Henrietta Voysey.


On census day 1901, Cecilia and Charles Colin were at their London house, 93 Onslow Gardens; with Mary Cowan Laing and their son Frank. After New College Eastbourne, Stubbington School and Cheltenham College, Frank Laing had gone to Oxford University, to University College, his father’s old college. Census day 1901 must have come at about the time he went to work for the stockbroking firm of Laing and Cruickshank, founded by Cecilia’s brother Henry Rudolph Laing. I couldn’t see Charles Alexander Macrae anywhere in the UK on census day 1901; as his health was not good, perhaps he had gone abroad for the winter. The Macraes were employing more staff than on previous census days: in addition to the basic set of cook, two housemaids and kitchen maid that they had had in 1891, they also had a nurse - to help Mary Cowan Laing, I presume, as she was now 80 - and that expensive butler; though there wasn’t a footman.


Mary Cowan Laing died in July 1902. A few years later, Charles Colin Macrae was the prime mover in the commissioning of a stained-glass window in Mrs Laing’s memory. It was designed by the arts-and-crafts stained-glass specialist Mary Lowndes and placed (rather oddly, to my mind, as Mary Cowan Laing had never lived there) in St Andrew’s Meonstoke.


When the lease or rental agreement at Oakhurst expired the Macraes chose to pick a weekending house much further out of London – Meonstoke House, in the village of Meonstoke just east of Bishop’s Waltham in Hampshire. There was no longer any reason to choose somewhere near Edenbridge. Florence’s husband Edward Sherard Kennedy had died in January 1900 - Charles Colin Macrae was one of his executors - and in December 1902 Florence had got married again, to a man who was a Londoner to the core, though he was not British. After the death of her first husband, Florence had let her membership of the GD lapse and she never joined any of its daughter orders and temples; perhaps the two sisters were not so close now.


Meonstoke House still exists and in 2017 was for sale: Grade II listed as it’s built in the vernacular style of the area; nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, five reception rooms, and long gardens; though it is on the corner of two roads, and the stable-block which was part of the property in the Macraes’ time is now a separate house.


The Macraes moved into Meonstoke House in 1905, in time for Alfred Percy Sinnett and his wife Patience to visit them during that summer. In 1907 or 1908 Anna Lea Merritt was their visitor - she published a book which included paintings she had done of some of Meonstoke Houses’ garden and kitchen-garden borders. The following year Anna Lea Merritt began to create her own garden at her house in Hurstbourne Tarrant. In her memoir she wrote “My dearest Cecilia insisted on giving me the all-important flowering shrubs, which her experience selected admirably”. Despite being hampered by continual changes of address, Cecilia was a gardener.


In 1910, Cecilia’s son Frank got married and two of her brothers-in-law died; and two of the events show how much the German connection still mattered to the Laings.


In February 1910 Frank Macrae married Irene, only child of Friedrich von Mack and his wife. The Laings had not previously sent notices of family events to the Times, but this marriage was covered by the Times at some length; so I know quite a lot about it and about the bride. One set of Irene’s grand-parents were Scottish - Colonel Archibald Campbell of Craignish and his wife. Her parents, the von Macks, were both German and lived in Homburg - the town Mary Cowan Laing, Cecilia and Florence had visited, definitely in 1871 and probably many times. The wedding was very much a Laing affair: Cecilia’s nephew, Rev Samuel Laing (born 1870) helped conduct the marriage service; the best man was Frank’s first cousin Malcolm Alfred Kennard; the bride wore a dress of white satin and Brussels lace which Cecilia had given her; and the reception was held at 93 Onslow Gardens where Cecilia and Charles Colin were still living.


The first of the two brothers-in-law to die that year was Theresa’s husband Arthur Byass, on 24 May. He died at home in Northamptonshire, but Edward Kennedy was on holiday in Freiburg - Germany again - when he died on 14 July.


In 1910 Frank was made a partner in Laing and Cruickshank. After a honeymoon on the Riviera, he and his wife set up house in Hill Street, in wealthy and fashionable Knightsbridge. They were at home there on census day 1911, keeping house with a small staff of cook and parlourmaid. There were no children with them on census day and I think the marriage was childless. Cecilia and Charles Colin Macrae are not on the census for 1911 in England, and neither is Charles Alexander; perhaps they had all gone off together somewhere. I’ve found no evidence that Charles Alexander was working. There was no financial necessity for the son of such rich parents to work, of course, and by 1903 he was even able to finance a separate household at 16 Drayton Gardens, a few streets away from his parents. He might have been married: the marriage of a Charles Alexander Macrae was registered in the Axbridge registration district in 1900. (Though there are several contemporaries with that set of names and I’m inclined to think that the bridegroom of 1900 is one of the others.) Cecilia’s son is on the Electoral Rolls in the borough of Chelsea from 1909 to 1911 but I don’t know where he was from then until the first World War broke out; nor what he was doing.


Sources: census 1901, 1911, freebmd, probate registry entries. Will of Mary Cowan Laing dated 2 February 1898, sent to me by the Laing family historian.

Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter volume 22 1878 p963 birth announcement for a son born to the Macraes 12 October 1878 at Brahan Castle Dingwall. The infant’s names were not given but this is the birth of Charles Alexander Macrae.

On Schreiner and New College:

Robert Edwards Holloway: Newfoundland Educator by Ruby Gough. Montreal Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press 2005: p22.

For Olive Schreiner see her wikipedia page. She and Frederick were the sons of missionaries, and grew up in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.



Warburg Institute Gerald Yorke collection: letters from Cecilia to Frederick Leigh Gardner.

Royal Geographical Society Year-Book and Record from 1898 p136 in a list of current Fellows, Charles Colin Macrae’s address is Oakhurst.

Charles Francis Annesley Voysey: see his wikipedia page and www.voyseysociety.org for more information. There’s a biography and list of the works of C F A Voysey by Voysey and Wendy Hitchmough. Phaidon 1995 p233 though Hitchmough notes that no drawings for the project at Oxted have survived.

Men of Note in Finance and Commerce 1901 p146 has 3 addresses for Charles Colin Macrae: 4 Bank Buildings EC; 93 Onslow Gardens; and Oakhurst.


Meonstoke House:

Seen on zoopla on 10 April 2017; featured in Country Life volume 201 2007 p165 when it was for sale again.

It’s listed: www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk as Grade II, 6 March 1967 NGR: SP6205507840.

A reference to the stables as a separate residence at www.rightmove.co.uk: they were being sold as Long Meadow House in February 2015; conversion from stables to house took place 40 years ago (so, mid 1970s-ish).

Proceedings of the Royal Colonial Institute volume 34 1903 p390 a list of current members has an Arthur R Pontifex at Meonstoke House.

The Orchid Review volume 13 1905 p26 has an E J Lovell at the address.

Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett published Theosophical History Centre London 1986: p83.

Two of Anna Lea Merritt’s paintings of the garden of Meonstoke House appear in An Artist’s Garden by Anna Lea Merritt. George Allen and Sons 1908. Opposite p168: Phlox and Nicotiana at Meonstoke House. And opposite pp189-90: Mixed Borders at the Kitchen Garden at Meonstoke House, either side of a 200 foot-long grass walk.

Cecilia’s contribution to Anna Lea Merritt’s garden at The Limes, Hurstbourne Tarrant:

Love Locked Out: the Memoirs of Anna Lea Merritt with a Checklist of Her Works editor Galina Gorokhoff. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts. No publication date but British Library stamp has “Sep [19]83". Anna’s dates are 1844-1930: p210.



Freebmd marriages registered in 1900. The Charles Alexander Macrae whose wedding was in Axbridge married either Ruth Gurney or Ada Mabel Holl. Though I’ve struggled to find evidence for Cecilia’s son’s life, I haven’t found any for him having a wife.

Royal Blue Book 1903 p1121.

Familysearch: electoral rolls for London Borough of Chelsea 1909-11.



Times 8 February 1910 p1 marriage announcement: Macrae to von Mack, on 7 February at St Peter’s Cranley Gardens.

It’s been difficult to find information on Irene von Mack though one website I reached via google did give her year of birth as 1886/87. There was no registration for her on freebmd.



Despite all their long-standing cultural contacts with Germany and despite the fact that Frank’s wife was at least partly German, both Cecilia’s sons must have volunteered to fight in the early days of World War 1, because they were both sent to Europe in 1915. Anna Lea Merritt recorded that Charles Alexander had been declared “not fit for military service” but he joined the army service corps as an ambulance driver. Frank was declared fit, and joined the 8th Seaforth Highlanders as a Lieutenant.


In February 1915, the 8th Seaforth Highlanders were sent to Chisledon Camp on Salisbury Plain to train for combat. They were moved to Tidworth Camp in May and set off from there for France, landing at Boulogne in July 1915. On the day they were due to begin the journey across the Channel, Cecilia went in her own car to see them off, picking up Anna Lea Merritt from her house in Hurstbourne Tarrant on the way. At first they couldn’t see Frank amongst so many soldiers but they stood on a vantage point to watch the troops march past, and Frank dashed out from the ranks and “clasped his dear mother in his arms; no time for words”. That was the last time Cecilia ever saw him: Frank’s name appeared in the Times on 14 October 1915 in a list of soldiers missing in action. His body was never found, but in the end he was deemed to have been killed in action on or shortly after the first day of the battle to take the village of Loos (25 September 1915), somewhere near the village. Charles Alexander died in Belgium the following April; there is a grave for him, in the St Riquier British Cemetery. Anna Lea Merritt said that he had “died from over-exertion”.


Charles Colin Macrae had been 70 in 1913 and by the time the war broke out he had retired from most of his directorships and from being the chairman of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway; However, according to Anna Lea Merritt during the war he had been a special constable, in London, during what she refers to as “some emergencies” - which I take to be the riots in London and other towns during 1917 as the price of bread and potatoes went beyond most people’s ability to pay (rationing wasn’t introduced until the end of that year). After the war was over, he took on the task of restoring order to the finances and assets of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, which had been under government control during the fighting. Anna Lea Merritt reckoned that the effort the process had required of him wore him out; and the sorting-out of the chaos had still not been finished when he died.




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 BL stamp has “Sep [19]83".

Anna’s dates are 1844-1930. For the account of Frank Laing Macrae: pp220-221.

At discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk, WO 339/12354 is Charles Alexander Macrae’s war record: Lt, Royal Service Corps 1914-1916.

See www.ipernity.com for details of men listed on the War Memorial at St Andrew’s Meonstoke. Frank Laing Macrae and Charles Alexander Macrae are both on it and Charles Alexander’s date of death is given.

Charles’ death wasn’t in the Times’ list of deaths in combat. There was no Probate Registry entry connected with it.

At www.roll-of-honour.com list of those on the Stock Exchange Memorial Roll of Honour, unveiled October 1922; with short biographies.

Times Thurs 14 October 1915 p3 Roll of Honour, issued by the Admiralty. A list of officers missing includes F L Macrae of 8th Seaforth Highlanders.

For information on the Seaforth Highlanders:


www.rbls-kirkwall.org.uk which lists quite a few men born on Orkney who joined the 8th Seaforth Highlanders and died at the battle of Loos; though Frank isn’t amongst them as he wasn’t born on the islands.

Probate Registry 1916: Frank Laing Macrae.

Some of Frank Laing Macrae’s estate wasn’t sorted out at the time:

Probate Registry 1943 re death of Louisa Ida Macrae on 24 January 1943.

Probate Registry 1943 re death of Frank Laing Macrae.



Cecilia and Charles Colin Macrae kept a house in London at least until Charles Colin’s death; though by 1922 they had left Onslow Gardens for 40 Cheniston Gardens, off Kensington High Street. That was probably where Cecilia spent the evening with Christina Stoddart, that Stoddart mentioned in her letter to Georgie Yeats in 1919. At some point after 1917 - probably after the Armistice - they left Meonstoke House, with all its agonising memories, and chose a weekending house in Bournemouth. The house was called Ravenshall, 2 Chine Crescent Road. A block of flats with an entrance at 19-21 West Cliff Road is on the site now, built before the 1970s. Charles Colin died at Ravenshall on 22 November 1922. A memorial service was held in London but he was buried in Bournemouth. He left personal estate to the value of £37,575, nearly £2 million in 2017 terms. His executors were solicitor Ernest Burrell Baggallay, partner in Devonshire and Co of 38 Old Jewry; and Alick Currie.



Fanny Macrae, sister of Charles Colin and Louisa Ida Macrae, had married Robert George Currie of the Bengal Civil Service in 1866. Fanny had died in 1870 and her widower had married again. Alick and his twin brother George Hugh Currie (born 1873) were the sons of Robert George’s second wife; but the Macraes regarded them as all-but-first-cousins. They were closer to them, it seems, than to Fanny’s own daughter Lucy Alexa Heathcote Currie - I haven’t found any mention of her in any source for the Macraes. Alick Currie went into the Indian Civil Service. He married Dorothea Crickett in Eastbourne in 1902, during a period of leave. Alick and Dorothea left India at the start of World War 1 and settled in Sussex, nearer to Louisa Ida than to Charles Colin and Cecilia.


With Charles Colin, Alick Currie had the painful task of sorting out the legal affairs of Frank Laing Macrae after he was killed. Probate on Frank’s estate was initially granted to them both in May 1916 but the work wasn’t finally finished until April 1943. Alick had to make a second probate application while he was acting as executor for Louisa Ida Macrae, who had died in January 1943. Alick died, in Sussex, in 1953.




As Anna Lea Merritt said, ...Alas, for my dear lonely friend.”


Aged 91, in September 1939 Cecilia was still living at Ravenshall in Bournemouth, with four servants including a butler - a very large number for the late 1930s after all the social change that the first world war had brought about. Apart from the housemaid, who had been born in 1917, the staff were all elderly and had probably been working for Cecilia for many years; though none had been with her on census day 1901, the last census I’ve been able to find her on. Alfred Pampton her butler had been born in 1876; Eva Cole, the cook, was born in 1885; Eleanor J Lawes her lady’s maid had been born in 1876.


Cecilia’s sisters Theresa and Florence were also still alive in September 1939 and so was her sister-in-law, Louisa Ida Macrae. However, all the other Laing siblings had died. So too had Anna Lea Merritt (in 1930) and some of the next generation of nieces and nephews. Irene Macrae had gone back to live in Germany and had stayed through the rise of the Nazis and the outbreak of the second World War; she died in Homburg in August 1941.


Cecilia finally died on 10 March 1942. She was 93. Her sisters Theresa and Florence survived her and so did her sister-in-law Louisa Ida Macrae. The economic crashes of the past twenty years, and her loyalty to servants - keeping them on when perhaps she didn’t need such a large household any more - meant that Cecilia left less than half what her husband had left: £12636. Even in modern terms it was still a tidy sum though: the measuringworth website calculated its 2017 worth as £540,000.




The Cambridge Review volume 38 1917 p27 refers to Herbert and Emma Sutton living in it.

London Gazette 1975 part 5 p6392 has a reference to flats at the address, which may be a newly-built block rather than a conversion of the house the Macraes lived in.


Death of Charles Colin Macrae:

Times Thur 30 November 1922 p15c announced the memorial service.

Times Fri 1 December 1922 p15f: obituary.

Probate registry 1920: entry Charles Colin Macrae


CURRIE, Alexander Charles

Wikipedia on the Currie baronetcy which has been dormant since 1978. Robert George Currie was one of the many children of Frederick Currie first Baronet (1799-1875) Foreign Secretary to the Indian Government and member of the Supreme Council of India.

Armorial Families entry for Robert George Currie (1835-80) Bengal Civil Service; 1835-80. His second marriage, in 1872, was to Annie Flora, daughter of A C MacKinnon.

At tacadrum.blogspot.co.uk some information on Fanny and Robert George Currie’s daughter Lucy Alexa Heathcote Currie. She married John Orlando Summerhayes MRCS LRCP in the Punjab in 1895. He was director of the mission hospital where she was working as a missionary-cum-teacher. They and their family returned to England around 1909 and settled in Thame.

At www.haine.org.uk, some information on Alexander Charles Currie born 1873 in Shahjehanpore West Bengal; died 1953 Mayfield Sussex.

In the Indian Civil Service:

Thacker’s Indian Directory 1900 issue Part 4. List of residents p1663: A C Currie was Assistant Commissioner of Buldana.

Thacker’s Indian Directory 1910 issue Part 2. List of residents p84 A C Currie was still in Buldana but he had been promoted, to Deputy Commissioner.

Thacker’s Indian Directory 1914 issue Part 2. List of residents p93 A C Currie was still Deputy Commissioner at Buldana. He was currently on leave and I think that he didn’t go back to India again: he’s not in the residents’ list in the Thacker’s Indian Directory issue of 1916.

At www.dnw.co.uk, a bit more on Alexander Charles Currie from the website of auction house Dix Noonan Webb, in a 2008 sale of Life Saving Awards, including a reference to his twin brother.

Probate Registry entries 1916 and 1943: estate of Frank Laing Macrae.

Probate Registry entry 1943: Louisa Ida Macrae.


BAGGALLAY, Ernest Burrell

There’s an entry for him at london.wikia.com: 1879-1940.

Times 23 Jan 1940: obituary.

The Law Times volume 186 1938 p414.

The Solicitor’s Journal volume 84 1940 p57



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 British Library stamp has “Sep [19]83": pxix.

Via Findmypast to 1939 Register, taken on 29 September 1939.

Probate Registry 1944 and 1952: death of Irene Alexandra Caroline Cecilia Elfriede Claudia Bernhardine Johanna Agnes Macrae of Dorotheenstrasse 33 Bad Homburg. The 1952 probate was granted to the Administrator of German Enemy Property.



Probate Registry 1942.

London Gazette 19 May 1942 p2204 legal notices includes one issued under the Trustee Act 1925 with reference to the death of Cecilia Mary Bruce Macrae.



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!




26 July 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: