Evelyn Diana Sheffield was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Isis-Urania temple in London on 14 June 1901; she’s one of the latest initiates on my list. She chose the Latin motto ‘Vires animat veritas’. By 1901 the GD’s record-keeping was at a low ebb so it’s not possible to tell whether Evelyn made it to the inner, 2nd Order. When the GD turned into its two daughter orders in 1903, she didn’t join either of those orders.
Introduction by Sally Davis, 9 April 2015.
I was really struggling to find anything out about Evelyn’s family background and what she’d been doing until she came across the GD. Now I know why! Evelyn Diana Sheffield - claiming to be a member of the aristocratic Turnour family - was not at all what she seemed! In December 2014 I was contacted by her distant relation Tony Martin, who sent me two articles he’d written about Eliza Dinah Fairchild. I’ve decided that I can’t do better than to reproduce them below, with Tony’s permission. At the end of the two articles I’ve just added some very basic family history details; which I certainly wouldn’t have found if Tony hadn’t contacted me and told me who Evelyn Diana Sheffield really was.
ELIZA DINAH FAIRCHILD, BETTER KNOWN AS EVELYN DIANA SHEFFIELD:
Tony Martin’s articles, sent to me by email in December 2014:
ARTICLE ONE: My Fair Lady
My grandfather had a cousin Eliza Dinah Fairchild born in 1856 in Southampton. Her father was a ship’s steward and at some stage Eliza moved to London as a barmaid. My distant cousin and fellow ancestry researcher, Kate Parker, discovered that in July 1877 Eliza married Henry Digby Sheffield, younger brother of Robert 5th Baronet Sheffield, which makes her the great, great aunt of Samantha Cameron. By this marriage she also became the sister-in-law of the Dowager Countess of Ilchester. Yet there was no hint of this remarkable event in my father’s comprehensive record “Your Family and Mine” which he produced in the 1970’s. She had been completely airbrushed out by the previous generations.
Shaw’s Pygmalion story is well known and Eliza’s story mimics but predates it. Henry Higgins manages to change Eliza Doolittle into a convincing Lady. Eliza Dinah Fairchild was a 20 year old London barmaid when she married Henry Digby Sheffield the 44 year old brother of Robert 5th Baronet Sheffield. He then successfully re-invented her as Evelyn Diana Turnour, daughter of the Vicomtesse D’Lardio, born in Spain. This information appeared in his alumni record for Trinity College, Oxford and in Burke’s Peerage.
Both Kate and myself were intrigued by this story and were desperate to find out what happened to Henry and Evelyn. The answers came from an unexpected source – The Black Sheep index which I checked online and found that Evelyn Diana Sheffield was listed. From the Index I received a copy of The News of The World for 26th February 1905 which related the breach of promise case which Evelyn brought against the Marquess Townshend.
The article was a goldmine of information. After their marriage in 1877 the couple had left the country. They travelled in the U.S.A and Canada “shooting big game and fishing for big fish”. Henry Digby died in October 1888 in Jacksonville Florida. Evelyn was in England at the time of his death. Her name was subsequently linked with several men and in 1889 was the companion of a Mr Garden in Ireland “she being such a good rider to hounds”. Mr Garden died in 1892 leaving property to Mrs Sheffield valued at £7000.
In 1900 Evelyn took a house in Bassett Road, North Kensington. In 1903 she was introduced to the Marquess of Townshend. “They took a liking to each other and frequently met. But wherever they went Evelyn did all the paying. “She was regarded as a wealthy woman; she lived in a good house, well furnished, and had good pictures around her”. On September 16th the Marquess proposed marriage. He was 38 and she was 48 but purported to be much younger.
In reality both were deluded about the other. Townshend needed a rich wife to restore the family fortunes and Evelyn wanted wealth and a title to confirm her place in society. Both were soon disabused. Townshend discovered that that Evelyn was not as rich as she appeared and it was clear to Evelyn that she was not rich enough to meet Townshend’s needs. The offer of marriage was withdrawn on the grounds “that the plaintiff was an adventuress and a clairvoyant and otherwise unfit to become Marchioness”. Evelyn was undeterred and sued for breach of promise and to defend her reputation. It was a reckless decision given her origins and history.
The court case ran through the details of her exotic pedigree and her many liaisons much to the amusement of the crowded court. Evelyn must have been mortified judging by the portrait produced by the newspaper artist for the subsequent newspaper report. Evelyn’s counsel had established the breach of promise but was suddenly interrupted by her solicitor who instructed him to stop the case. Townshend’s counsel then started to make a statement –“that her connections, her marriage, her birth and her property are a tissue of lies. We have certificates, which show that she was the daughter of a respectable servant in a respectable family. Her father and mother kept a small public house in Southampton, and she was a barmaid in London….” The Judge then stopped further revelations and judgement was entered for the defendant Townshend.
For Evelyn the loss of the case must have been a disaster as apart from the legal costs her reputation and place in society had been totally lost. The case had been madness but perhaps her assumed identity had become real to her and she was living proof that who dares wins until finally losing when it really mattered. Her story raises many intriguing questions. Why for instance did the 44 year old Henry Sheffield marry a 20 year old barmaid when to do so was social suicide. Judging by the marriage and subsequent success with men of substance she was a desirable companion, a sporting lady who played the part to perfection. Some pass through life with little fuss or incident but for a barmaid from Southampton her improbable marriage and life of travel and good living was amazing. Eliza Dinah denied her humble origins and lived a life and background entirely of her own making. Eliza Doolittle could hardly have done better.
After the marriage she would have been an embarrassment to her husband’s family and thereafter she sought to distance herself from her own family. After 1905 there was no going back as respectability was so important in those times and once cut off it was for good, never to be mentioned again. Skeletons were kept firmly in the closet. I found her in the 1911 census in Bromley with the occupation “medical” which I believe referred to nursing. She appeared at the same address in the 1916 Kellys after which nothing. Finally, in March 2011, I located and obtained her Death certificate. She died in Lewisham in 1942 aged 86. The certificate was made out in the name “Eliza” Sheffield which would have annoyed her greatly.
Quotations are from the News of The World article dated 26/2/1905
ARTICLE TWO: The Improbable Life & Times of Eliza Fairchild originally published 2011 in LostCousins which you can see online at lostcousins.com
Eliza Dinah Fairchild was born in Southampton in 1856. In 1877 she married Henry Digby Sheffield brother of the 5th Baronet Sheffield. She later sued the Marquess Townshend for breach of promise in 1905. The story won the Federation of family History Society’s 2011 competition and was published in Your Family History magazine. The transformation of barmaid Eliza into society lady Evelyn mimics but pre-dates Shaw’s Pygmalion / My Fair Lady so a strong case can be made that Eliza Fairchild could have been the original inspiration for Eliza Doolittle and Shaw’s play.
With family history the research must always continue because there is always more to be discovered. In the case of Eliza ,or “Evelyn” the persona she so successfully adopted, the research reveals an even more bizarre and improbable story. After the article was published I connected with Evelyn’s great great nephew, Ian Fairchild, through Lost Cousins and together with distant cousin Kate Parker, who originally found Eliza’s story, we continued to trawl all sources.
The most productive source for Evelyn’s life after the death of her husband in 1888 was the News of The World report on the 1905 law suit against the Marquess. In the article it mentioned Sir John Sebright someone she looked on as her guardian. Later in the piece it mentions- “she was regarded as a wealthy woman: she lived in a good house, well furnished, and had good pictures around her”. The source of her pictures is probably explained by the will of Sir John who died in 1890. He went bankrupt in 1887 with debts of more than £140,000, a colossal sum for the time. In his will which covered nominal assets Evelyn was left £500 and his photographs, pictures and albums. Sir John’s widow was not left destitute, however, because it was reported that his life was insured for £140,000. Sir John’s grandfather the 7th baronet bred the highly decorative “Sebright Bantam”.
Another gentleman mentioned in the News of The World was a Mr Tallerman who Evelyn was” very friendly with”. I found nothing on Mr Tallerman until I chanced upon a patent application, dated 1894, in the name Tallerman and Sheffield in Victoria, Australia, for some medical equipment. Given Evelyn’s society background I thought this bizarre and unlikely but once again truth was stranger than fiction.
Lewis Abraham Tellerman was born in London in 1845. He was in business with his older brother Daniel trading as S D & LA Tallerman Colonial & Export Merchants. Daniel was in Australia between 1853 & 68 and developed a method for preserving and transporting meat in cold storage. He returned to London introduced cheap restaurants and penny dinners to popularise Australian meat. His bother Lewis also spent part of the 1870s in Australia. On his return about 1880 he developed and patented the Tallerman-Sheffield Hot Air Treatment of Disease for treating rheumatic-gout type conditions with super-heated air. The Tallerman-Sheffield Dry Air bath was tested successfully in 1894 at St Barts hospital and then taken up by that and other London hospitals spreading to Paris, Berlin, Baden Baden and Philadelphia. He also ensured that the treatment was available for free for the treatment of the sick and disabled poor. Evelyn’s patent contribution is unknown.
Lewis Tallerman died in 1903 at the Langham Hotel. He seems to have been quite a character. He was a Director of the Gaeity Theatre in London and died suddenly at the conclusion of a dinner party he had hosted for his friends at the Langham. In 1911 Evelyn was living in Bromley and her occupation is listed as medical. It would be nice to think that she was a private practitioner of the Tallerman-Sheffield Hot Air treatment but sadly there is no confirmation available at present.
Evelyn’s main benefactor mentioned in the News of The World was John Lewis Garden, 1833-1891, a Suffolk landowner. Given the improbable connections discovered concerning Evelyn’s other benefactors I decided to check him out in detail. I was not disappointed. Research showed that Mr Garden was the estranged husband of Princess Caroline Murat the great granddaughter of Joachim Murat, King of Naples, the husband of Napoleon’s sister, Caroline. The Garden marriage was not a happy one and the couple lived apart. According to the court report when he died in 1892 Mr Garden left property to Mrs Sheffield valued at £7000. At a time when many people were living on £1 a week that was a huge sum.
The 1861 census shows John Garden staying at Fentons hotel in St James’s St London. According to The News of the World report which is a blend of reliable facts and Evelyn’s invented origins she met her husband, Henry Digby Sheffield, when he lived in St James’s. All the main men in her life appear to have known each other and shared a similar life style. It is entirely plausible that Eliza was employed in an establishment such as Fentons Hotel which has several barmaids listed in the census returns. It will be interesting to see what further research reveals. I am sure she will not disappoint us.
By Tony Martin.
THE BASIC FAMILY HISTORY INFORMATION:
Eliza Dinah Fairchild: birth registered Southampton in the quarter October-December 1856.
Census information 1861 and 1871 indicates she was the daughter of George Frampton Fairchild and his wife Eliza Dinah née Johnson.
Sources for Eliza Dinah Fairchild’s husband, Henry Digby Sheffield:
Web pages johnmadjackfuller.homestead.com have a detailed genealogy of the Digby/Sheffield family. Henry Digby Sheffield is the younger son of Sir Robert Sheffield, 4th baronet, of Normanby, Burton Stather Lincolnshire and his wife Julia Brigida née Newbolt. Baptised 27 February 1833.
Website www.thepeerage.com uses Burke’s as its main source: it describes Henry Digby Sheffield as marrying Evelyn Diana Turner (sic) Fairchild on 7 July 1877 and gives Henry Digby Sheffield’s date of death as 22 October 1888.
Website www.craycroftspeerage.co.uk confirms that Henry Digby Sheffield and wife Evelyn Diana had no children. By marrying Henry Digby Sheffield, Eliza found herself with in-laws who were in the peerage: her husband’s younger sister Sophia Penelope had married William Fox-Strangways 4th Earl of Ilchester.
SHEFFIELD v TOWNSHEND
The trial was a sensation, reported by every major newspaper including many in other countries. The account in the Times of Friday 24 February 1905 p3 and Saturday 25 February 1905 p15 is an easy one to find.
For the financial troubles of the Marquis Townshend, search online using ‘townshend’ and ‘sheffield’ to find: //query.nytimes.com
Evelyn Diana and her husband had gone to some trouble to concoct a background for her that sounded plausibly aristocratic while being almost impossible to verify. Putting Evelyn Diana’s case at the beginning of Sheffield v Townshend, her barrister said that she had been born in Cádiz, Spain, the daughter of Commander Edward G Turnour RN and his Spanish wife; and that she had been orphaned in childhood. THE TURNOUR FAMILY really did exist, and ‘edward’ was a common name in the family.
Lodge’s Peerage and Baronetage 1857 edition, p601 the Turnour family are earls of Winterton.
Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal: Isabel of Essex Volume p146 also has an entry for them.
A BIT MORE ABOUT LOUIS TALLERMAN’S INVENTION:
The Tallerman-Sheffield Patent Localized Hot-Air Bath. London: Baillière, Tindall and Cox 1895.
And try looking on the web for the patents.
AND MY ‘basic sources’ SECTION THOUGH IT’S NOT SO RELEVANT IN THIS CASE AS I DIDN’T DO ANY OF THE WORK!
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.
Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.
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.
Copyright TONY MARTIN and SALLY DAVIS
9 April 2015
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