Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Other Fraser Tytler Girl...

I find it very interesting how certain people are lost in time.  A poet for example can just be forgotten, whereas another flourishes, despite being celebrated in their own time.  It is particularly curious when the poet is related to someone else who remains in the cultural consciousness.  Today's post is about just such a person.  This is the life of Christina Catherine Fraser Tytler...

Mrs Edward Liddell (Christina Catherine Fraser Tytler) (1877) Mary Seton Fraser Tytler
Now, before we start, let me just mention her name and its variations.  She is alternately known as 'Christina' and 'Christiana' and sometimes there is a hyphen in her surname.  For the sake of consistency I am sticking with Christina, but I'll explain Christiana later.  I'll leave the hyphen out, although it seems to be something the family used or dropped as they felt like it.  Right, on with the story...

While doing the research for this post I was reminded of the life of another lovely young woman, May Prinsep, to whom Christina and her family had links.  Christina was born 13 February 1848 in Bombay, India, the second daughter of Charles and Etheldred Fraser Tytler.  Charles worked in the East India Company's Madras Civil Service and was an associate of Thoby Prinsep.  When Etheldred died after giving birth to Mary Seton Fraser Tytler in 1849, Charles sent Christina, her older sister Etheldred and baby Mary back to live with their grandparents William and Margaret Fraser Tytler in Aldourie Castle on the shores of Lock Ness...

Well played, Aldourie Castle publicity chaps, well played...
The girls spent a decade growing up in the Highlands before their father retired and returned to his native Scotland with his second wife Harriet, in 1861.  They brought their sons Charles (1854-77), Edward (1856-1918) and William (1861-1935) as well as sister Eleanor (or Nelly) (1855-1909).  Another half sister Eva (1857-1859) had died in infancy in India.  Charles moved his wife and all of the children to a new home, Sanquhar, in Forres.

Sanquhar House (also known as Burdsyard)
Fraser Tytler family and friends outside Sanquhar, 1865
Although the family had land and decent connections, they were not wealthy and so it fell to the sisters to make good marriages. Etheldred never married, dying a spinster barely a year after her half-brother Edward, in 1919, both at their grandparents' castle by Loch Ness. Christina and Mary had other things but love on their mind.  Christina wanted to be a writer and her sister, an artist, but the usual round for girls of their class continued.  On Wednesday 23 Mary 1866, Christina was brought to St James' Palace in London and there presented to the Princess of Wales in the Queen's Drawing Room as one of many debutantes coming out into society.  Making their way in society seemed inevitably to lead the Fraser Tytler girls to Freshwater...

Christiana Fraser-Tytler (1864-5) Julia Margaret Cameron
Christina and Etheldred (known as Ethel) went to stay in Freshwater and obviously fell into the hands of Julia Margaret Cameron.  The photograph of Christina (or 'Christiana' as Julia called her) shows a beautiful young woman in a meditative pose.  When the sisters visited London in 1867 they visited Little Holland House and met G F Watts.  Christina and Ethel returned to Freshwater in 1868 and brought Mary and Nelly with them, again calling at Dimbola Lodge...

The Rosebud Garden of Girls (June 1868) Julia Margaret Cameron
(Nelly, Mary, Christina, and Ethel - unknown girl in foreground)
The Rosebud Garden of Girls (June 1868)
(Nelly, Christina, Mary and Ethel)
The Three Sisters / Peace, Love and Faith (1868) Julia Margaret Cameron
(Christina, Nelly and Ethel)
On 20 June 1868, the sisters visited Dimbola in Freshwater and Cameron photographed them in images inspired by Tennyson's Maud.  Each sister is representing a flower:

The red rose cries, 'She is near, she is near;'
And the white rose weeps, 'She is late;'
The larkspur listens, 'I hear, I hear;'
And the lily whispers, 'I wait...'
The sisters are bowed together like flowers, their similar faces emphasising their sisterhood.  I love The Three Sisters as it most clearly highlights the age difference between Ethel and Nelly, a decade between them, but also the deep love between them all, Mary not in the edited shot, but her sleeve seen on the far right. The poet and diarist William Allingham visited Dimbola on the day of the photograph and remembered the Fraser Tytler sisters - 'Meet girls going up the stairs in fancy dresses, Mrs C. has been photographing a group, and appears carrying glass negative in her collodionised hands. 'Magnificent! To focus them all in one picture, such an effort!'' When the poet Henry Longfellow met the Fraser Tytler girls in July 1868 he declared 'It was worthwhile coming to England to see such young ladies.'
Sweet Violet and Other Stories (1868-9) illustration by Mary Fraser Tytler
In December of 1868, Christina published her first book, Sweet Violet and Other Stories, which contained 6 illustrations by her sister Mary (who remained anonymous using her initials, M. F-T).  It was published as part of the 'Christmas books' section, intended as gift-books for girls and young ladies.  The Edinburgh Evening Courant reviewed it well, commenting that Christina 'has no inconsiderable power of portrait painting and for drawing suitable distinctions of character. We feel most readers will feel compelled to fall in love with "Sweet Violet".'  In one of the adverts for the book Christina is listed as 'Christiana' which I would have thought was a spelling mistake, but in the photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron she is also often listed as Christiana.  I can only guess that it was either an affectionate variation or an effort to make her name more poetic at the beginning of her career.
It was around this time that Christina met and fell in love with Edward Liddell, a vicar (to become Canon of Durham Cathedral) to whom she became engaged.
Christina Fraser Tytler (1870) Mary Fraser Tytler
Edward fell gravely ill in April 1870 and almost died.  It would be almost 18 months until he was well enough to marry Christina, on 26 September 1871 at St John's Church, Forres.  They were married by the Bishop of Moray and Ross and the church was filled by local people and gentry.  Edward was related to the Liddells of Oxford but also to the Duke of Wellington's family (his mother was a Wellesley) and so the guests included lords, ladies, a countess and a member of parliament.
Christina Liddell (nee Fraser Tytler) (September 1871) Mary Fraser Tytler
As a respectable married woman, Christina continued with her career, publishing novels Jasmine Leigh (1871), Mistress Judith (1875), Jonathan (1876) and poetry collections Songs in Minor Keys (1884) and Songs of the Twilight Hours (1909), as well as appearing in different publications such as Good Words for the Young, the Good Words Annual and  the Sunday Magazine. She is sometimes listed as 'C. C. Fraser-Tytler' and sometimes as 'Mrs Edward Liddell', as well as simply 'Fraser Tytler'
Note that she also played with the name 'Fraser Tytler' avoiding the woman-novelist stigma
Marriage suited her - a family friend Francis Jenkinson wrote in a letter home that he had seen Christina in March 1879 looking 'so plump and well, you would hardly have known her.' Christina wrote on religious subjects, much of her poetry using Christian themes and tone which may explain why her work is not better known today.  It is obvious that she found a great deal of comfort in her faith, channelling such traditional Victorian subjects as art through a Christian eye.  For example, in 'Love and Art', a male narrator tries to understand the woman he loves by beseeching a poet, a painter and a composer to replicate her in their art form but nothing could match the wonder of God's creation, the woman herself. In a very Tennysonian poem, 'Crossing the River', published in Songs in Minor Keys, Christina considers how it would be to cross the river that separated the living from the dead:
Ah, could we follow where they go
And pierce the holy shade they find,
One grief were ours - to stay behind!
One hope - to join the Blest Unseen -
To plant our steps where theirs have been,
And find no river flows between!
George and Mary Watts at Limnerslease, Compton

 Of all her siblings, Christina seems to have been especially close to Mary, and to her husband George Frederick Watts, whom she had met prior to Mary's meeting with him. Watts admired Christina's poetry, writing that he envied her gift of words - 'Words won't come to me! If I try to come at them they seem to fly over the waste and I only see a whisking tail!'.  In Emilie Barrington's G F Watts Reminiscences (1905) she quoted a letter he wrote in 1886 that he felt Christina's poems had 'a waft of sweet air in them'. It might have been this closeness that brought Christina and Edward to move to Puttenham, a neighbouring village to Compton, after his retirement.  They lived out the remainder of their lives in Birdshanger, which miraculously still stands today (you know my track record with people's houses) and I got to linger outside their massive gates and hedge on a recent visit up to the Watts Gallery...

I lowered property values just by my presence...
Edward died in 1914 and Christina in 1927, Christina leaving almost £6,000 to her sister Mary (equivalent to £300,000 in today's money).  Both of them are buried in a grave just outside the memorial to George and Mary at the Compton Cemetery...

Edward Liddell - Priest (and his dates)
and his wife Christina Catherine (and her dates)

Christina's work is not well known now and not many copies of the original books seem available to buy, at least not at an acceptable price.  You can download a lot of her work for free however -  Jonathan is available here, Songs in Minor Keys is here, plus others can be found through the Hathi Trust Digital Library. I hope to return to the subject of Christina and her sisters later in the autumn...


  1. Wow, I just love your detective work. Not only tracking down obscure literary works and photographs of long forgotton people, but finding their grave... and LOL hedge!

    1. Thank you m'dear, I love finding stuff out and sharing it with you. I do love finding the graves!

  2. Fascinating! I looked at some of the poems, some are dull, one or two are a bit too twee. The one called "Naomi" is interesting, the little girl wondering about the dead sister she never knew, casting a sort of shadow over her life. It can't have helped being given the same name - I don't think people would do that now

  3. I am supposed to contact Aldourie Castle at some point about photographs; it's now a venue-for hire, and you can either rent it as a castle to stay in, or have it a wedding venue, event venue, etc. I was hoping to both photograph the building and use it as the location for a Gothic photo-shoot. It's more likely that I'll only get the first part of that done. I want to photograph it as both an example of Scottish Baronial architecture for my course, and for my blog. If I do get photographs of it, you can have a look at all the photographs, not just the half a dozen or so I will select for my blog, if you are interested.

  4. Thank you, that would be lovely! My email address is stonellwalker@googlemail.com.

    Have a wonderful visit!

  5. It's fascinating to see all these connections. I'm researching the history of a medical institution in Cobham, Surrey, called the Schiff Home of Recovery, which operated from 1910 to 1980 and did grand work, especially in both world wars. CC's sister, Etheldred, was responsible for the far-sighted conception of a place where post-operative patients from the overcrowded London hospitals could convalesce in peaceful surroundings and fresh air. Etheldred and her supporters had a hard time raising money, but in 1909 a white knight came to the rescue in the shape of Ernest Frederick Schiff, an immensely wealthy stockbroker, who gave the money for the Home, which was named in memory of his brother, Alfred.

    CC seems to have written about her sister's work, as in February 1921 the Board of Management's minutes record "Mrs Edward Liddell to be asked to correct errors concerning the Home in her pamphlet 'A Woman's Work for Sufferers'." It would be wonderful to find a copy of the offending document!

    1. Thank you for your comments Stephen, that's really interesting. As I researched CC I did wonder about Ethelred. If I find the pamphlet, I'll let you know!

  6. How very interesting!!! Family history that I was not aware of! There are very few F-T’s living now...my brother Grant Bannatyne (and his wife) in New Zealand, his son Alexander (Sandy) Hugh Banntyne, in Bristol (and his wife and two young children) and I live in Montreal, Canada.
    Gael Fraser-Tytler. (We use the hyphen and have done for 5 generations)

  7. Hello Gael! Thank you for getting in touch and I shall hyphenate forthwith :) Glad to have been of interest.

  8. Great article, for which thanks. She also wrote a biography of her husband entitled 'A shepherd of the sheep' which offers, among other things, a fascinating insight into parish life in industrial South Tyneside (specifically Jarrow).


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx