Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Wednesday 12th December - Beatrice Buckstone

Here we are, half way through Blogvent already!  Today's is a bit harrowing, so feel free to have a stiff drink handy.  It concerns cute little uber-poppet, Beatrice Buckstone...

Sweetest Eyes Were Ever Seen (1881) John Everett Millais
Alluding to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem 'Catarina to Camoens' (but not Elton John's 'Your Song'), Millais' painting is of child actress Beatrice Buckstone, who was discovered by the artist's daughters one night at the theatre.  As (mis)remembered by John Guille Millais in his epic biography of his father, the relationship ran thus: 'About this time, to the great delight of Millais, a new and most charming model was discovered in the person of Miss Beatrice Buckstone, grand-daughter of the famous comedian J. B. Buckstone, and with the consent of her parents (for she was then but a child of 12 or 13) she sat for the three pictures, "Cinderella", "Caller Herrin" and "Sweetest Eyes Were Ever Seen".  It was at St James' Theatre in the winter of 1880-81, that this happy discovery was made.'

John Baldwin Buckstone (1850s) Charles Watkins
I am indeed grateful to Millais junior for the above account as it gave me lots to go on in finding Miss Buckstone.  Actually J. B. Buckstone was her father, although you'd be forgiven as Mr Buckstone had been married twice and Beatrice was one of the many children of his second marriage.  Mr Buckstone was born in 1802 and went on the stage at 18, performing at the Surrey Theatre in 1823 and writing his first play in 1826.  All in all he wrote more than 150 comedies and farces and managed the Haymarket Theatre from 1853 to 1876.  He was married first to Anne Honeyman, but after her death in 1844, he married again, to Bella Copeland.

Isabella Buckstone (nee Copeland) (1850s)
In one of  J. B. Buckstone's obituaries it is stated that he married Fanny Copeland, Isabella's cousin, but although it might have been that they were engaged after Fanny's first husband, actor Edward Fitzwilliam died in 1852, Fanny herself died in 1854, putting pay to all that.  Instead, 55 year old Buckstone married the 18 year old Isabella in 1857 and went on to have 12 children between 1857 and 1876.  At least three of these children followed their father into the theatre, including John Copeland Buckstone, Lucy Isabella Buckstone, and Beatrice, born in 1869.

Caller Herrin' (1881) John Everett Millais
This painting, inspired by the Scottish song about fresh herring (as seen in the creel, or basket).  To continue Millais junior's account of Beatrice, after his father had seen Beatrice acting in Good Fortune, her debut on the stage, he wrote to her mother for permission for Beatrice to pose for him: 'This being granted, little Beatrice presently appeared in the studio, when we all agreed that never in our lives had we seen a more lovely child. Her face was simply perfect, both in form and colour, and nothing could be more charming than the contrast between her bright golden hair and those blue-grey Irish eyes that peeped at you from under the shade of the longest black lashes that ever adorned the human face.'  Although this is all very florid, you get the impression that Beatrice was a beautiful young lady and even at 12 years old, she was making an impression on stage and off.  I wondered if her debut onto the stage was partly due to the family's fall in fortunes.  In old age J.B. Buckstone had lost his ability to act and write and in 1878 he was declared bankrupt with substantial debts.  A subscription was raised to help the family.  It was reported in the newspapers that as Buckstone had done so much to amuse the public, the least they could do was to help him in his time of need.  The money was no doubt gratefully received by the family, but in October of the next year, Buckstone died.

Cinderella (1881) John Everett Millais
In the Era newspaper of 1881, it was reported that the little actress of Good Fortune was being painted by Millais and that Lord Leighton had requested her to model next, although I'm not sure if she did or not.  After all of Millais junior's raving at how beautiful Miss Buckstone was I tried to find an actress card for her.  I failed but found this instead...

Cinderella (1881) Rupert Potter
When I saw this as a thumbnail I thought it was just a black-and-white reversed photo of the painting but in fact it was a photo recreation of the painting by Beatrix Potter's father.  Here we can see what a lovely young lady Beatrice was, even more so than the paintings.  Her face seems so modern and it is such a striking photograph, I was stunned.  However, Beatrice does not seemed to have made such a splash on stage as her father or acting siblings.  After the bankruptcy and death of her husband, Mrs Buckstone went into lodgings in Croyden.  The house was owned by Frederick Lawrence and Isabella Buckstone remained there, acting as housekeeper, for the rest of her life.  Census returns show her children coming to stay with her so Mr Lawrence can't have minded his housekeeper's family dropping in and out, and possibly, as Isabella stayed so long, it became more like the family home than her employer's residence.  Beatrice was still there in 1891, but also staying was Walter Pelham Warren, an artist of the scenic variety. Walter's father had also been involved with the theatre as a playwright so possibly the families knew each other.  Beatrice and Walter were married on 20th August 1891 at St John the Evangelist Church, Upper Norwood. However, the marriage was not a happy one.

Sketch for Sweetest Eyes Were Ever Seen (1881) John Everett Millais
I always feel conflicted when I have to read divorce papers as research because they hold vast amounts of useful and interesting information, but are invariably awful, more so if the woman files them because of the weight of evidence she has to provide.  Within two years of their marriage, Walter was unfaithful to Beatrice and gave her gonorrhea.  In the divorce documents, Beatrice reports years of verbal and physical abuse, culminating in an attempt to strangle her and throwing her, face first, into a door.  He threw her out of the marital home and refused to let her back in leaving her homeless.  In 1901 Beatrice was back staying with her mother in Croyden.  By 1904, Beatrice alleged Walter was living with his mistress at 525 Holloway Road in London and in 1908 finally filed for divorce.  Walter denied all charges.  Beatrice was granted her divorce and by the look of the papers, her costs were paid.

Beatrice lived to a decent age, dying aged 86 in the Charnwood Nursing Home in Worthing, but rather like the remark in the newspaper about her father's financial hardship, I rather hoped that someone who gave me such pleasure looking at her image would have a happy life, or at least wouldn't be married to someone who was so appalling.  Mind you, that is the peril of both life and research, you never know what will happen and not all of it will be good.  All you can do is deal with what arises and learn that even the sweetest eyes that were ever seen could have a rough time of it.

See you tomorrow.


  1. Many thanks for your fascinating post on Beatrice Buckstone & detailing some of her more turbulent domestic arrangements - her father JB Buckstone's grave is located in Ladywell cemetery- the headstone was paid for it appears from contributions made by some of his fellow thespians!. There are some tentative indications that it might be restored- as he was such a significant figure in 19 th century theatre history.

  2. Oh my God! "Caller Herrin" from the Hammer collection! I saw it in 1983 in Budapest. I just stood there, standing for at least half an hour. The reproduction of the catalog was completely color-correct. I also copied it in the same size, although I never finished it. It reminded me of a German girl who had for me a great love, when I was young. (She name had "Beate" :) ) This image played a big role in me becoming a painter myself (I also did art history at the university). Millais never painted a better picture, though Ruskin considered it a sketch. Ophelia is no better. He also recalls the best Van Dyck traditions in the colors of "Caller Herrin."
    I am very sorry for the fate of Beatrice Buckstone. That's not what they deserved. It is a small satisfaction for Beatrice that a (Hungarian) Valter has remained a prisoner all his life. Maybe I can say that today when I was 56 years old. Thanks for the great investigation! Torjay Valter painter, art historian


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