The Reverend Frederick William Densham (BA ACA) died aged 83 in 1953 after a strange and enigmatic life. A life which has left unanswered questions even though his story has been discussed world- wide. He was seen in the mid 1930’s by Daphne du Maurier and reputedly inspired her vicar in Jamaica Inn. It is also believed that Densham’s spirit still haunts the church in which he was vicar for 22 years prior to his strange death.
The Reverend Frederick W Densham was born in 1870 in London to a Methodist Minister and his wife. It is likely that this upbringing laid the foundations of his intransigent non-acceptance of the ‘High Church’ congregation he was to meet later in his life at Warleggan. He was a clever man , graduating from London University and the Divinity School at Oxford. It is not known why Densham ordained in the Church of England while he held these at odds beliefs. Perhaps, as with many people, Densham initially wished to shake off the views of his parents and as he aged, found himself becoming the same man as his father.
A tall strong man, standing over six feet, Densham was also pompous, pious and sure of himself and certain that his beliefs were the only correct ones. He was at his best when working with the needy and found positions working in a Boys’ Home in Whitechapel and at a Home for Inebriates.
By 1921, Densham decided to enlighten foreigners and travelled to Natal in Africa as a missionary. He was unsuccessful and after learning of the teachings of Gandhi, applied to work in India but was turned down. It was this temporarily demoralised man who turned up to minister at St Bartholomew’s Church in Warleggan in Cornwall in 1931.
There he found 168 parishioners, Cornishmen born and bred, distrustful of strangers and unwilling to change their patterns of worship. It seems that they may have been against Densham from the beginning as even early in his residency there, the congregation averaged only between 4 and 9 people. On very rare occasions there were as many as 15 or 20 worshippers. Equally, there were many days when he would preach to an empty church. As the church emptied, it became Densham’s practice to place small cards in the first six pews inscribed with the names of prior vicars and so preached in his imagination to his peers.
It may have been a result of this habit, from which grew the legend of him preaching to the cardboard cut outs of parishioners, a story which some say originated from Daphne du Maurier in her book Vanishing Cornwall. However, Miss du Maurier did not write this legend until 1967 and heard about it around 1932.
Daphne visited the church with her friend Foy Quiller Couch
a short time after Reverend Densham had arrived. He had been invited to tea at
The Haven along with another clergyman, by the Quiller Couch family. They found
him to be amiable and loquacious, although a little odd. Daphne du Maurier wrote
about her conversation with Foy following this encounter,
“In what way?” I enquired. “He asked me,” she said, “to recommend a gardener to live in.” He was a bachelor, and whomever he employed would receive for his services a penny a year and all his potatoes free. “I told him,” said my friend (Foy), the most courteous of persons, “that gardeners are rather hard to find, and possibly the wages he suggested were a little low.”
Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier
It was from Foy and her father, the highly respected Arthur Quiller Couch, that Daphne heard of the cardboard cut-out congregation. Other writers have disputed the story, stating that Densham only preached to hand written cards left in the pews.
It wasn’t long before Densham and his parishioners fell out.
He wished to change the services and had various ideas to update the services but
soon fell foul of the Parish Council. He responded by removing the complainants
from the parish electoral rolls. He could find no staff, as he wanted them to
live in on little or no wages. It was highly likely that he was lonely and
could not understand why it was his own actions clashing with a long-established
community belief that were to blame. It was his job to work with his congregation
and not against them.
It has also been reported that he kept strange books in his library, possibly to do with witchcraft and devil worship. It seems more likely that his academic books on Eastern religions and folk and pagan beliefs were causing the trouble. He was however, preaching the merits of vegetarianism and had banned whist drives and concerts, declaring them ‘amusements from hell.’
Densham then took it upon himself to purchase an entire litter of Alsatian puppies, cute at first, but which soon ran wild killing sheep belonging to local farmers. This caused more antagonism and there were loud demands for the destruction of the dogs. Instead of this, Densham had his entire property at The Rectory fenced with eight-foot-high barbed wire as a compromise, while he insisted that his dogs, including his favourite Gandhi, were not to blame.
Now, there was a twelve-foot-high gate as an entrance to The Rectory, outside of which Densham left a box where his meagre shopping requirements could be left. Appointments to visit him had to be in writing and Densham would wait for them inside the gate. Any visitors without an appointment would have to bang loudly on an old oil drum left there for the purpose.
Mindful of his tiny congregation, and wanting to please them, Densham decided to repaint the church, choosing to do it at night and using colours of deep red, blue and yellow. Horrified, his small congregation walked out of the church upon seeing his work, fearful of Densham’s clear pagan beliefs. Densham responded by painting over the church windows and bringing in only one candle when a meeting was held to object.
In 1933 Densham had closed the Sunday School and the shocked congregation called on their Bishop, Walter Frere, hoping he would remove Densham, but he could find no ecclesiastical reason so to do. It appears that the Bishop was alarmed by some of the accusations, such as the threat to sell the church organ, a World War 1 memorial, and Densham telling one parishioner that he would kill him by ‘Holy Magic’. But Bishop Frere in response asked for peace and reconciliation.
Densham remained in his place at St Bartholomew’s.
It was around this time, that Daphne and Foy visited. They
stayed at Jamaica Inn and trudged to Warleggan early one morning. A journey of
over two hours.
Daphne wrote in Vanishing
The trek was long, the day was hot-surprisingly, for mid-May – and Warleggan was not easy to find. We arrived weary and already rather scared, having eaten a pasty lunch unwittingly upon a nest of adders, the strange hissing noise beneath warning us, just before they uncoiled and rose, that the stone was occupied. Warleggan church already had an air of desolation, the small churchyard tall with unkempt grass, the silence profound. No one, save the pastor, had said a prayer within for many years. Our courage waned. We left the church and approached the rectory, which was screened by tall trees nested in by colonies of rooks whose restless cawing held a baleful note. We found the entrance gate barred and wired, with the box upon it for provisions empty. Daringly we sounded the bell. Hardly had it clanged than eight – my companion afterwards said ten – enormous dogs, wolf-hounds and Alsatians, sprang from nowhere upon the fence above us, leaping, snarling, yellow fangs bared in rage. Like the organist, we fled in terror to the moor, preferring the nest of adders to this pack of hungry dogs, and there consulted as to our next move.
Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier
A year or so later, Daphne and Foy were joined by their
friend Lady Clara Vyvyan in her car. Clara was determined that they should all gain
entry, although she disliked dogs and they hoped to avoid them.
They hid the car by parking in a nearby lane and crept by
the rectory garden, disturbing the rooks. But there were no dogs, they mused,
Possibly they had starved to death.
Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier
They climbed the far hedge, hoping to see the vicar. As they struggled up the bank through the ubiquitous brambles and nettles and ignoring the barbed wire, they saw the Reverend Densham.
There was the vicar, scarcely twenty yards away, pacing up and down his little plot of ground, a strange, unbelievable figure in a dark frockcoat green with age, a black shovel hat upon his head. We stared. He did not see us. Up and down he walked, with heaven knows what melancholy thoughts, what lonely speculations. Suddenly the explorer (Clara Vyvyan) did a crazy thing. She took her handkerchief from her pocket and began to wave it wildly in the air. “Cooee!” she shouted. “Cooee!” (her Australian roots showing here.) The vicar paused. He lifted his head a moment to right and left and walked away, his hands behind his back. Scarlet with shame, I plucked the explorer from the hedge. The last of the trio (Foy) was already running for the car. This expedition, like the first, had proved ignominious. We retreated, cowed.
Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier
The three ladies learnt later that the dogs had already
gone, although it is not clear where. This was only a few years after he had
Densham had now fixed up speakers at the church and preached
his echoing sermons so that passers-by could hear him even though they refused
to enter. He built a playground for children and set up a little theatre in one
of his buildings which would show films. He advertised a date and yet again, no
one showed up. He cleared his house and stockpiled food during the war and
applied to the authorities to house evacuees, but none were allocated to him,
Densham, not surprisingly, being designated an unsuitable host for children.
He responded by raising the height of the barbed wire fence
to 12 feet.
He had now painted the doors inside his Rectory with red
crosses and drawn religious names thereon. He wrote new sermons, journals and
continued to preach to empty pews.
Growing ever more insular, Densham did not clean either
himself or his house and began to rip up floorboards for his fire.
After 1951, his story had travelled around the world and
often journalists would turn up to interview him. He was photographed several
times shouting at the local Methodists, but eventually even the journalists
lost interest. Densham was now
spiralling into self-absorption.
One morning in 1953, locals noticed that for several days, there had been no chimney smoke and no sightings of Densham. They bashed the oil drum at the gate, but to no avail. Further investigations revealed the Reverend Densham had died partway up the stairs several days previously and lay there in his final sleep.
His funeral service was attended by no one, save his
solicitor and his ashes were not scattered on his own Garden of Remembrance as
he had requested, but in a Plymouth cemetery.
This sad, possibly misunderstood old man, died alone and lonely and yet his story still circulates as a mystery. It is rumoured that his spirit even now, paces the Rectory Garden and he has been seen walking the lanes with his favourite dog, Gandhi. Densham has been immortalised in several books and most recently in a film called, A Congregation of Ghosts
There has never been another Rector of Warleggan after Densham.
The Rectory was sold, and his paltry possessions taken by his brother or sold
off. The church was soon whitewashed and cleared of any trace of the Reverend
It is worth mentioning that not everyone believed Densham to
be a strange man. As he had often attended the local Methodist Church, some of
their congregation remember him as a misunderstood and kind man, who would
attend the bedsides of sick parishioners and bring them flowers in addition to
his prayers. These fond memories, however, are few and far between.
James Malcolm Maclaren (always known as Malcolm) was a world-renowned geologist and mileage millionaire. He was born in New Zealand and travelled the world as a consulting mining engineer. He was a specialist on the mining of gold, silver, lead, zinc, tin, mercury, copper, china clay, bauxite and phosphate. It was on his advice that many Cornish mines were closed during the early years of the 20th Century, most particularly the 1920’s. He married Harriett, the elder sister of C C Vyvyan, the travel writer. These ladies were of the Williams family of Caerhays and the Powys-Rogers of Stanage Park. Malcolm Maclaren died at the family home of Burncoose, Cornwall in 1935 and is buried at Gwennap Church.
His father – James Monteith Maclaren
His parents, James Monteith Maclaren and Janet MacNeil were both born in Scotland. James Monteith was born in Braes of Balquhidder in 1837, and his family moved from this desolate area to Edinburgh in his young years. This move was a result of the notorious Highland Clearances, when many crofters were moved from their tenanted cottages by their landlords.
As he matured, James studied at Glasgow University and worked for an engineering firm in Glasgow for 5 years. But he was of such delicate health with weak lungs, that the family decided they should send him to relatives in New Zealand where he would fare better in the climate there. Many Scots had gone before them to take part in the Gold Rush. James parents, brothers and sisters remained in Edinburgh and never moved to New Zealand, so James journeyed alone to New Zealand in 1864 on the ship ‘Brechin Castle’, landing at Dunedin.
He soon began working for the Otago Provincial Government, which was involved in mining in Otago and the West Coast. By 1868, James had moved to Thames, the fastest growing town in New Zealand because of it’s mining activities and was appointed the Engineer in Charge of Thames District by the Auckland Provincial Government.
He married Janet Adam McNeil in 1872, when she was 18 and he 35. Janet’s family were from Glasgow and had emigrated to New Zealand in 1869. Janet’s parents, Daniel and Margaret (nee Inglis) McNeil, were confectioners and so it seems that James met their daughter at the store while he had finally begun to get a well-paid job and was ready to settle down. She was remembered by her granddaughter as being five feet nothing and plump but had the same electric blue eyes as her husband, so it is no surprise that these piercing eyes were passed on to their son, Malcolm. Interestingly, grey eyes featured in her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
So, it was in Thames, amongst many fellow Scots, where familiar accents and hotels such as the ‘City of Glasgow’ made it feel like the old country, that they raised their family.
Their first born was James Malcolm Maclaren on the 28th October 1873, although his father did not register him for six weeks. He became the famous and well travelled mining engineer. The Maclarens had six children in total, two of whom died quite young in July 1881 from scarlet fever, during a time when the Thames Schools were closed in a bid to rid the community from this dreadful outbreak. Their son Jack was also a mining engineer but became an invalid following a bout of blackwater fever while he was prospecting alone in the bush. Meg married Ned Wylie and Jessie remained unmarried and was also an invalid, although it appears that she many have been something of a hypochondriac.
The Provincial Government was abolished in 1876 and James rapidly found work in the Government Survey Department, mapping goldfields. By 1878, he had been appointed Inspector of Coal and Gold Mines in the North Island.
Although well respected in this job, the career choice was to become very stressful for James Monteith Maclaren. He had many run-ins with the newly appointed Warden of the Te Aroha Mining District, Harry Kenrick.
Kenrick was causing great trouble with many areas of the District, such as hotels, taverns, law and the courts. James was not left out of the dramas, and when one gentleman was listing reasons Kenrick should be removed from his position, the first two items on the list were;
That he tried to deprive the Inspector of Mines of the Office of Inspector of Coal Mines.
That he tried to deprive the Inspector of Miners’ Rights of the office of Inspector of Miners’ Rights
Maclaren and Kenrick had many clashes which ultimately went higher than their pay grade and resulted in James’s suspension, with his pay being stopped at one point. This suspension would appear to be unfair, but it resulted in James becoming dangerously ill with piles, congested liver and acute bronchitis, which had flared up again. The main bone of contention appeared to be the registering of claims and the rights of miners.
The stress killed Kenrick, while James eventually had his three months pay returned and from 1888 he began working privately as a consultant mining engineer. In 1890 he was appointed Engineer in Charge to Thames, where he remained for 20 years until 1910.
Details of the problems can be found here, most particularly Page 87 onwards, although there are mentions elsewhere in the document.
Janet’s mother, Margaret Inglis MacNeil, lived with them both following her own husband’s death from senility and heart failure. It appeared that Margaret had been working in a domestic capacity for James and Janet.
James Monteith died at 86 on the 16th May 1924 after having suffered from senile decay and a bad heart for over 5 years. Janet died on the 15th July 1936 aged 83 at a private hospital of heart failure. They had not seen their son Malcolm Maclaren for many years.
James Malcolm Maclaren was born in Thames on the 23rd October 1873. The family lived at Parawai in South Thames and the children were schooled in Thames.
Malcolm and his siblings attended initially the oldest school in Thames, the two roomed, Parawai Public School. At 14 years old, Malcolm went to Thames High School in June 1887 from where he matriculated in 1890, winning the Junior Scholarship Senior CCS with Honours. At the Thames School of Mining in 1892, he won The Presidents Medal and School of Mines Medal. Here he studied under James Park, who later became the Professor of Mining at Otago University. James Park was the father of ACM Keith Park, who controlled the Battle of Britain during World War II.
During 1893, money was short in the family probably due to the problems his father was having with Warden Kenrick – ( see above) and on the 13th February, James Malcolm began working at the Bank of New Zealand in Thames. On the 10th March he was transferred to the Auckland branch of the Bank. He was transferred back to Thames on the 22nd August and resigned on 30th June 1894. While Malcolm was earning this extra money for the family, he was also taking evening classes at the School of Mines and obtained a University Scholarship from there. He was offered 10 weeks teaching at the School of Mining as he was respected so much.
Between 1895 and 1896 James took up his scholarship at the Otago School of Mines where there was renewed interest in mining as gold dredging was now booming.
Malcolm moved to Auckland in 1897 where he attended the University College obtaining BSc Hons Geology and a prize for a Senior Scholarship, the 1851 Exhibition Science Scholarship. He had studied here under Professor Thomas and they wrote letters to each other regularly. Examination papers were always marked in the UK and Malcolm’s manuscript was sent by ship. In the style of a novel, the ship was wrecked off Cape Horn and his papers would never arrive at their destination. The University of New Zealand decided that substitute exams held by constituent colleges would suffice. Latin was a compulsory subject and because Malcolm was weak in this subject he failed. Nil desperandum, Malcolm studied hard, passed Latin and achieved his Senior Scholarship in Geology.
As you are no doubt already aware, I was “ploughed” in Latin, much to my astonishment, I must confess, for Prof Tubbs appears to have adopted an unnecessarily high standard. I suppose he thought the honour of the University was at stake. Apart from the bitterness of failing I am glad to have another chance for the scholarship from an examiner and not a hole and corner way in which I would otherwise have held it.
He was one of a group of outstanding students who studied under Thomas and could stand shoulder to shoulder with them. He was proud of his degrees and prizes and he culminated his achievements in a DSc in Geology achieved in 1907, Auckland’s first.
During these studies and exams, Malcolm became the first Director of the Coromandel School of Mines in 1898 before he resigned on the 1st July 1899. He had been offered a job as Mining and Geological Surveyor to the Hauraki Group of Mines before he did a six-month stint from January to June 1900 as the Assistant Geologist to the New Zealand Government. His father was very proud of him.
London and beyond
In April 1901 Malcolm arrived in London ready to take up the 1851 Exhibition Science Scholarship, which he had won in Auckland. He was to study under Judd at the Royal School of Mines. There was a delay here when the School insisted that they had no record of Malcolm’s Scholarship entry and when the paperwork was eventually found, it was at the last minute and Malcolm was at the point of returning to New Zealand. Once he began his studies, he was not impressed with their treatment of him and decided that he would only study for one year and not the three for which the Scholarship was intended. He was also elected Fellow of the Geological Society in London in 1901, while he was at the Royal School of Mines.
Malcolm prophetically wrote;
…whatever opening the future may have for me, it will be something connected with gold.
It must be assumed that Malcolm was already becoming well known for his knowledge and achievements even at 28 years old. He was a good all-rounder and had a very high IQ. Although he was a short, stocky man, reports are of him being between 5’5” and 5’8”, with dark brown hair and a tremendous moustache, of which he was very proud; it was his bright, ice blue eyes which made him instantly memorable. His eyesight was not so brilliant, and it did worsen with age. It might also be deduced that Malcolm was a very lucky man, who was often in the right place at the right time.
Malcolm travelled widely during this time, including Scotland, Wales and Cornwall and almost the rest of the world.
In 1902, Alexander McKay, the New Zealand Government Geologist was declared medically unfit for field work. The New Zealand Government offered the position to Malcolm at a salary of £600 per annum. At the same time, he had been offered the job of Mining Specialist Geological Surveyor in India at a salary of £1000 per annum and sensibly Malcolm travelled to India to take up the position in September 1902.
The New Zealand Government were not ready to give up on Malcolm and sent further offers of salary with Malcolm haggling them upwards, but no agreement could be reached. On the 16th May 1904 Malcolm wrote,
Dear Mr McGowan,
I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 18th March containing details of position with regard to the vacant post of NZ Govt Geologist. In reply I, may state that I have decided not to make application at either £600 or £700. The latter figure means at the time of offer a sacrifice of at least £300 per year and more at the present time, but as I have pointed out before, I am under a deep sense of obligation to the N Z Govt. It seems to me, however, that the action of Govt. in calling for applications releases me from any obligation with respect to my last offer, and as £600 will only be half my prospective salary for the next year or so, I cannot reasonably be expected to apply at that figure.
While I am extremely gratified that you should have offered the appointment to me I yet think that calling for applications, and widely advertising the vacant position, is the best way of securing the best man.
So, it was that James Mackintosh Bell was appointed to the position of Government Geologist in New Zealand in November 1904. There were 57 applicants for the £600 post. Bell’s title was changed to Director of the New Zealand Geological Survey as a sweetener for the lack of remuneration. To put the salary in perspective, the Minister offering the post was earning only £800 p.a. The Prime Minister only earned £1600 p.a.
While the negotiations had been going on, James Malcolm Maclaren had also had an offer from the Belgian Congo of £1500 p.a., which he did not accept.
Malcolm finally resigned from the Geological Survey of India in 1906, sure in his belief that he could earn in excess of £2500 p.a. as a private consultant. He spent the following two years travelling the world researching his book, Gold.
Gold, by James Malcolm Maclaren was first published in 1908 and is still available. Although, clearly some of the information has now been updated, it is still informative geologically and historically. It runs to 700 pages with 278 illustrations and one colour plate. The maps and diagrams drawn by James are not only good, but functional. The book was received well with excellent reviews from well-respected journals and organisations. The research helped James Malcolm Maclaren gain a DSc from the University of New Zealand for his work on the Coromandel Goldfields. Malcolm was clear that he had written up much of the research from the miners who were at each mine, Malcolm not having enough time to research each mine himself.
Charlotte Harriett Rogers
Charlotte Harriett (always known as Harriett) was born on the 26th August 1882 in Australia at the family cattle ranch, Stanage, Toorilla Plains, Queensland, to Charlotte (nee Williams of Caerhays Castle) and Edward Powys Rogers of Stanage Park. When she was young, the family moved back to Burncoose in Cornwall, while their father travelled back to Australia at various times, sometimes accompanied by the family and sometimes alone. As the family grew, the children would sail back and to between Australia and England, amongst their many other travelling adventures around the world. It was on one of these Australia sailings that Charlotte Harriett Rogers and James Malcolm Maclaren met and conducted an on-board romance.
The boat was going from England to Australia and Harriett and her sister Clara (C C Vyvyan) were travelling to stay with their father at the ranch for a few months.
Malcolm managed to charm Harriett, even though he was more than 3 inches shorter than her and ten years older. Harriett, like her sister Clara was just over 5’10” and beautiful. Malcolm often went without his glasses and his bright blue eyes were attractive and hypnotic and the pair appeared to hit it off. Malcolm spoke seven languages, had considerable artistic ability and a high IQ. He had every intention of earning money and travelling the world and this interested Harriett, an intelligent and much travelled woman herself.
Her sister Clara was less than impressed with Malcolm.
Malcolm told Harriett of his book and his travels and adventures. He also told her about the money he sent back to New Zealand to his parents. It was 1909 and his father James Monteith was to retire from his government position within a year and his maternal grandmother was also living at home. Malcolm needed more time to set his family up before he could consider marriage. They did reach an understanding, however.
Harriett was an excellent musician, singer and artist and had already travelled widely herself. Her family, wealthy gentry who owned a castle and mansions, were involved in mining in Cornwall.
They complimented each other perfectly.
Harriet and Clara continued to the cattle station and James to his mine meetings. They corresponded regularly. Charlotte Rogers, Harriett’s mother did not approve of James Malcolm Maclaren, considering him common. Malcolm often visited the family at Burncoose in Cornwall, part of the Caerhays Estate and got on with his future father in law Edward Rogers and the Williams of Caerhays cousins. Malcolm was a good shot and often went shooting on the estates for snipe, pheasants etc. He and the menfolk could discuss mining and Malcolm advised the family on mine shares and investments. Charlotte (always a snob – but a kind one) was won over. The couple married on New Year’s Eve 1912 at Gwennap Parish Church and began their life travelling the world.
A marriage of interest to many folk in Kalgoorlie is thus described by the “Royal Cornwall Gazette” The marriage of Miss Charlotte Harriett Powys Rogers, eldest daughter of Mr. E. Powys Rogers, of Toorilla, Queensland residing at Burncoose, Perranwall. To Mr. J Malcolm Maclaren, younger son of Mr. J. M. Maclaren, of Thames (N.Z.), was solemnised at Gwennap Parish Church on Tuesday. Much local interest was manifested in the wedding, and the church was crowded some time, before the bridal party arrived. The bride, who looked very charming in her trousseau of deep ivory charmeuse and crepe chiffon. with a Court train, lined with silver throughout and trimmed with silver roses and Brussels lace,(the gift of Mrs Pocklington Coltman), was given away by her father. She carried a beautiful bouquet of carnations, white heather, and fern, tied with MacLaren tartan ribbon. The bridesmaids were Misses Clara and: Naomi Powys Rogers (sisters of the bride), Gwladys Rogers, May Williams and Mary Arnott (cousins), and Miss Davies Gilbert, who wore dresses of deep ivory satin and tinted lace, with waist belts of deep rose. chiffon, old gold plait and posy of small Banksia roses, with head-dress of small Banksia, roses and gold tinsel net. They also wore pendants of New Zealand green stone, Queensland pearl and Cornish diamonds, the gift of the bride groom. The charming group were provided, with bouquets of white chrysanthemums and fern tied with broad ribbon of the Maclaren tartan, Mr. Edward Loring, London, was groomsman. Mrs. Powys Rogers was attired in a charming. dress of violet chiffon velours and toque to match, and. carried a bouquet-of purple orchids. The service, which was choral, was conducted by the Bishop of St. Germans assisted by the Rev. J. L. Parker, MI.A., vicar of Gwennap. The church had been beautifully decorated and presented. a pleasing appearance with its adornments of plants and flowers, mostly chrysanthemum ferns and palms. An awning was erected from the entrance to the south porch, while a crimson carpet was laid to the altar steps. Mr. McLaggan, the organist played as voluntaries Wagner’s Bridal Chorus and Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and the hymns ‘The voice that breathed o’er Eden’ and ‘O Perfect Love,’ were sung. After signing the register Mr and Mrs. Maclaren returned by motor car for Burncoose, entering the ground ‘under a triumphal arch of evergreens intertwined with the national colours. A crowd of well wishers gave them a hearty send-off from the church. Mrs. MacLaren is very popular in the district by reason of her good works. among the sick and poor and she has also been great help at Gwennap Sunday School. The reception at Burncoose was largely attended. A splendid scheme of decorations had been carried out in the house and the conservatory was fitted up with fairy lamps which when lighted in the evening made a charming display. During the afternoon the happy couple left for honeymoon and will leave England for Burma about the middle of January. The bride’s travelling dress was a coat and skirt of dark red cloth with a black and white brocade hat.
Kalgoorlie Western Argus
Much information was left in the diaries which Harriett kept and some of the following stories has been gleaned from them.
On New Year’s Day, the couple began their honeymoon at Trevenith Cottage, Ruan Minor, Cornwall. They remained there until the 10th January when they returned to Burncoose. Three days later they were in London, staying at some Williams relatives until they left by train, boat and train to Paris. They sailed to the Mediterranean where Malcolm was feverish and ill, it took him several days to recover.
They were travelling with Sir William Conyngham Greene, who had just been appointed Ambassador to Japan, and Harriet notes the flying fish and whales that they all saw.
By mid-February they were visiting mines in Burma where they remained for three months. Harriett would always write out the reports for Malcolm, a habit she kept up until his death.
They went to Rangoon, Singapore and Bali. They endured rough seas in small ships, Harriett was unperturbed, and Malcolm would regularly feel sick. He was often tired and ill while at the mines, enough so that Harriett recorded the fact. She sometimes said he had a fever or cold or cough, they had only been married for a few months and Harriett was very healthy and pregnant.
Once they dined with the Faulkners from Shropshire and where shown the Stanage plate they possessed, Stanage being the ancestral home of the Rogers family.
They fished and watched the bird life, those they did not draw, they shot, using pistols and rifles. Harriet was often playing her piano. One day Harriet saw a waggon being drawn by 21 donkeys, while Malcolm was working in the mines. He would receive a telegram from London telling him where next to go. He had been working for Bewick, Moering and Co. but was now employed by the Goldfields Group which had been founded by Cecil Rhodes.
By July 1913 they were at Kalgoorlie and Malcolm was ill again, cold, cough and bad headaches. Harriett complained not at all even with this first pregnancy.
In a relatively short time, the couple had travelled many miles and Harriett recorded much of it.
Children and The Great War
The couple hoped for and expected a son as their first born. Jean arrived in Australia on the 25th October 1913 and always felt as though she disappointed them. Harriett and Malcolm made it plain that they did not wish to have any daughters, only sons and Jean recorded later in her life,
It is difficult for me to write objectively about my father as I did not like him very much. No doubt I was an unattractive, tiresome child but I could do nothing in his eyes and he was always picking on me.
It wasn’t till long after I was grown up that I realised what must have been the cause of this animosity. Neither he nor my mother ever wanted a daughter and to have a girl as their first born must have been an unpleasant shock! Of course, nothing was known of psychology in those days and in any case, they quickly rectified their mistake by producing Edward (in Korea) only 20 months later! Incidentally, so anti girls was my mother that she got really acid with people while I was waiting to produce Richard, “Oh Mrs Maclaren, now you have 6 grandsons aren’t you just longing for Jean to have a sweet little girl?” “Certainly not!” was the reply.
Charlotte’s brother Michael met them and spent a good deal of time with the Maclarens, Harriett noticing how depressed he was about the cattle. Malcolm accompanied Michael on many shooting and fishing expeditions until Dr Voss allowed Jean and her mother to accompany them. Harriett was also in constant letter contact with her family back in Cornwall. It was not until 7th December that Harriett received 21 letters of congratulations on Jeans arrival.
They soon suffered the sad news that Harriet’s sister and Naomi and brother Harry had both died. Naomi from an asthma attack and Harry on a ship. Malcolm continued his work with the mines but was now given a special role as the Great War approached.
The British Government gave him the job of travelling the world and purchasing all the available Wolfram (Tungsten). He had to journey incognito as an American businessman in order to attract little attention. There are few records of his capers in this regard, for obvious reasons. Malcolm never talked much to his family about this part of his life, although he did mention that he was in Spain for a good part of that time. He also maintained his private work as a consultant mining engineer and he and Harriet kept up their travelling. Their son Edward was born in Korea on 24th June 1915 and it was here that Harriet had to milk a goat in order to supplement the boy’s food. The goat was not used to being milked, but Harriet would not be dissuaded. Malcolm continued to work for the British Government after the War. He advised on the mining problems that were occurring following the changing of national boundaries.
Their second son Colin Neil was born on the 25th October 1917. The family moved to Chyrose, Redruth from where Malcolm continued to travel the world.
By 1919, the family moved to Burncoose and this was their home for the remainder of Malcolm’s life. Harriett was carrying the twins Margaret and Peter who were born on the 19th April. Jean remembered while discussing Harriett’s fondness for boys,
Of course, they did have Margaret later on but that was a different matter. She brought a twin brother with her and she was a lovely pretty model child. I can just remember her the days the twins were born. Peter was quite bald, but Margaret had lovely dark curls.
Harriett’s father was ailing with his final illness (He died in February 1920) and her mother Charlotte now needed company.
Harriett could return to her roots of servants, hunting, shooting and socialising with her peers, the local gentry. They had always had servants while travelling, but now she had family servants. Malcolm had come into his own with the Williams relatives, attending shoots regularly and regaling them with tales of his large animal kills. Their daughter Jean remembers,
My father was said to be a fair shot in spite of his poor sight, but he had to have something special done to his gun before he could use it. When we were young there were 2 tiger skins taking up a lot of floor space in the drawing room at Burncoose. We hated it because it was a crime to step on them. He had shot them from a hide up a tree in Burma. They’d been menacing the neighbouring villagers. But he also did a lot of partridge ad snipe shooting in Cornwall. My snobbish Grandmother was upset at her Harriett marrying a colonial, but all the Williams men cousins liked him because of his shooting and also because of his mining knowledge. They still had many mining interests then. He was passionately interested in cricket – the only interest I had in common with him – but I doubt if he would have been much good at it – his sight was too poor.
There was also a story that Malcolm took no interest in his children, preferring his work and his hobbies and his wife. He once asked his son Peter to show him where his room was. Jean said,
…we perhaps are not taking into account the customs of the time when that incident occurred. No man living at this time in a house the size of Burncoose would have anything to do with domestic arrangements – in fact I doubt if he ever went to the back parts of the house. After all there were at least 4 servants in the house plus nannies and governesses. In any case, none of us kept the same bedroom all the time of our childhood.
He did take a great interest in the children but I’m sure Mother came first, second and third, as, of course, he did with her. Then obviously a lot of the time he wasn’t at home because most of his work was outside the UK.
The children always referred to their parents as Daddy and Mother.
Having produced 5 children in less than 7 years, Harriett and Malcolm decided their family was complete. Harriet was almost 40 and Malcolm almost 50.
While Malcolm was working with the UK government, he was also advising on the closure of Cornish tin mines. Jean again,
Although in his later years most of his work was in gold mines he never really gave up on other minerals. For instance, many of the last of the great Cornish tin mines were closed because of his reports and I think this must have been in the late twenties. These mines had to be closed because a) tin prices fell because of the cheaper production costs of tine from the streams in Malaya and b) because of the increasing cost of pumping as the mines got deeper.
In 1920 Malcolm prepared the report which finally closed the Dolcoath Mine when the mine was almost worked out and the tin price had collapsed.
During his working life Malcolm travelled the entire world with the exception of Russia. In each continent Malcolm visited many towns and many rural districts, that being where the mines were based. He visited most places more than once and often received telegrams from his office telling him where to go next. He regularly did not make it home for months on end. Harriett often recorded in her diary that Malcolm had just returned from somewhere looking tired and ill or that Malcolm must leave again.
In 1926 he visited Africa and managed to clock up 6000 miles while travelling by train and car. In the 28 months from August 1932 to December 1933, Malcolm spent only 2 months at home. It was by 1929 that he became a mileage millionaire, second only to J H Curle, the famous philatelist.
During his working years he held the proud title of ‘second most travelled man in the world. My mother was very proud of this. It meant that (except for the No 1 traveller who was an American millionaire called J H Curle) he’d travelled more miles by land and sea than anyone else.
On one of their last trips to Africa, Harriet achieved the record for having been deeper in a mine than any woman. She went down 7522 ft in Witwatersrand mine, South Africa in 1929.
During his last journey Malcolm became ill in Western Australia, but he remained professional, completing this contract and another one in Victoria. He spent some time at a hospital in Australia and then sailed home, hoping that the journey would cure him. He came back to Burncoose to recuperate after an operation in a London Clinic where he was diagnosed with a serious lung condition during January 1935. Sadly, he became worse and died on the 13th March and was buried at Gwennap Church, in a service conducted by the Rev J E Durch.
The service was attended by the following amongst others;
Harriett and her four surviving children – Neil had died in May 1932 at his school. Harriet’s brother Michael, who now lived at St Columb and her sister Lady Vyvyan, now at Trelowarren. The Williams cousins from Caerhays Castle and Scorrier House. Also, the Bolithos, the Beauchamps and many of Cornish society families. There were several members of the Burncoose servants present too.
Although he was not teetotal like my mother, I don’t think he was very keen on drink. I can remember Bass (for the men only on shooting parties or fishing trips) one decanter of whiskey and strangely Van Der Hum! But I imagine nothing was drunk unless there were visitors. Drinking to excess would have been quite out of character with his disciplined and strict nature. He did smoke quite a lot of cigars so they may have been the cause of the lung cancer from which he died. He took ill in West Australia and was in hospital with a kind of nursing nun but returned to England to die. He was in the London Clinic and then went home to Burncoose for his last week or two.
Jean also remembered,
It seems very obvious that Daddy had a very high IQ – I would guess in the genius bracket and was something of all-rounder. He must have had considerable artistic ability because his plans and maps and diagrams were really beautiful as well as functional. Then he was reputed to have spoke 7 languages and his use of English was accurate.
True he was tone deaf as were all five children. This must have been a trial to Mother who was keen on music and played the organ as well as the piano.
He was a very skilful carpenter and really professional at French polishing. Mother used to buy furniture at auctions and he renovated it beautifully.
He got quite a lot of publicity because he had a friend on the Daily Mail who was always ringing up. I got beaten once for telling that man not to be silly and hanging up on him. All his exploits were reported in the New Zealand papers – much to his mothers’ pride. In fact, he was considered one of New Zealand’s most famous sons.
He was also an ornithologist, a practising Christian and managed on 4 hours sleep each night. He studied Cornish genealogies and history and kept bees, was good with machinery and mechanics.
There were so many obituaries in all the well-respected journals and there is only room for a few extracts here.
“Maclaren was so adverse from publicity, that the fact of his recent serious illness was probably not widely known, anymore than the decisive part which he played in the destinies of many great mines, where his reports and advice were accepted as decisive by the big mining groups in whose service he passed most of his extraordinary active career.”
“To a world-wide circle of mining engineers Dr Maclaren was known as perhaps the most eminent and widely travelled of present day economic geologists.”
“Indefatigable as a worker, concise in his reports, outrageous in his convictions, his ripe judgement and integrity earned the unshaken confidence of large groups who esteemed themselves fortunate in counting on his advice.”
Following Malcolm’s death, Harriett moved to Lenowith, Feock, before she moved to Africa in 1948 after her own mother had died, to be with her daughter. Her three sons had all died tragically and her two daughters were happy to have her. Harriett died in 1964 and is buried in the family graveyard there.
With great thanks to the surviving descendants of the Maclaren family, without whose help this article could not have been written.
Following my original article on Lady Clara, I came into further information which I shall detail here. I also have been given permission to share some memories from her surviving great nephews. Hopefully these new stories will help to illustrate Clara’s character and relationships with her family. You may care to read the original article in order to obtain more background and dates, which I do not feel necessary to repeat here.
Incidentally, although the author of several books and writer of many articles, Clara rarely spoke to her family about her successes.
Clara recalled in a letter she wrote in 1972,
‘My mother on reading my first book Cornish Silhouettes in 1924 (forty-seven years ago) opened it and found the word ‘Damn!’ on the first page that she read and remarked drily, “Pray, is all the rest of the book like this? The other exception was my brother Michael; who said he liked best something that I wrote about foxgloves.’
Charlotte Rogers nee Williams born 6th May 1854
Clara married Sir Courtenay Vyvyan after being friends with him and his wife for many years. They were near neighbours and social equals. Clara and the baronet had spent time working together at Rouen during WW1. They did not marry until 1929, 18 months after Sir Courtenay’s first wife died. Clara always referred to her short marriage, which only lasted 11 years until her husband’s death, as her happiest time. The couple were in love and shared a common passion for flora, fauna and Trelowarren. Clara lived at Trelowarren for almost fifty years.
And died there.
The Daily Standard Brisbane
Monday 23rd September 1929,
QUEENSLAND GIRL ENGAGED TO CORNISH BARONET.
The engagement is announced of
Colonel Sir Courtenay Bourchier
Vyvyan to Miss Clara Coltman Rogers,
second daughter of the late Edward
Powys Rogers, of Toorilla Plains,
Colonel Sir Courtenay Bourchier
Vyvyan, 10th baronet, Is the eldest
son of the late Rev. Sir V. Vyvyan,
and was born on June 5th, 1858. He
took an active part in every war in
which Britain has been engaged since
he entered the army in 1878, and
frequently was mentioned in dispatches.
Almost immediately after her husband died, Trelowarren was requisitioned by the Army. They had been taking in evacuee children since the beginning of the war and it had then been used to house W.A.A.F.’s and then by 2,000 (sometimes destructive) troops. So, Clara went to do her ‘War Work’ in Bristol. She worked through the war years based in a dingy office next to a bombed-out house. She was responsible for the maintenance of clothes and household goods collected for the bombed and needy in the South West and the Cotswolds. From this office, she would walk down the concrete steps, across a flooded floor, which had once belonged to the kitchen of the shattered house and walk to her tiny rented flat. Clara said that she had never been so lonely as she was at that time. Homeless, widowed and alone. She remembered taking great delight in noticing one day in 1944, a tiny coltsfoot plant which had snuck under the dividing wall to brighten the grey, damp, drab yard outside her office.
Clara soon settled in however and expanded her ‘War Work’ to accompanying refugee children and bombed out elderly people from London to various destinations around Britain. Clara often visited new friends and helped some on their farms and continued to enjoy where possible, the country experience she was missing so dreadfully. She made every day count.
We should move sideways in Clara’s story and bring in her familial relationships in more detail. In these accounts, ‘Granny’ refers to Charlotte Harriet, elder sister of Clara. ‘Aunt Kay’ refers to Clara, it being a pet name of her nephews and nieces. No one quite remembers the origin of Clara becoming Aunt Kay and I have yet to discover anyone outside of the family who used that name.
Their father Edward Powys Rogers, who was the second son of Rev J Rogers of Stanage Park, Hertfordshire shipped out to Australia in 1873 and took over Toorilla Plains, Rockhampton, Queensland from his uncle, Frank Newbold (brother of Edward’s mother). Frank had taken up Toorilla Plains in 1859 and turned it into a huge and successful cattle station. Edward travelled from England with his first cousin Edmund de Norbury Rogers who settled in central Queensland and eventually created a large fruit farm.
A nephew says,
‘It was a huge acreage I remember Granny saying. Edward managed Toorilla until the end of the 1880’s, introducing Herefords successfully. When he returned to England to live at Burncoose, he kept a close interest in Toorilla, visiting frequently. It was eventually taken on by his second child, Charles Michael Rogers (born 1st March 1884) and who was still managing it when his father died in 1920. Aunt Kay eventually married Sir Courtenay Vyvyan of Trelowarren, Cornwall and was a well-known travel writer. Granny and Aunt Kay had a wonderful relationship.’
Clara wrote in Roots and Stars,
‘many a time when we were children, we would persuade my father to repeat to us the tale of his Uncle Frank Newbold who was forced to eat his boots after being shipwrecked on his way to Australia and of Uncle Willie Newbold who met his violent death on the Queensland plain. My mother would never speak of those great uncles by marriage, she did not think they adorned the family pedigree but we children all felt it was a fine distinction to have such people amongst our ancestors.’
Willie had been killed by Aboriginal Australians.
There was a great deal of travelling between the Cornish properties and the Queensland ranch. Ship passenger lists show regular travel for the entire family to Plymouth and back. The family always travelled First Class. I don’t know why, but were listed as Irish on those sea crossings, perhaps Cornish was mis-transcribed.
Edward had a couple of dealings with the Rockhampton Police Court and the law while there.
In 1887 he was tried in his absence for non-payment of a fine to the Gogango Marsupial Board. At this point there were 10,500 head of cattle on the ranch and 100 horses. The Board stated that there were also sheep on the ranch. Edward did not attend the hearing and refused to pay the fine as the State had not pursued him until more than six months following the fine application date. The fine was £26.10 with a 10% penalty, plus costs. The original fine was dated 17th April 1886 and the case was heard on the 7th September 1887. There was a possibility that they would remove his grazing rights. In the end, the case was adjourned for a fortnight. At the second hearing which Edward did not attend either pleading innocence, he was fined £20.10 plus 10% including costs. It didn’t affect his future however, as he was already a magistrate, a JP and soon became a member of the Gogango Marsupial Board, as did his son Charles Michael in turn.
In 1901 Edward inherited £14,100 following the death of his cousin George Frank Rogers, who had spent his life in London as a lawyer and his final years living at Toorilla.
Edward died in 1920 and the following was published locally,
The Capricornian Rockhampton
The seal of probate has
been granted of the will of Edward Powys
Rogers, formerly of Burncoose, Gwennap,
in the county of Cornwall, England,
but late of Tregye, Perranwell,
gentleman deceased to Robert Cecil Boland.
the lawfully appointed attorney of Charlotte Rogers,
of Tregye, Perranwell, the
sole executrix. Mr. P. T. Read Jones,
solicitor for the attorney, appeared in the
Edward left to his wife, Charlotte. £35,787.
The Capricornian Rockhampton, March 12th 1920.
Another old pioneer of our grazing
industry, Mr. Edward Powys Rogers, of
Toorilla Station has passed away. Mr.
Rogers was born in 1855. He was
educated at Wellington College, England, and,
at the age of seventeen years, in 1873,
on the death of his uncle, Mr. Frank
Newbold, of Toorilla, came out from England
to that station, where he gained his
colonial experience under the management of
the late Mr. J. C. Collins. In 1879 he took
full charge of the station, and in 1879 he
was married to Miss Charlotte Williams,
daughter of Mr. John Michael Williams,
of Caerhays Castle, Cornwall. About
1906 he returned to England, where,
except for occasional trips to Queensland,
he afterwards resided. For the last six
months his health had been failing. Mr.
Rogers was a keen sportsman both on land
and sea. He took special interest in
horse racing. He was a keen student of
stock matters. He was a great believer
in the Hereford breed of cattle, in fact,
the herd of Herefords that he founded on
Toorilla may claim to be one of the best in
Queensland. Mr. Rogers was for some
time a member of the Gogango Divisional
Board and the Gogango Marsupial Board.
He always took much interest in the
welfare of the country. There were five
children of the marriage — two sons and
three daughters — of whom one son, Mr.
C. M. Rogers, of Toorilla, and two
daughters, Mrs. MacLaren and Miss C. Rogers,
are living, the second son, Lieutenant H.
P. Rogers, R.N, being been lost in the
ill-fated Monmouth off the coast of Chile.
In the early days of the war Mr. C. M.
Rogers joined the British Army, the
Dorset Yeomanry, and obtained his discharge
in February 1919. Mr. Rogers is also
survived by Mrs. Rogers and five
grandchildren, for whom as well as the rest of
the bereaved family, deep sympathy
will be felt by a large circle of friends
and acquaintances both in Australia and
Clara was a very fit woman despite chain smoking Turkish cigarettes known as Balkan Sobranie and Egyptian Abdullas, She travelled the world, often alone and just as often with her friends or brother Michael (Michael suffered from depression) or sister Harriet. Michael would travel to meet Clara either from the ranch in Queensland or from Burncoose. He would leave his wife and son (also Michael) and join his sister for another adventure. They both liked a drink too, although Michael liked it more than most.
The Queensland ranch was sold during the 1930’s and Michael remained in Cornwall with his family. He often visited Clara at Trelowarren and would take the largest box of market garden produce home, when offered. Clara said that he did it without thought. They went to Austria in 1938 to visit castles and stayed at a beautiful hotel there. Clara remembered the patron worrying about the letters he was receiving from the authorities, asking if he or his family had any Jewish blood.
Clara trained as a social worker in London. She graduated with distinction from the London School of Economics with a degree in Social Science in 1913. Then she worked in the London slums for the Charity Organization Society. Her sister Harriet was one of the founding members of St Loyes School in Exeter and regularly attended meetings there. The family had an affinity with those less fortunate than themselves. They were aware that they were privileged but felt no guilt for that fact. They simply liked to help others.
Kalgoorlie Western Argus
A marriage of interest to many
folk in Kalgoorlie is thus described
by the “Royal Cornwall Gazette”
The marriage of Miss Charlotte
Harriett Powys Rogers, eldest daughter
of Mr. E. Powys Rogers, of
Toorilla, Queensland residing at
Burncoose, Perranwall. To Mr. J
Malcolm Maclaren, younger son of
Mr. J. M. Maclaren, of Thames (N.Z.),
was solemnised at Gwennap Parish
Church on Tuesday. Much local
interest was manifested in the
wedding, and the church was crowded
some time before the bridal party
arrived. The bride, who looked
very charming in her trousseau of
deep ivory charmeuse and crepe
chiffon. with a Court train, lined
with silver throughout and trimmed
with silver roses and Brussels lace,
(the gift of Mrs Pocklington
Coltman), was given away by her father.
She carried a beautiful bouquet of
carnations, white heather and fern,
tied with Maclaren tartan ribbon.
The bridesmaids were Misses Clara
and Naomi Powys Rogers (sisters of
the bride), Gwladys Rogers, May
Williams and Mary Arnott
(cousins), and Miss Davies Gilbert,
who wore dresses of deep ivory satin
and tinted lace, with waist belts of
deep rose. chiffon, old gold plait and
posy of small Banksia roses, with
head-dress of small Banksia, roses
and gold tinsel net. They also wore
pendants of New Zealand green
stone, Queensland pearl and
Cornish diamonds, the gift of the bride
groom. The charming group were
provided, with bouquets of white
chrysanthemums and fern tied with
broad ribbon of the. Maclaren tartan,
Mr. Edward Loring, London, was
groomsman. Mrs. Powys Rogers
was attired in a charming dress
of violet chiffon velours and toque
to match, and carried a bouquet of
purple orchids. The service, which
was choral, was conducted by the
Bishop of St. Germans assisted by
the Rev. J. L. Parker, MI.A., vicar
of Gwennap. The church had been
beautifully decorated and presented
a pleasing appearance with its
adornments of plants and flowers,
mostly chrysanthemum ferns and palms.
An awning was erected from the
entrance to the south porch, while a
crimson carpet was laid to the altar
steps. Mr. McLaggan, the organist
played as voluntaries Wagner’s
Bridal Chorus and Mendelssohn’s
Wedding March and the hymns
‘The voice that breathed o’er Eden’
and ‘O Perfect Love,’ were sung.
After signing the register
Mr and Mrs. Maclaren returned by
motor car for Burncoose, entering
the ground ‘under a triumphal arch
of evergreens intertwined with the
national colours. A crowd of well
wishers gave them a hearty send-off
from the church. Mrs. Maclaren is
very popular in the district by reason
of her good works. among the sick
and poor and she has also been
great help at Gwennap Sunday
School. The reception at
Burncoose was largely attended. A
splendid scheme of decorations had
been carried out in the house and
the conservatory was fitted up with
fairy lamps which when lighted in
the evening made a charming display.
During the afternoon the happy couple left
for honeymoon and will leave England
for Burma about the middle of
January. The bride’s travelling dress
was a coat and skirt of dark red
cloth with a black and white
Harriet Maclaren in her 20’s
Harriet MacLaren later in her life
Clara’s sister Charlotte Harriet, was born on the 26th August 1882 at Rockhampton. Clara loved Harriet as she did all her siblings and the girls were as independent as each other. They looked very similar too and as they aged, the similarity did not alter much. Indeed, her great nephews have remembered from their visits to Trelowarren when they were children, that the pair looked so much alike, it was uncanny.
Clara in her 20’s
Clara later in her life
One told me,
‘Aunt Kay, as she was always known in our family, was an inspiring character and although I only knew her late in her life, I saw her quite often in the late 60’s and very early 70’s, while I was in the UK at University. We had a good relationship and enjoyed each other’s company. She was my maternal grandmother’s sister, Charlotte Harriet Maclaren. I had been very close to Granny and had only recently lost her when I first met Aunt Kay. Their similarities, both physically and in character, created a warm link, which Aunt Kay enjoyed knowing.’
‘I was born and brought up in Northern Rhodesia/Zambia and Harriet lived with us from when I was born until her death in 1964. Harriet never travelled back to England in that time and thus the two sisters never saw each other in their later years. They did keep up a regular correspondence however, through weekly letters, so were obviously close. CCV was often talked about and all her books, published articles, etc., were proudly read. CHM would talk about their early life on the station in Queensland.’
Charlotte Harriet died at the family farm, Muckleneuk, Zambia in August 1964. She was buried in the family graveyard beside members of her family including her son Peter, her daughter, Margaret (Peter’s twin) and Paddy, Margaret’s husband.
Peter was the father of three boys.
I was told,
‘Poor Granny Maclaren (Harriet) lost all three sons early, one at school of an appendix, one killed in WW2, by an English drunk driver, or perhaps in a tank accident (varies from story to story) in North Yorkshire and my father by crocodile in 1956.My father worked with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fish in what was then the colonial service in Nigeria and North and South Rhodesia. He taught the locals how to make and use fishing nets (give a man a fish and you feed for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life). I was just 4 when a crocodile got the better of him. ‘Uncle Michael, (son of Charles Michael, nephew of Clara and Harriet), felt so sorry for my widowed mum with 3 small boys, he set up a trust to pay for our schooling at Stowe where my father had gone.’
‘We would visit Aunt Kay a couple times a year either camping with my two brothers, or while staying at Burncoose with P M Williams. My brother kept up writing to her until her death. Aunt Kay was a lovely lady, quite eccentric, wore old coats tied up with string, drank lemon verbena tea. Oh, and made the most fantastic saffron cake. That is the sort of thing a ten-year-old remembers.
My mum had the task of cataloguing Kay’s huge library and dispersing the books around – many first editions and signed copies.’
‘My grandmother, Clara’s sister, travelled with her husband by every form of transport there was, boat, train, bicycle, horse and camel. She and Aunt Kay looked very alike and probably were made of the same stuff – i.e. no wimps.’
‘I visited Clara (or Aunt Kay as we called her) several times in her Trelowarren house. Once she took me down a maze of corridors to visit Foy Quiller-Couch who lived at the far end of the mansion. There was something very strange, mystical, fairy-tale, about these two old ladies each living in a tiny section of this great mansion and seeing each other only a couple of times a month. I liked Kay a lot. She was a few generations ahead of her time in some ways but a few behind in others.’
Foy lived with Clara in her wing at Trelowarren for many years. The women had been friends for almost all their lives and spoke highly of each other. Clara found her company comforting when she felt particularly vulnerable as she gradually lost her hearing, sight and strength. Foy eventually became ill and moved from damp and cold Trelowarren in 1971 to a flat in Lanhydrock before her final rest at Bodmin. This was the same time that the heir John Vyvyan, was having Sir Courtenay and Lady Clara’s precious gardens, orchards and beech grove, where Sir Courtenay’s ashes had been spread in 1941, bulldozed to make way for caravan pitches.
Clara it seems was ruggedly independent and not the slightest interested in ideas of male superiority. She loved natural history and books as any reader of her work will testify.
A great nephew,
‘One thing I will say, when Aunt Kay died, we were all asked what we wanted from her estate. Her valuable book collection – full of signed first editions. She had left all her possessions to a relative and he didn’t invite her to his mother’s funeral because “it’s just for close family”. Kay was dressed and ready to go to the funeral when she was told this. Then she went out one day for a walk and arrived back to see a removal van in her yard. What are you doing? They were carting away some of her precious books without her knowledge, because she had already left them to her “nephew” in advance of her death, probably to escape death duties. Sad way to spend your last few years.’
‘When my wife and I were married, we asked Aunt Kay to the wedding, but she decided she’d rather not attend the event, preferring instead a quiet weekend with us both beforehand. Thus, about a month before the wedding in March 1970, I drove down to Trelowarren from Somerset and fetched her for the weekend. She had a lovely time with us and surprised us by producing for my fiancée’s wedding present a shabby recycled envelope from her artist’s smock pocket; this had an equally shabby jewel case in it and inside that was an exquisite Victorian diamond and pearl pendant on a silver chain. We were gobsmacked – it wasn’t paste as we first thought, but the real thing, mounted on platinum and worth then a small fortune. (Heaven alone knows what the piece is worth now.) My wife wore it at our wedding and it’s been one of our prize possessions ever since, as you might imagine. Kay gave me a cheque for £25 as my wedding present, in itself a very nice gift! ‘
In, The Helford River, Clara told many tales of her adventures on the river and the banks bordering the Trelowarren lands. There were tales of picnics, boating and fishing. One of her great nephews remembers shrimping with her.
‘I was staying with Kay at Trelowarren, when she suggested going out to catch shrimp for our supper. We went down to her favourite spot on the Helford Estuary, armed with her trusty shrimping nets. It was a new venture for me but being 90% blind didn’t deter her showing her colonial nephew how to do it and we soon had our supper in the bag. I treasure a lovely memory of Kay, her long skirt tucked up into her voluminous pantaloons leading the way in what I thought were very chilly waters. She wore a set of yellowing, unmatched pearls in a long rope around her neck and when I enquired why she wore them out shrimping, she promptly told me that the blessed things needed airing she’d been told and she only wore them out shrimping, hoping the string might break so she could lose them! They had been in the Vyvyan family for hundreds of years, given by one of the Kings Henry (I forget which) as a gift when he and his Queen had had to call off their planned visit due to some crisis in the Royal Court. The pearls were known, by Kay at any rate, as the Henrietta Pearls. She always wore her favourite red artist’s smock, tied at the waist with binder twine, long skirts, sensible brogues and a bedraggled black beret. On leaving for a walk or ‘an excursion’ as she called them, she habitually patted her pockets, muttering her checklist of “knife, baccy and matches”. When I knew her, she was still smoking occasionally and always the oval Egyptian ‘Abdullas’, sent to her in neatly packaged boxes of 500 by Harrods.’
‘I am guessing she was anti-American (as most English people were of that age and class) because of the cultural and educational differences and resented the need to make Trelowarren available for the soldiers. Although of course she would have been greatly behind their invaluable contribution to the war effort. Two books cast light on her attitude to Americans, other than the works you mention. One was Kay’s insight from her visit to the States (Nothing Venture) I can also recall when she told me she was appalled by the way her American host treated his wife. Another was a book by Daphne du Maurier where she doesn’t mention Kay by name but is clearly referring to her and was based on the American “occupation” of Cornwall during the war, and Kay’s resistance to it. (Rule Britannia.)
Kay showed me the wooden strips that “the Americans” had nailed on her staircases to avoid damage by the hob-nailed boots of the soldiers. This did not strike me as “utter carnage” (although I don’t know what was happening outside the house). On the contrary, I was impressed that the troops had bothered to go to so much trouble.’
Clara wrote about the carnage in the garden and grounds in her many articles and her book The Old Place.
‘I remember hearing that she had a car accident while driving just outside the gates of her home. She ran over and killed a pedestrian. She was so upset by this she never drove again, although I do remember going into “town” on a horse and trap with her. I thought that was fun, although I now realise it’s because we couldn’t go by car.’
‘One memory that casts some light on her attitudes. She had no time at all for my godfather, Peter Michael Williams (cousin PM) who lived at Burncoose. My father has been born there and I visited Burncoose quite a number of times. Presumably, Kay was a first cousin to PM, who was a bachelor and a businessman. PM was a millionaire. “Do you know what his ambition is?” Kay asked me once. “To double his money before he dies! Can you imagine that? What an awful man!” Or something like that. In other words, money was not a big part of Kay’s life and was not a motivator. I came to feel a bit sorry for her, because she was obviously a very capable person, with a good education but a career was not a possibility for a woman of her class and generation. She was allowed only to do good works, for free. So, she filled in her life by gardening, by travel and by writing. From my generation’s perspective, I think she would have got more out of life if circumstances had allowed her to make a more meaty contribution to her community. That is not to disparage her considerable writing talent.’
Clara had changing views about Peter Williams. They met constantly as cousins and often travelled together in Peter’s chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. Several times Peter arranged for a joint birthday party with Clara, where there would be a cake each at opposite ends of the table – often from Fortnum and Mason – and they would each eat a slice and then Clara would be taken back to Trelowarren. Clara worried about him when he was ill later in his life. He suffered with his gall bladder but could not have an operation because of his weight and his weak heart. It killed him eventually. Following his death Clara noted that everyone she knew was either ill or dead. She wrote in a letter after she had attended Peter’s funeral,
‘Yes, I do agree with you about P.M.’s death. There is always so much humbug about death and people say only nice things about the victims and give them only appreciation which might have been welcome when they were living. As a matter of fact, the Cathedral service was rather moving and made me realise that he had done more good with his life than most of us. Cathedral was full, 22 relations and tribute from the Dean about his austere personality. There was also beautiful music. I felt like a ghost, too blind to recognise faces and too deaf to hear words. There was a strange scene, comic I thought, when P.M.’s sister May, guarded by the Mother Superior of the Epiphany, held court from the bath chair, to all the relations, one by one. She was enjoying her self enormously. “Yes, he was the loveliest man I ever knew, but what could you expect with that money and that spoiling?”’
And from a nephew,
‘My memory is very selective and is made up of snapshots but with often gaps in between. My brother’s aged about 13 and 11, set off from Salisbury on bikes to ride to Trelowarren, Mum and I left a few days later in the Ford Escort van to meet them at Aunt Kay’s. I can’t remember putting up the tent. I remember Mum had a terrible night as Aunt Kay had given her silk sheets and she kept on sliding off the bed! ‘
Clara first visited Ireland in 1907 and stayed at the same friend’s house that her sister Harriet had been staying in for several years at Kilkenny. Harriet would catch the ‘Pig-Boat’ from Falmouth and was always careful not to buy a ticket which included meals. At Kilkenny they drove to another friend’s house at Malahide and would visit Dublin. They were at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre to watch The Playboy of the Western World when they saw a tall, dark figure with a flowing bow tie. It was W.B. Yeats.
She next visited Ireland during the summer of 1929, while she decided on the proposal received from Sir Courtenay and whom she married later that year. She referred often to ‘the troubles’ in that narrative. Clara travelled to Ireland again in 1935 with several travelling companions, all of whom were lifelong friends, including Betty Bolitho.
Betty Bolitho was a cousin from her mother’s side of the family (Williams.)
They visited and stayed in the beautiful Aran Islands the year following the filming of the Gainsborough picture called the Man of Aran
She wrote about it in her book On Timeless Shores, which you must read if you want to discover more about the local people who appeared in the film and who became friends with Clara. She made friends wherever she travelled.
Clara found Ireland to be magical and heard many tales of the supernatural with myths and legends seemingly being lived out in the villages and settlements she visited
On Aran she had a meeting with a woman, who told Clara of her difficult life. The woman asked Clara about hers and I feel that the words are worth transcribing here.
‘Then she questioned me about myself. What would I tell her? All the troubles of my broody, introspective nature through youth and middle age had paled into insignificance before the simplicity of this island woman. I had just shared a meal with her and Dara, potatoes, eaten with our fingers, straight from the cooking pot. I would not tell her that at home we were never hungry, that servants waited on us at our meals, that we never cooked our own food nor washed our own clothes. It was only with birth and death and loneliness and hunger that she was concerned; she would not understand the things that made up our everyday life in England. So I told her, at full length, how my younger brother went down fighting in HMS Monmouth, together with her sister ship, and whether they were drowned or burned alive we shall never know: we only know that of all those fifteen hundred souls not a single one was saved. Then I told her how he was the best of the family and how that same thing had happened to all our friends and relations; the one who was killed in the war would always be the best one in the family.’
The medals are now in the possession of his great-great nephews who wear them proudly on Anzac Day.
‘On the day of the first man landing on the moon in 1969, My wife and I were staying with Kay at Trelowarren and we wanted to watch it on TV. Kay didn’t have a TV (…” not much use to a blind person!”), but her retired gardener who lived in a comfortable cottage by Trelowarren’s main entrance, had his TV and he welcomed us in to watch it there. Kay wasn’t going to miss this chance and we installed her close to the old B&W TV. She was deeply impressed. When we returned home late that evening, we had a cup of tea together and she then bid us goodnight, saying she was going to do some writing. We could her tap-tapping on her old portable typewriter until quite late – she’ll have known her typewriter keys well enough to use it fast and accurately, despite being so blind that she needed a magnifying glass to proof-read what she had typed. In the morning, she gave me a letter (in one of her recycled, brown envelopes) for posting. I noticed it was addressed to the Editor of ‘The Lady’ and a week later they published a full page of her thoughts about the changes she’d seen in her life, from motor cars, to steam ships, then air travel and now a man on the moon!’
That gardener was Ernest Rowe who had been with the family man and boy since 1911.
‘I spent about a week with Great Aunt Kay (Clara) I think it must have been 1964 when visiting the UK with my mother and brother, I was left with poor Aunt Kay, she must have been about 78 then, a big ask of Kay by my mother! My Mum and brother then went on a trip. I would have been ten at the time and poor Kay did a great job of looking after me, I have very fond memories of Trelowarren and of Kay picking flowers and cape gooseberries to be sent to Covent Garden in London and me exploring the house & grounds which I thought were far more jungly than the Africa I came from. In my mind I mix my grandmother and Aunt Kay up, I think they both looked very similar. Oh! and sleeping in an enormous bedroom overlooking the house chapel. The old house creaked and acted like an old Cornish house should, but it must have accepted me as I wasn’t spooked at all.’
This chapel is now a luxury Christian retreat, assigned to them in 1973 when Lady Clara still lived at Trelowarren.
Trelowarren Chapel from Library 1951
Another great nephew.
‘My grandmother, Harriet Maclaren, looked very like Aunt Kay and I was brought up short when I first met Aunt Kay as she could have been a double. The description of shrewd, bird-like eyes comes to mind as echoed in your article. I do think she would have hated the word blog but would have embraced the communication technology of today with wonderment and delight.
Both Granny Maclaren (Our reference to Harriet) and Aunt Kay had a deep love of all things green and both were talented gardeners and landscapers with green fingers. Trelowarren and our garden here in Zambia testify to this long after their passing. I am surrounded by large stately Blue gums, Indigenous fig trees and a landscaped array of beds of colour. Aunt Kay never visited here but would have enjoyed it as she never tired of new ideas, places and thoughts. I made quite a few visits to Trelowarren and whenever I got there and later when my wife joined me in my visits to Cornwall, we would be put to work trimming Rhododendrons, Camellias and Azaleas that had grown out of bounds. Every cut we made with a bill-hook or saw was supervised by Aunt Kay with her walking stick. We would retire at midday leaving a burning bonfire and take her to her pub of choice for a ploughman’s lunch and wherever we went she seemed to be known and greeted with delighted smiles. Quite a few times the owners would not hear of her paying for a drink and meal. In the afternoon we would cram into my Mini Countryman and she would direct us to out of the way scenes and views we would never have otherwise found. It delighted both of us to be with her as her enthusiasm was infectious.
I never met Daphne du Maurier, but I do know Aunt Kay held her in very high esteem. She was great friends with another lady called Betty Bolitho, whose brother was a well-known ballet critic. We took her there to tea twice that I recall.
I found the gardens at Trelowarren uplifting, even though they were over-grown and neglected which caused Aunt Kay grief. The house was in a state and there was little love lost between the Vyvyan who inherited and Aunt Kay. Basically, he wanted her out so he could save what was left. I gathered from Aunt Kay that she had left him the Estate some years earlier to get around an Inheritance Tax law. Provided she lived for five years after bequeathing it he would not be liable to this tax. All well and good but Aunt Kay lived much longer than expected! I met the relevant Vyvyan cousin once and remember little of him except a sense of aloofness and definite ill-feeling between them both.
Her last few years were lonely I think. She phoned a few times and I phoned her occasionally. Two of her phone calls were memorable. One was when man first landed on the moon and she was so excited by that accomplishment and the fact that she had lived long enough to experience that! She had been determined to live for that occasion and glued herself to the wireless for all the reports! Another call was to instruct me to listen to the BBC at a set time, as she had taught “that whipper-snapper of a reporter a lesson he needed to remember”! The man had made the grave mistake of asking, in opening, how old Aunt Kay was! This was very impolite in her view of the world! Gentlemen did not ask ladies their age. She noted that he only had a few questions listed so answered each one with a “yes” or “no” and the man was soon floundering with time to spare! She used that time to explain to him why she thought he was so bad mannered. Her fire in her well-lived in sitting room was always weak and the room was cold. The stairs up to her bedroom were very steep and small. After her death I did hear that the people attending had a real problem getting her down the steps. She would have laughed! She always wore a black beret and mittens that needed repairs and always spurned the new mittens we tried giving her! She always pressed apples on us and was very proud of their keeping ability, and even though small and wrinkled by the end of winter they were tasty.’
Betty Bolitho had never married and lived most of the time on Cornwall’s Hayle Estuary. She was part of the Bolitho banking family, who were I think taken over by Lloyd’s Bank.
Clara was an expert (she would not admit that she was) on plants and birds. Her friend Gwen Dorrien Smith, an excellent artist and companion on several of her world adventures and who had predeceased her, was also an expert on birds. When they travelled through Canada to Alaska (An Arctic Adventure) and on her trips around the Scilly Isles (The Scilly Isles), staying at Gwen and her parent’s home, Clara would hungrily collect the names and pictures of the local bird and plant life. Gwen would paint the same and her pictures still fetch a decent price if they come up for auction – a very rare occurrence. Clara valued her friends but valued her solitude more and often said that the true meaning of life could be found in those moments of oneness with the natural world. I hope that in her latter years, with failing eyesight and inability to travel, she was able to retreat further into her own mind and find peace and contentment there.
A story of Clara’s passing.
‘Years after she died, we met the kind person who sat with her after her fateful fall out of bed, breaking her hip. She apparently refused to be moved out of her bedroom for hospital treatment and died peacefully in the presence of this kind person, John Simpson, then a R.N. Padre from Culdrose. He subsequently left the Navy and became the Vicar at Curry Rivel in Somerset, my wife’s home village, where we met. He became a family friend and related to me how proud he had been to conduct Kay’s funeral, something he did for both of my wife’s parents. Sadly, my wife and I were working in a remote corner of the Congo when Kay died and it was weeks after her death that we eventually heard that she had died. It was the passing of one of life’s leading characters and we were immensely heartened that we had had the privilege to have known and loved her.’
Clara wrote the following in closing her book Journey Up The Years.
‘To return, however, to the question of my own old age.
All through life I have longed for adventures, sought them and pursued them to the end. Now I am moving upward to the last adventure.
Fruit hangs upon the tree and ripens slowly in the open or it may hang against a wall and ripen quickly with comforting support and warmth, but in any case autumn’s mellow sunshine may be a token that life can sometimes hold a blessing to the end. As for the last adventure, perhaps it may prove to be the greatest one of all.
I watch the falling leaves of autumn and reflect that each one of us will be absorbed back into the earth; it is our common destiny that our bodies help to create new life. And my spirit? Perhaps it will linger on in the memory of those whom I have loved.’
In her book Coloured Pebbles, Clara talked about her own aunts and her reaction and relationship to them. She then compared her new role as an aunt and how she hoped her own nephews and nieces felt about her.
‘Nowadays as an aunt, I ride somewhat uneasily in the saddle and find that having aunts and being an aunt are widely different experiences. There is no question now of expecting subservience from the younger generation. In fact, the old must curry favour with the young to gain mere toleration.
Yet strangely enough, just as I credited my own aunts with a fixed personality, so my nephews and nieces relegate me, with certain parts of my life, to a permanent niche, after investing me with an unchanging and unchangeable personality. When they introduce me to their friends, they make a point of mentioning, as if to justify their aged aunt’s existence, journeys I have made and books I have written. Then the journeys and the books are put back into their niche and I am left to feel that my contemporary existence is that of a shadow. From my watchtower in old age, I look out on memories of their birth, infancy, adolescence and maturity, but they know nothing about my formative years, my dearest associations, my unfulfilled daydreams, that are still directive.’
I hope I have put that to rights – a little.
I could not have written this article without the unselfish and very kind assistance of her surviving great nephews. All have been wonderful in sharing their memories with me and subsequently with you – the reader.
It only took opening and beginning to read the first chapter of The Old Place by C C Vyvyan before I was hooked. I have read everything of hers that I can get my hands on – several times and never tire of her words.
Clara Vyvyan can take the reader into her circle and experience her life alongside her. One feels as though one knows her friends and associates and could enter into a conversation with them quite comfortably upon first meeting.
She was born into a family with great social standing and should, by rights have entered into an early marriage and produced children and good works. But she didn’t.
I have never seen her name and character bandied about as an example of female empowerment and it may be that Clara, like many similar women just got on with her adventures and challenges and travels.
She was a social worker in the East End of London, a writer, a market gardener and fearless explorer.
I have seen no detailed biography of Clara. A blog by a woman who chooses to embrace spinsterhood (nothing wrong with that) informs us of some of the travels of C C Rogers and how she never married. I took away from that article that she was possibly a lesbian. She was not and neither was Daphne du Maurier, Clara’s friend and often travelling companion, although popular reports still infer this.
Clara Coltman Rogers was born in 1885 at the family’s cattle ranch in Stanage, Queensland. Clara, her elder brother Michael and elder sister Harriet were also born there. The ranch is on a peninsula, which at the time was extremely remote, ranchers there going months without seeing another human. The nearest town was 120 miles away and the nearest ranch 100 miles away. They lived by the sea, overlooking the Great Barrier Reef. This ranch provided the family with their principal source of income and that was substantial.
Her mother Charlotte Williams was a member of the Williams family of Caerhays, Burncoose and Scorrier of Cornwall. Her father, John Michael Williams, had been High Sheriff of Cornwall. The family made a fortune from mining and were also famous for their gardens and horticultural expertise. Charlotte was very aware of and proud of her social roots. It was to Gwennap and in 1916 to Burncoose that the Rogers family moved after leaving the Australian ranch in the hands of managers and later to their eldest son, Michael. The family regularly travelled back to Queensland and Michael often came back to England.
Her father, Edward Powys Rogers was a member of the Coltman Rogers family of Stanage Park in Powys. Clara spent a great deal of her time with her relatives. She holidayed during several summers in the 1920’s exploring Wales, particularly from Stanage Park to Snowdon in a horse drawn caravan with her Coltman Rogers cousins. She described one night out on the lakeside at Bala, when they awoke, surrounded by cattle.
A great aunt and godmother, Mrs Pocklington Coltman owned Hagnaby Priory in Lincolnshire and Clara and her siblings went there as often as they could and loved every minute. Clara need only use the proverb, ‘the peace of Hagnaby’ and her family understood immediately. This was the phrase she used to let her brother Michael know exactly what Trelowarren meant to her.
Two further children, Harry Powys and Elizabeth Naomi arrived on the family’s return to Gwennap in 1887. Naomi was a weak child who suffered from debilitating asthma and was babied by the family. She was not taken on the family travels around Europe or on the six month stays at the ranch in Queensland.
The girls had governesses until they were sixteen and then Clara chose a school in London. She loved learning and eventually studied for a Science Degree at the Women’s University Settlement in London and trained to be a social worker. She had a job working amongst the very poor and used her salary to help pay for her education and accommodation. Clara was enjoying her life of freedom and independence.
Then the news came that her sister Harriet was to marry James Malcolm MacLaren, a geologist. Charlotte didn’t really approve, thinking he was not the ‘right sort,’ but their marriage was happy and produced five children and seven grandchildren. This meant that Clara must return home to Gwennap as Naomi was under 20 and considered too young to be the ‘Home Daughter’. Clara fought this and managed to remain fairly independent in London until 1914.
Then horror struck.
Naomi had been getting much better and was able to travel to Brittany with trusted friends who had stayed with her in the past on several of her ‘cures’ in Switzerland. They all returned happily to their Surrey home, where Naomi caught a cold, developed pneumonia, heart trouble and asthma. She was dead soon after on 8th May 1914 and was brought back to Gwennap by Clara and Harry. Her parents had managed to race to Surrey following an urgent message and Naomi died in their arms, but they returned alone to prepare for the funeral.
Clara left her work and studies in London following the funeral. The family then went on a European tour during which war broke out and they struggled to make it back to England safely. Harry, now a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, was killed in action on November 1st, 1914 at the battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile when his ship HMS Monmouth was sunk. Harry was 27 years old. Their parents had a memorial stone erected in the church to Harry and Naomi. Two children dead in under six months.
Clara travelled to Hagnaby Priory to find some peace.
There she pulled herself together and began war nursing as many women did at that time. She went to Rouen and here was introduced to the 56-year-old, (born 5th June 1858) Sir Courtenay Bourchier Vyvyan, 10th Baronet, whose stately home was Trelowarren, Cornwall where he lived with his wife. His son and heir Vyell, had died in 1898 and the property would eventually go to cousins. Clara and Sir Courtenay got on very well and remained friends.
After the end of the war, Clara began her adventures in earnest. She returned to be at home during her father’s final illness when he died following an operation on his cancer of the oesophagus. Clara had not approved of the operation, feeling that although his life was extended by a few weeks, it was a terrible life. The family had moved into Burncoose in 1916 and this was where Edward spent his final years before joining his daughter and the memorial stone to his drowned son in Gwennap Church.
Clara soon left home again and with her friend Gwen Dorrien Smith successfully travelled across Canada and back at great cost and with great bravery, details of which she wrote about in An Arctic Adventure later in her life.
She was now getting some articles published and making a name for herself with her writing.
On the 3rd January 1928, the wife of Sir Courtenay died, and the couple began to see a lot more of each other. Clara stopped travelling and bought a car so that she could visit him at Trelowarren often. They married on the 21st November 1929 despite dire warnings from all members of the families that this was bad match, due to the age difference.
They however, remained happily married and content until his death on 15th November 1941, prior to which Sir Courtenay had signed Trelowarren over o Clara. His ashes were scattered at his request over the bluebells in the beech grove. Clara was adamant that the soldiers who stayed there during the war years and did so much damage to the house and grounds should leave this sacred spot alone.
Her friend Daphne du Maurier, wrote the foreword in Clara’s book, Letters from a Cornish Garden. It was in 1932, just before Daphne’s marriage when Daphne and Foy Quiller Couch, daugher of Arthur Quiller Couch, rode to the Lizard where they explored before spending time with the Vyvyans in their home. Daphne loved Trelowarren and never forgot her first journey there.
‘Foy’s friend Clara, and her husband Sir Courtenay, were standing waiting on the steps to greet us. My diary says nothing of their appearance, but memory tells me that he was smiling, silver-haired, leaning on two sticks and her eyes were penetrating, curious and interested, like those of a very perceptive bird. All that my diary says is this: “This evening we came to Trelowarren, the most beautiful place imaginable. I just can’t believe it is true. The strength, the peace, the kindliness of these people and this place.”’
Daphne talked of the library full of books and a housemaid and the striking of the stable clock. Clara cut flowers from the Lady’s garden as Sir Courtenay leaned on a stick as a robin flew on to his hand. Daphne felt moved by the place and thought that this place was the last of old England as she would ever know it.
She wrote in her diary,
‘I simply hated leaving Trelowarren. Few places have made such a profound impression on me.’
Daphne set her book Frenchmans Creek at Trelowarren and the surrounding lands.
Incidentally, Daphne du Maurier used the house and setting of Trelowarren in her novel Frenchman’s Creek. She also used the gardens in Rebecca.
Friends and Contemporaries by A L Rowse
(on Frenchman’s Creek) The book is very atmospherical, the inspiration, I noted, nostalgia. The action concentrates on the Helford Rover, below her friend Clara Vyvyan’s 17th century Trelowarren. (The colonnade of trees in Rebecca, by the way, is the avenue of over-arching ilexes there, like a cathedral aisle)
She also wrote to Oriel Malet in 1953 that Sir Courtenay had said once, “If the line isn’t drawn somewhere, there would be no line at all!”
Lady Clara was used as a hopefully persuasive tool against Daphne after she had written I’ll never be young again by Arthur Quiller Couch.
Friends and Contemporaries by A L Rowse
He carpeted her at The Haven: ‘My dear Daphne, people don’t say such things,’ the old innocent reproved her. The young lady, who knew, replied, ‘But, Sir Arthur, they do.’ The dear old boy couldn’t face the thought, especially with his old fashioned gallantry about women, and wondered whether this made suitable company for daughter Foy and her friend Lady Vyvyan of Trelowarren.
Trelowarren was requisitioned by the Army during World War 2 and Clara did her ‘war work’ in Bristol. She returned to Cornwall to supervise Trelowarren at various times, although a bailiff and her Head Gardener George Bryant were overseeing the property. She had one meeting with the Army where she let them know in a dignified way, the utter carnage they were doing to the property. She wrote about it movingly in ‘Requisition’ which featured in the periodical My Garden and her book The Old Place.
It was Theo Stephens and Malcolm Saville, editors of My Garden who printed many articles of Clara’s and along with other publications such as the Manchester Guardian and the Western Independent.
Clara was summoned at the West Kerrier Petty Sessions on the 26th February 1940 for driving a motor car without a licence.
Following the war, Lady Clara needed money to maintain and run Trelowarren. Her inheritance was subsidised by her writing and the income they made from running a market garden, producing, fruit, vegetables and flowers. She writes about these times in Letters from a Cornish Garden and The Old Place, much better than I can paraphrase. I was particularly moved by the death of her great friend and employee George Bryant and the tribute to him in the West Briton, a paper he used to read cover to cover.
She also returned to see her mother during her final days until her death on 17th April 1944 and see her buried at Gwennap alongside the rest of the family.
Clara still adventured around the world often alone and sometimes accompanied by friends such as Daphne du Maurier and Foy Quiller Couch. She would trudge around the lanes of Cornwall even in great age. Her brother Michael would come and visit when he was able.
Oriel Malet, another friend of Daphne du Maurier remembers one stormy afternoon when Clara hammered at the window of the Long Room at Menabilly. Clara was clad all in black oilskins and soaking wet. Staying a few days at The Haven with Foy she had decided to tramp over to visit her old friend at Menabilly and go through maps and atlases to discuss her latest adventure.
Clara wrote over 20 books and many articles. Her books are still available.
Clara’s latter years were sad. She went blind and had made over Trelowarren to the next heir, a distant cousin of her late husband’s. She lived in a wing there and eventually had to confine herself to one room. She had few visitors, although her old friend Foy visited her very often. Then Foy became older and sicker and was unable to visit. Foy went into a home in 1982 and then to Bodmin Asylum where she died in March 1986 of senile dementia.
Daphne du Maurier died at home at Kilmarth of old age on the 19th April 1989 and her ashes were scattered on her favourite beach.
Another author friend of hers A L Rowse, lasted until 1997.
Lady Clara Vyvyan of Trelowarren died in her room on March 1st, 1976 aged 90, having lived a full life. Her funeral service was held in Trelowarren Chapel at 2.30pm on March 4th and she was cremated, and her ashes scattered at Trelowarren.
I found a cut out copy of her obituary from The Times hidden in a second-hand book I bought a few years ago and then another cut out copy of a death entry of a local Western paper in another second-hand book. That was when I decided to write this article. I would have submitted it to my friend Dr James Whetter for An Baner Kernewek, but of course he has now left us.
One could become nostalgic if one thought about it all too much.