- More Newly Identified Contributors to Household Words
In my previous article on this topic for Dickens Quarterly (June 2018) I threw down the gauntlet to other scholars to find still further unknown or scantily identified contributors to Household Words, building on the groundwork of Ann Lohrli in the 1970s, but using the methods of twenty-first century digital genealogy. However, I was unable to resist my own challenge, and soon found myself once again sifting through the scattered online traces of obscure nineteenth century lives in pursuit of occasional writers for Dickens’s weekly magazine of the 1850s. I guessed that perhaps 10 to 20 more contributors could be pinned down from the available clues and having, at the time of writing, found substantial quantities of new information about 16 minimally defined entities in Lohrli’s 1973 guide to the journal, am at least temporarily drawing a line again under this research project.
The first unidentified writer that I attempted to winkle out was the very first in Lohrli’s alphabetical listing of some 390 named contributors–Elizabeth Addey. The available information was her name, a Dublin address and the name George Addey as the registered proprietor of a business at that address. The Irish records are notoriously patchy and unreliable, but occasionally one happens upon an unexpected profusion of data. In the case of the Addeys, this took the form of the meticulous records of meetings of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Dublin, Wexford and Cork, and the service history of George Addy (spelt without the ‘e’) in the Irish Constabulary. A similar wealth of narrowly focused information was available about another, otherwise poorly documented Irish contributor, Peter Dowdall, thanks to the manuscript records of the Court of Petty Sessions for County Galway and minutes of board meetings regarding the administration of the Poor Law in Dublin.
Several of the writers proved quite exciting to work on as I gradually peeled back layers of their lives. Taking just one of these as a model, A. L. V. Gretton was only known by her initials or as the wife of a George Gretton and as a writer on Italy. First I restored her full name–Amelia Louisa [End Page 189] Vaux née Le Mesurier–then found out that her English husband was an officer in the Hungarian hussars and died in Australia just nine days after the young couple had arrived in Adelaide to start a new life together! The realization that she was also a published novelist and personally acquainted with Dickens, having met him in Genoa in 1845 (Letters 6: 765, n.4), added considerably to the interest I had already taken in her. Then to discover that her correspondence with other family members over a 40-year period from Italy, Australia and Britain, had been collected and recently published online, was a totally unexpected boon.
In several instances I found that Lohrli had made tentative attributions and then extrapolated from the content of the HW pieces to construct a fragmentary synchronic snapshot of the writers–whoever they were. Thus, for example, I knew from Lohrli that Francis Gwynne was a squatter in New South Wales. We are given the names of several brothers and are informed about some of their movements and transactions in the 1850s. However, Lohrli had no idea where Francis was born or died, who his parents were, how and when he got to Australia, nor what happened to him after the 1850s. In Gwynne’s case, patient trawling through the census data, births, marriages and deaths and migration records of Britain and Australia throughout the nineteenth century, enabled me to piece together the skeleton life of a younger son of a gentleman farmer in West Wales, migrating with three of his brothers (and, for a time, his father and step-mother) to the frontier lands of the Australian outback. One of his brothers died young, another went bankrupt, but Francis Gwynne made a success of his hard-bitten life as a cattle rancher, bought a town-house in Kensington and retired to London as an English (Welsh-Australian) gentleman. In 1900 he was buried in the churchyard of the...