Making the most of life

I am currently researching a memorial at Hindhead. Sadly, I’ve found a few people who refuse to come out of hiding. This is sadder than the stories themselves of young people going off to die in a fruitless game of ‘my king’s dick is bigger than yours’ insanity. Still, for every one I can’t find, I tend to find many others. And while still a sad waste of life, it does make me feel a little better as they become real people and not just surnames on a block of stone.

Sometimes the people I research have lived amazing lives full of adventure regardless of the Great War and they make me wonder what they could have achieved had they lived beyond 25. Other times the people are but children who have their lives snuffed out before they’ve barely seen anything of life. And sometimes I’ll research someone with exceptional parents. Today I did just that.

Geoffrey Wilmot Herringham went from Eton straight into military school. He became a Captain and, though brave and possibly dashing, he was dead by the age of 31 having lived only in the army. His brother, Roger, was even less fortunate. He suffered from a severe case of arthritis as a child and died very young. His parents, on the other hand, were extaordinary.

Sir Wilmot Parker Herringham was a medical doctor in the British Army.

He was one of the first to investigate and search for a cure for poison gas attacks. He was knighted in 1914 after attending Oxford and working as resident physician at St Barts in London for a while. (I don’t know why he was knighted but assume it had something to do with his medical skills.)

At the outbreak of war he went to France to help and rose up through the ranks to a Major-General of the Royal Army Medical Corps by the end of the war. (Incidentally, I think being a doctor during war is an odd thing to be. I know this was dealt with in Catch 22 and, to a larger extent, MASH but I still find it peculiar.) In his memoirs, Sir Wilmot claimed he learned more medicine during the war than at any other time.

He also wrote a lot. From scholarly articles for journals to books, it seems like he never stopped. Though he did find time to meet and marry Christiana Jane Powell.

Christiana Jane Herringham (nee Powell) was an artist and a suffragette.

She was an amazingly adventurous woman who looked a little bit like Emma Thompson. Her father, Thomas Wilde Powell, was a wealthy patron of the Arts and Crafts movement so I guess she was surrounded by beauty from birth. Given her start in life she naturally also worked tirelessly for arty recognition.

But she didn’t just support art, she was also a very talented copyist and she was responsible for saving many great works of art simply by making expert replicas. She was particularly talented in tempura. Then she met William Rothenstein.

William, along with Ernest Havell, formed the India Society which had a simple creed: To promote Indian art in the UK. Christiana joined the committee and set about making things happen. Meetings were even held in the Herringham house in Wimpole Street, London.

Determined to be more than just a committee member, she then travelled to India (with William and others of the society) to work on the famous Buddhist frescoes in the Ajanta caves. They were deteriorating rapidly. She wasn’t the only female artist either. Along with her was another exceptional copyist, Dorothy Larcher. 

I’d never heard of the Ajanta caves before. Having looked at the Wiki page on them, I really want to go and visit them now! Extraordinary.

Unlike me, Christiana travelled to India twice. Once in 1906 and then in 1911. Some of her copies were exhibited at the Crystal Palace in 1911 upon her return.

Wearing her Suffrage hat, she was great friends with Millcent Fawcett and they regularly worked together, trying to improve the lives of women. She was also a member of the non-violent protest group the Women’s Freedom League and could regularly be found chained to railings around Downing Street.

Things then became a bit strange. Christiana ended her days in a mental asylum in Sussex because, it’s claimed, she suffered from ‘delusions of pursuit and persecution’.

As a strange postscript, in 1916, Sir Wilmot was cited as the co-respondent in a divorce case brought by William Rothenstein. He claimed that Sir Wilmot had been carrying on an affair with his wife Alice.

Obviously, this is just the merest snapshot of their lives; an appetite whetting exercise if you will. I want to know more about Christiana at the very least. And I really think Emma Thompson should play her in her bio-pic.

This entry was posted in Biographical sketch, Gary's Posts. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.