Ellen Ternan collection

Scope and Content

Includes programmes of musical and dramatic entertainments at High School, Margate, 1878 December, 1879 December: handwritten notes on BBC third programme talk on 9th May 1947 by Constance Clinton-Baddeley on "Recollections of Thomas Adolphus Trollope" including recollections of Ellen Ternan; letters from C. G. L. Du Cann to Gladys Reece, 1956-1957, about the controversy surrounding Ellen Ternan and Charles Dickens; letters from J. W. T. Ley to Gladys Reece also about the controversy, 1939 February-March.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ellen ('Nelly') Lawless Ternan (1839-1914), actress, was born on 3 March 1839 at 11 Upper Clarence Place, Maidstone Road, Rochester, Kent, the third of four children of the actors Thomas Lawless Ternan (1790-1846) and his wife, Frances Eleanor, née Jarman (1802-1873). Ellen had two elder sisters, Frances Eleanor and Maria Susanna, and a younger brother who died in infancy. All three sisters entered the acting profession early. After the early death of their father in 1846 they were obliged to earn their living, touring the north of England, Ireland, and Scotland with their mother. Nelly's first adult engagement was in a burlesque at the Haymarket in 1857, and it was after this that she was engaged by Charles Dickens, with her mother and Maria, to perform with his amateur company in The Frozen Deep in Manchester. It was during this theatrical engagement that Ellen began a relationship with Dickens which was to continue until his death in 1870. Dickens left Nelly £1000 in his will and set up a private trust fund which freed her from the necessity of working again after his death in 1870. She travelled abroad, then on 31 January 1876, in the parish church at Kensington, she married a clergyman twelve years her junior, George Wharton Robinson (1850–1910). She helped her husband to run a boys' school in Margate, and gave birth to a son and a daughter. Her last years were spent at Southsea, where she was reunited with her sisters. She died from cancer at 18 Guion Road, Fulham, London, on 25 April 1914 and was buried in the Highland Road cemetery, Southsea, in her husband's grave.

Access Information

Open for research although at least 24 hours notice should be given.


Gladys Reece was the daughter of Ellen Ternan.

Other Finding Aids

Described to file level, http://archives.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/dispatcher.aspx?action=search&database=ChoiceArchive&search=priref=110050172

Related Material

See also other Ternan family papers held at Senate House Library, references MS915, MS1177, MS1179. Also Longley papers, reference MS1003.