Ternan family

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Papers relating to the extended Ternan family and their friends, [c1800-1974], including; manuscript material received by Katharine Longley from Helen Florence Wickham as joint executrix and legatee of the personal property of Gladys Eleanor Wharton Reece (daughter of Mr and Mrs George Wharton Robinson), and later bequeathed to Senate House Library. Includes commonplace and address books for Mr and Mrs George Wharton Robinson, diaries kept by Gladys Wharton Reece and other documents, 1868-1913; material received by Katharine Longley from Helen Florence Wickham and later bequeathed to Senate House Library, University of London. Includes diaries, correspondence and other material relating to the Wickham and Darby families, particularly, John Wickham, Thomas Elde Darby and Rosalind Wickham; letters to Helen Wickham from Mrs Wharton Robinson, Mrs F.E.Trollope and Rosalind Wickham, along with material relating to Helen Wickham's career as an artist, c1800-1929; photographs of and concerning the extended Ternan family, including photographs of Mr and Mrs George Wharton Robinson and their children, Geoffrey and Gladys Wharton Robinson, Helen Wickham, Maria Taylor and others, along with family group photographs, photographs of non-family members (including Charles Dickens and many actors and theatrical managers) and images of sites and buildings with family connections, c1859-1974; framed illustrations and portraits concerning the extended Ternan family, including miniatures painted by Helen Wickham and pencil portraits of Ellen Ternan and Rosalind Wickham, 1824-1913. An additional deposit (MSS.915B), purchased by Senate House Library in 2003, comprises letters written to Captain Geoffrey Wharton Robinson, son of Ellen Ternan, 1909-1924.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ellen Lawless [Nelly] Robinson (nee 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. Frances Eleanor Trollope (1835-1913), was born in August 1835 on a paddle-steamer in Delaware Bay during her parents' tour of America. After a successful career on the stage she went to Florence to study opera singing, and became governess to Bice (Beatrice), the daughter of the widowed Thomas Adolphus Trollope (1810-1892). On 29 October 1866 she married her employer. They lived in Italy for many years. She wrote a number of novels, several of which, including 'Aunt Margaret's Trouble' (1866) and 'Mabel's Progress' (1867), were serialized anonymously by Dickens in All the Year Round. After her husband's death in 1892 she wrote the life of her mother-in-law, Frances Trollope (1779-1863). During her last years her sister Ellen lived with her in Southsea, and she died there on 14 August 1913. Maria Susanna Taylor (1837-1904) nee Ternan, sister of Ellen and Frances Eleanor, appeared with her sisters on the stage until her marriage, on 9 June 1863, to William Rowland Taylor, the son of a prosperous Oxford brewer. Shortly after her mother's death she left her husband, and at the age of forty enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art to learn to paint. She made her home in Rome and travelled adventurously in north Africa; and she worked as an artist and journalist, writing for the London Standard for more than twelve years. She returned to England in 1898 and died in Southsea on 12 March 1904.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged into the following sections: MS915/1: Manuscripts MS915/2: Other Manuscripts MS915/3: Photographs MS915/4: Framed Items

Conditions Governing Access

Access to this collection is unrestricted for the purpose of private study and personal research within the supervised environment and restrictions of the Library's Palaeography Room. Uncatalogued material may not be seen. Please contact the University Archivist for details.

Other Finding Aids

Collection level description.

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Sarah Aitchison as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be made, subject to the condition of the original. Copying must be undertaken by the Palaeography Room staff, who will need a minimum of 24 hours to process requests

Custodial History

The material was gifted by Katharine Longley (and Michael Slater) to Senate House Library at various points between 1978 and 1992

Related Material

Other Ternan family papers are held at Senate House Library, reference MS1177

Bibliography

Claire Tomalin, The invisible woman: the story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (Viking, London, 1990); Peter Ackroyd, Dickens (Sinclair-Stevenson, London, 1990).