Friday, 19 August 2016

7. ...And The Final "Mrs Fagan"

[This post is by Martin Smith]

The time has come, in the final episode of this series on Louisa Matilda Fagan née Ballard...

In 1897, from here
...to unravel the mystery of what happened to Joseph George Fagan, who she married on the 8 July 1872, and - while we are on the subject - what happened to their marriage. As we have noted before in the series, there is precious little reference to him in the chess press: not as her consort at the many Congresses she competed in, nor at the many social evenings organised by the Ladies Chess Club, of which she was such a prominent member in the 1890s and into the new century. If anyone was likely to be mentioned in that capacity, it was her brother William Roberts Ballard, who was also Louisa's executor at her death in 1931, and to whom she was close.

There is no doubt that Joseph and Louisa tied the knot...


...and, as we saw in episode 4, they had two children. Alas, tragically, both of them died: Eleanor in June 1875 just after her birth; Marie Blanche "Dottie" in 1883, when she was 9. The loss of Dottie, by then their only daughter, appears to have been the beginning of the end for Louisa and Joseph - after 11 years of marriage.


By 1883 Joseph, now aged 40 or 41, was well on the way up the promotion ladder in the Bombay Cavalry which he had joined as a cadet in 1859, when just 16 or 17 years old, on the recommendation of the Anglo-Italian Anthony Panizzi (1797-1879) - the registration papers can be found online. He was a friend of the family, embroiled in Italian politics and then installed in the British Museum, where he became its Principal Librarian. Louis Alexander Fagan, Joseph's brother, was Panizzi's biographer and literary executor, and he too was to have a distinguished career at the British Museum. Another brother, Charles Edward Fagan, was a senior figure at the Natural History Museum - he puts in a cameo appearance later in this account. The Fagan brothers must have been a formidable confraternity. It should be mentioned that there were four sisters as well. One wonders if Louisa knew what she was marrying into.

As a notice of Dottie's death in the Times of India 25 May 1883 (also Pall Mall Gazette 24 May) shows, Joseph George Fagan was by then a Major, and we know from the death certificate that Dottie died here in England - so we may surmise that Louisa would then have been here too: to be at her daughter's side during her illness, possibly: to attend at the funeral and its arrangements, certainly. Surely Major Fagan would have come back too. Just as surely he would have returned to his duties in India soon afterwards. He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel on 1 January 1886 (ToI 1 Jan 1886). Did Louisa go back with him? Was she abandoned? Did she elect to remain behind?

Whichever way it was: at some stage around this time, if perhaps a little later, Major Fagan formed a relationship with Edith Lucy Bailey or, as she was wont, his "wife" Edith Lucy Fagan. (Which brings our series tally of "Mrs Fagans" to three; not bad going.) The documentation - one example of which we will come to - says that she was born in Ceylon in about 1861. Her earlier appearance in the record, though, is in the British Library India Office files at a baptism in Lucknow in 1889: she is there as Edith Lucy Fagan, with Joseph George Fagan and a child: Jasper Gilbert Fagan (and note the repeated initials: J.G.F.).

This is plausibly the location for the service - St Joseph's Church in Lucknow (in 1874)

From the British Library 
Some obvious retrograde analysis from the baptism takes us back to 1887 as about the time Joseph and Edith would have been getting it together - possibly a touch earlier. It seems improbable that they could have conducted their relationship out there in India if Louisa was there, too. If he was presenting Lucy as his married wife, then for Joseph to avoid the charge of bigamy from his social peers he would have had to promote the fiction that he and Louisa had divorced back in England. Or even that she had died - though surely that would have been a high risk deception. But one lie begets another.

However, Joseph and Louisa were not legally divorced. In the 1891 Census, when Louisa was staying in a Ladies Residential Club in London, she is recorded as married and an "Officer's Wife". And she has herself recorded again as married in the 1901 census; she repeats it in 1905 in her letter to the BCM: "I am not a widow...but the wife of an Irishman" (Joseph was in fact the grandson of one, so maybe he claimed Irish/British nationality even though born in Italy). Even Louisa's probate notice in 1931 has her as a "widow" - Joseph having died in 1908.

On the other hand Joseph George Fagan and Edith Lucy Bailey maintained, for the rest of their lives, the  fiction that they were married, as will be seen below. Only once does the mask slip - when Joseph died.

There is a record of a Colonel Fagan and Mrs Fagan and two children sailing from Genoa to Bombay in December 1895. Joseph was indeed a Colonel by then: the London Gazette of 4 February 1890 having announced his promotion from Lieutenant-Colonel. Perhaps he had been presenting his "wife" to relations etc., just as he may have done with Louisa after their marriage back in 1872; perhaps he was showing Lucy the sites from his childhood in Italy.

But: two children? Jump forward to the 1901 census, which may go towards an explanation:


Firstly note that Joseph had retired - he had done so in 1899 (London Gazette 21 February) having been made up to Major-General in late 1898 (just in time to enhance his army pension?). They were now living in Spencer Road, Southsea (and probably had been for a few years before his retirement). Edith is put down as his wife age 40 - that's 18 years younger than Joseph George - born in Colombo, Ceylon. That age difference encourages the speculation that she may have been in service to the Fagan household in India - she would have been 22 in 1883. Perhaps she was known to Louisa...which may have added to any feeling of betrayal.

Jasper is in the census as the oldest son, now 11; and there are two more children:  Marie Fagan (Marie?! - the same name as his first daughter by Louisa - no coincidence, surely), and Ray Templar Fagan. So Major-General (Retired) Joseph George Fagan has his son and heir - something Louisa was unable to provide him with all those years ago. In fact he has two. For back-up, he fathered Ray Templar in his 54th year. That "Templar" is intriguing and may following the practice of using a mother's maiden name as the son's middle name: so was Lucy herself already once married?

And what's that in the census record: "George Bailey, Sin Law, S, 18, India"? "Sin Law" is short-hand for "Son-in-Law" and it suggests that, given he was born in India, he was Lucy Bailey's own son from a previous relationship. He was some seven years older than Jasper when he, Jasper, was born, also in India, in 1889/90. I suppose "stepson" would be how today we would describe his relationship to Joseph, given the pretence that she was Joseph's wife. Indeed, my Chambers says: "son-in-law 'formerly, a stepson' ".

But were Joseph and Lucy actually married in a legal sense. This is the telling clue: in Joseph George's probate declaration:


Presumably not wishing to have Lucy disinherited on a technicality and may be challenged by other claimants, Joseph reveals her to be "Edith Lucy Bailey spinster" - which implies that she had never married Joseph and, moreover, that he had never divorced Louisa, and had never wanted to risk everything with a bigamous marriage to Edith.

There is an intriguing wrinkle: This is Edith Bailey/Fagan's own probate notice when she died in 1919:

       
She is a "Fagan" again: this time she is not, of course, a beneficiary. The other name is that of Charles Edward Fagan - Joseph George's brother. This suggests that Edith had been fully accepted into the Fagan fold, that they closed ranks around the couple and their children, and - until the matter of the disposal of Joseph's estate - that they were prepared to be complicit in the fiction that she had married into the Fagan dynasty.

Contrast all this with Louisa Matilda's attitude, insofar as it can be imputed from the statements given above. She regarded herself as always married to (i.e. never legally divorced from) Joseph; she never sought to obfuscate her status in her census or public declarations. She must have felt particularly aggrieved by Joseph trading her in for a newer model (the modern way of putting it) when their two daughters died...and naming his daughter by Lucy "Marie", as Louisa's first child by him had been. No wonder she felt drawn to the politics of female emancipation, and the demand for equity and easement in matters of divorce .

I suppose one shouldn't rush to retrospective judgement. Louisa may have felt wronged, and you might disapprove of Joseph's conduct (such as it apparently may have been). But as an individual - albeit a relatively privileged one - he may have felt just as trapped by the circumstances and mores of the time, as she was. Today, the scenario wouldn't seem out of the ordinary, a divorce would be so much easier, a couple - with a family - living together unmarried would not attract general opprobrium, and atypical conjugal arrangements seem positively normal. Newer models are still preferred by some; and still attract negative reviews from others.

But anyway, enough of all this picking over the ducking and diving of men and women in late Victorian/early Edwardian society as they tried to navigate the rigid laws and codes that intruded into their personal relationships. And an end to airy hypothesising - tethered to reality by just a few slender facts - about motives. Let's finish this series by celebrating Louisa's chess and giving a last game (as promised earlier in the series). It was played in the great Ladies International Tournament of 1897 in which Louisa Fagan came second.

But first I can't resist showing a last image, as well, of Louisa - in action this time, and in the foreground of this sketch of the 1897 tournament given a white blouse and red skirt by the artist. Mrs Fagan of Italy wasn't one for bonnets at the board.
With thanks to John Richards and Dr Steve Poole (and Dr Tim Harding). This tinted version of the picture was published on the cover of The Regional Historian No 13 Spring 2005 (University of West England) in conjunction with John's article Remembering Mary Rudge: Bristol's Victorian Chess Champion.
The original version - but untinted - appeared in the Daily Graphic 3 July 1897 p17, captioned Women at Chess: The International Tournament in London. The original source of the tinted version is unknown.
Miss Gooding, her opponent in the game below, is top right, and clearly has youth on her side. She was summarily despatched by Louisa (now 47), the author of her own misfortune. Played in the last round (on Saturday 3rd July) it kicked off at 7.00 pm, so it is maybe not surprising that the game lasted just 24 moves - Louisa didn't want a late night. The Pall Mall Gazette of 5th July 1897 gave this commentary, relying this time I think, on a rugby metaphor.
"The lighter side of chess is represented by this game. Mrs Fagan was no doubt pleased to get her favourite Evans Gambit accepted. The first mistake was for Black to play 7...Na5. White's move, 10. e5, was a very good one, and drove the ball into the open. Black's reply of 10...Bg4 was precarious, and led to the loss of a piece. Castling on the Queen's side so seldom pays in this opening, and White's next move 17. Qb5, made the game quite hopeless."     



Not a tough game for Mrs Fagan, unlike some of the other challenges she had to face in life away from the chess board. With it this series comes to its conclusion. I hope it has done her justice.

Earlier Episodes

For all chess history posts in a previous incarnation go to the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog History Index          

No comments: