Sue Young Histories

Georgina Weldon 1837 – 1914

March 01, 2010

{::}**Georgina Weldon** 1837 – 1914 was a British campaigner against the lunacy laws, a celebrated litigant and noted amateur soprano of the Victorian era.

Georgina Weldon and her husband were patients of Thomas R Mackern (Georgina Weldon, My orphanage and Gounod in England, (1882). Multiple pages), who was also called to treat Charles Francois Gounod during his illness (as was his colleague Wilberforce Smith), when he was staying with Georgina Weldon,

From Georgina Weldon was born at Tooting Lodge, Clapham Common in 1837, the eldest of three daughters and two sons of Morgan Thomas (1803–1867), a member of the Welsh landed gentry, and his wife, Louisa Frances, daughter of John Apsley Dalrymple of Mayfield in Sussex. The Thomas family changed its name to Treherne in 1856, the surname of Morgan Thomas’ ancestors up to the mid-eighteenth century.

Her father was a non-practising barrister, having inherited a large sum of money from his father and uncle, and concentrated on becoming Conservative Party MP for Coventry.

She spent most of her childhood in Florence in Italy, and her soprano singing voice was trained by her mother, except for a few lessons she had in 1855 with Jules de Glimes in Brussels.

On 21 April 1860, and against her father’s wishes, she married William Henry Weldon, a lieutenant in the 18th Royal Hussars, causing her father to promptly disinherit her. Georgina Weldon hoped to follow a career on the stage but her husband, like her father before him, refused to allow her to appear as a professional and she was restricted to performing in amateur theatricals and charity concerts.

By 1869 Weldon’s childless marriage was breaking down. At this time she devised a scheme for a National Training School of Music to teach music to poor children. The Weldons took over the lease of Tavistock House in London’s Bloomsbury, which she filled with orphans, following a then highly progressive plan of education.

She joined Henry David Leslie’s famous choir, through which she met the French composer Charles Francois Gounod in March 1871. That year Georgina Weldon sang the solo in Mendelssohn’s Hear my Prayer at several venues in London, and took the solo soprano part in Charles Francois Gounod’s cantata Gallia at the Conservatoire de Paris and the Opéra-Comique in Paris.

By November 1871 Charles Francois Gounod, who was in poor health, had moved into Tavistock House with Mr and Mrs Weldon. This close association with the composer benefited Weldon’s singing career. It has been suggested that Georgina and Charles Francois Gounod were lovers, and that he had promised her the title role in his opera Polyeucte when it opened in Paris. However, Charles Francois Gounod became increasingly disturbed by the gossip about the ‘Weldon Affair’, and in June 1874 he returned to his wife in Paris.

Feeling slighted by Charles Francois Gounod’s departure, Georgina Weldon refused to send on his personal belongings, including the draft of his opera Polyeucte. When Charles Francois Gounod asked her to return these belongings to him, she insisted that he return to London to claim them from her in person. Only when he had virtually reconstructed the musical score nearly a year later, did she return the original draft to him with her name scrawled diagonally across each page in crayon.

She then instigated a number of lawsuits against him for libel, attempting to sue him for £10,000, but none of the actions was successful. Instead, in 1880 and again in 1885, she herself was imprisoned for libels connected with her musical career.

By 1875 Harry Weldon had tired of his wife’s orphanage scheme and her growing interest in spiritualism. The couple separated and he gave Georgina the lease to Tavistock House and £1000 a year as a financial settlement. In 1878 Harry Weldon wanted to reduce or stop this payment, and he tried to use Georgina’s interest in spiritualism to prove that she was insane in an attempt to have her confined in a lunatic asylum kept by Lyttelton Forbes Winslow.

Georgina was seen by the necessary two doctors, who obtained an interview with her under false pretences, pretending they were interested in her musical orphange, and they signed the lunacy order. Georgina realised that something was wrong and, when people from the asylum arrived to take her away by force, she escaped and evaded capture for the seven days that the order remained valid. She then went to Bow Street Magistrates’ Court to press charges for assault.

The magistrate sympathised with her situation and was convinced that she was sane, but, under Victorian law, a married woman could not to instigate a civil suit against her husband. However, having proved her point, Mrs Weldon publicised her story by giving interviews to the daily newspapers and the spiritualist press in an attempt to provoke her husband and the two doctors into suing her for libel.

In 1882 Georgina Weldon successfully sued her husband for the restoration of her conjugal rights, but he refused to return to Tavistock House, the marital home. The passing of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1882 allowed her to instigate the civil suit against her husband she had wanted to pursue in 1878.

Between 1883 and 1888 she successfully sued all those involved in trying to have her committed in 1878, at one stage in 1884 having seventeen cases in progress at the same time. She always represented herself and conducted all her cases without legal counsel. She became known as the ‘Portia of the Law Courts’, and her image appeared everywhere, even in an advertisement for Pears Soap.

To finance her legal actions in 1884 she would sing two songs an evening at the London Pavilion music hall, and in 1886 appeared in a brief run of the melodrama Not Alone, but this was not a success.

By the late 1880s Georgina Weldon’s popularity had waned. In her latter years she was a paying guest for 12 years at a convent in Gisors in France where she became a keen gardener and where she wrote her memoirs.

She was thrust into the spotlight again through her association with the descendants of Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, a pretender to the title of Louis XVII of France. By now tired of her, the public ignored Weldon’s book Louis XVII, or, The Arab Jew, and her eight volumes of legal memoirs.

She took part in a series of séances during which she claimed to have contacted the recently deceased Charles Francois Gounod. Becoming increasingly impoverished, she returned to London in 1905, where she began an unsuccessful libel action to clear her name with Charles Francois Gounod’s biographers.

Her final years were spent in London and Brighton, where she died at 6 Sillwood Street on 11 January 1914.

Of interest:

Maud Weldon was a mistress of Charles Howard Hinton, who was married to Mary Ellen Boole, daughter of Mary Everest Boole and George Boole, and the granddaughter of Thomas Roupell Everest, one of the founders of homeopathy in Britain.