Catherine Disney (1800-1853) is known as the ‘lost love’ of the Irish mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), but about herself little is known. Based on what Hamilton wrote about her and scraps of information which were found on various places, extended with conclusions which could be drawn from known events, this is a sketch of how she fell in love with Hamilton in 1824, what the motives may have been for her family to force her to marry the reverend William Barlow (1792-1871), what may have triggered her suicide attempt in 1848 after which she did not live with Barlow any more, and how she spoke with Hamilton shortly before she died. In these two interviews she could finally tell Hamilton that she had also loved him.
In the last chapters it is discussed how Catherine’s unhappiness seems to have influenced her eldest son, James Barlow (1826-1913), and through him also her granddaughter Jane Barlow (1856-1917). This sketch is supplementary to the essay A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton. But being self-contained, it can also be read on its own.
Due to the scarcity of information about Catherine Disney, in this sketch I interpreted far more freely than I did in the essay about Hamilton. If there are readers who believe that I have misinterpreted or left out important information, or who have additional information, I would be very happy to hear about it, at victorian_marriage @ annevanweerden.nl.
The sketch can be read online in the BookReader (developed by The Internet Archive), Catherine Disney : a biographical sketch. In case offline reading is preferred, it can be downloaded below as a pdf (left) or an epub (right).
For further publications, see Publications
The books have only been printed in hardback copies, which cost €27.50 each (not including postal charges). It is freely available online, for instance on Google Books, Catherine Disney, but in case paper books are indeed preferred: they can be ordered by filling in a form at BoekenGilde. Clicking on the box: Beschikbaarheid opvragen = Request availability, shows the form in which Naam = Name, E-mailadres = E-mail address, Gewenst aantal boeken = Desired number of books, Versturen = Send. It will be read both by BoekenGilde and me; if we receive ten requests, the corrected version of the sketch will be printed in an again small edition.
The epub was made with a beautiful template my nephew had made for me when I was writing A Victorian Marriage. But because Google Books and some e-readers require epub 2 or 3, I made two additional versions, Catherine_Disney_2.0.1.epub, Catherine_Disney_3.0.1.epub
Using the ideas developed in my essay A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton, which can be read in the BookReader link at the top of this page or downloaded here, a summary of our view on how Catherine’s unhappiness influenced Hamilton can be found in the article we wrote about him: A most gossiped about genius : Sir William Rowan Hamilton.
Utrecht, 10 November 2021 — A Strange Land, for me beyond doubt by James William Barlow
About a year ago I finally found a copy of Felix Ryark’s A Strange Land offered for sale, and was able to buy it. I am not a quick reader but this beautiful book was very easy to read, and for me it left no doubt any more; it felt very much the same as James William Barlow’s novel about Hesperos, History of a World of Immortals Without a God, the only difference being that Catherine-themes were absent. I felt happy for James William because the book seems to be a less troubled remake of his Hesperos novel; although it contains his usual societal and theological criticisms it lacks the feelings of doom which are so present in the Hesperos novel. I imagined that finally James William had come to terms with his mental conflicts about his mother’s sufferings and her afterlife.
In 1901 James William had become a member of the English Society for Psychical Research, and he may have talked with very many people about deaths and afterlife in different settings than his church; who knows, it may have helped him to make up his mind about his mother’s remembrance and find peace. In 1908, the year in which the Strange Land novel was published and a year before James William republished his Hesperos novel, he became chairman and the first vice-president of the then new Dublin section of the Society, signifying that for him these researches were important. Also his wife and a daughter had died already, and the three women may have become a spiritual family for him. (Clearly, this is speculation.)
My son-in-law scanned the book for me, I made a searchable pdf,* a text version and epubs, see below, and not having decided yet what to do with it, I placed it on my website in the beautiful BookReader. Until I found the article discussed hereafter, and in the blogpost of 8 November, which made me decide to place it online more visibly, and I uploaded it to the Internet Archive.
* I put in the front cover twice because it is quite amazing and almost impossible to photograph; how you see the picture depends on how the light falls on it.
* I put in the front cover twice because it is quite amazing and almost impossible to photograph; how you see the picture depends on how the light falls on it.In an 2021 article about Jane Barlow, Catherine Disney’s granddaughter, Jack Fennell gives arguments why he believes that Jane Barlow wrote the utopian fantasy novel A Strange Land,
“The technologically advanced utopian setting [...] resonates with the Venus (Hesperos) of her father’s History of a World of Immortals Without a God [...]. A Strange Land did not achieve anything close to the popularity of Barlow’s rural Irish work, and it appears not to have been reviewed widely, if at all, by any Irish or British newspapers – however, a review that appeared in the Australian paper The Advertiser, praised the novel for its “poetic charm” and “beautiful liquid diction” (6 June 1908). [...]. Whatever the cause of the novel’s poor reception, Barlow did not try her hand at utopian or lost-world stories again, though she continued to explore the fantastic in her short fiction as the fancy took her.
The fact that James William has been identified as the author of History of a World of Immortals, despite the novel’s popular attribution to Jane,* has led some critics to credit all of Jane’s non-realist work to her father, often on grounds little sturdier than the assumption that the classical homages – particularly The Battle of the Frogs and Mice – could only have come from the Rev. Barlow’s expertise. This assumption ignores the obvious conclusion that Jane could have acquired this knowledge from her father in her childhood lessons, as well as [...] her own scholarship at Trinity College Dublin. If further proof of Jane’s aptitude for the subject be needed, a 1923 auction catalogue for the library of one John Quinn contains a number of her works, including signed copies of The Battle of the Frogs and Mice and A Creel of Irish Stories (1897), which are noted to contain a Greek inscription and a Homeric epigram, respectively.”
In the second part of these quotes Fennell is certainly right, Jane Barlow was a talented classical scholar.** But referring to the 1923 catalogue seems superfluous; almost all her books contain Latin or Greek texts, and from for instance the text going with the poem By the Bog-Hole it is obvious that she had read Lucretius, calling the afterlife a “great sleep”. There is indeed not any reason to assume that The Battle was not translated by Jane Barlow; she is mentioned on the title page as the translator, and the foreword sounds like her.*** But showing that it is not impossible that she wrote A Strange Land is not the same as showing that she did write it. The first part of Fennell’s quotes even show how unlikely it is; the book “resonates” with that of her father, and she “did not try her hand at utopian or lost-world stories again.”
* Fennel seems to have forgotten that in A Brilliant Void, published in 2018, and
discussed in The Guardian, he still was certain that Jane Barlow had written History of a World of Immortals Without a God. He therefore changed his mind after reading my biographical sketch about Catherine Disney without saying so.
** It is very doubtful however that Jane Barlow “studied the classics at Trinity College Dublin” as Fennel claims. 1904 was the first year in which women were allowed to enrol, and she also was awarded her Honorary Doctorate in 1904. Her honorary title therefore rather seems to be an open acknowledgement that she should have been allowed to study at TCD, and that without them she had mastered her classics sublimely. Even if she may have been allowed to follow lectures without having enrolled, claiming that she “studied at TCD” thus seems too happy a statement.
*** I must say that I very much like her rendition.
I will argue here that James William Barlow wrote the Strange Land novel which not only “resonates” with the Hesperos novel; there even are very great similarities between the two novels.
Both books start with descriptions of the youths of the protagonists with which their later acts are ‘explained’; both books end with the departure of the protagonists from the ‘paradises’, which they not really are.
In both paradises
— men are the main characters,
— scientists are important,
— there are ‘swift’ vehicles,
— rocks are being blown up,
— there are no nasty or poisonous little animals; the protagonists can safely sit on the ground outside,
— after ‘death’ there are no bodies to bury,
— the inhabitants are vegetarian; on Hesperos meat is made in a laboratory, in the Strange Land there are no animals,
— there have been times, long ago, in which the people were very brutal towards each other, yet they are very peaceful now,
— the inhabitants regard our Earth, with all its poverty, brutality and death, as abhorrent.
There is indeed not any trace of the themes from Jane Barlow’s books; no strong women, no real or raw direct interpersonal relationships, not even the mysticism as she used in for instance in From the East unto the West. In the Hesperos novel the protagonist learns how to teleport, about a Strange Land it would be a spoiler to mention how he entered the paradise, yet both books have a large scientific angle, even when in reality impossible. In the Hesperos novel there is no dialogue while in A Strange Land there is, yet in both novels, despite conversing with the inhabitants, both protagonists remain to be observers; there is much science and engineering; there is admiration for lovely or beautiful women. I would say that both books breathe a very Victorian male outlook on the world.
Concluding, if Jane Barlow did write A Strange Land it would almost be plagiarism, and extreme scenarios would be needed to explain how this could happen. It is much simpler to assume that James William did write both books, and that having withdrawn the first edition of the Hesperos novel in 1892, he was easily convinced, perhaps by his children, to republish it after he had published the Strange Land novel. His Vice-Provostship of Trinity College Dublin had ended in 1908, and there was no risk any more in publishing a novel about a society which, contrary to the Strange Land society, did not adhere to the doctrines of the Anglican Church. Even though it was a society which was in the end punished for it.
Utrecht, 8 November 2021 — My imagined Catherine Disney turning into an historical figure
When I decided to write the biographical sketch about Catherine Disney’s heartbreaking story I made a decision I would not have believed I would ever make, not regarding myself as a novel writer. Yet, because there is hardly any information about Catherine Disney I did not have much choice; to show her as a real person I decided to use a mix of historic and personal data, known events and images evoked by sentences from Hamilton, extended with romantic fiction describing what Catherine may have done or thought, the only limit being that it all had to stay within the boundaries of what was known about her. I called the fiction I had inserted ‘scenarios’, and made notes whenever they were not based on known facts. What I aimed and still aim for is that someone with more easy access to sources, being at home in mathematics and philosophy and accepting my point of view about Hamilton’s private life, and not the least, being paid to write a book, would write a new biography of Hamilton, in which Catherine’s unhappiness and Hamilton’s distress about her would receive the place it deserved, instead of adhering to Hankins’ romantic yet untenable suggestion that Catherine had been the only woman Hamilton ever loved.
But today something amazing happened. Since I am working on the Hamilton project, every now and then I wonder how Graves would have felt had he known how all the careful nuances in his biography ultimately disappeared as snow before the sun. How Hamilton’s story had become so very distorted over a time span of almost 150 years was fairly traceable, but it was much harder to fancy how it began. Until I found, today, an illustration of how extremely fast ideas can turn into truths, and truths lose half of their bases and become distorted. This morning I saw that Google Scholar gave a citation of my Catherine Disney sketch, in an article by Jack Fennell called James William Barlow (1826-1913), about Catherine’s eldest son. What is amazing is not that it has been cited, I am really happy with that, but how.
Reading the article about James William Barlow, I began to feel as I had imagined Graves to feel; Fennell’s article looks like my chapter about James William, but not quite. Not only were suggestions I made in the sketch, and scenarios I described to make it more easy to visualise how unhappy Catherine must have been in her marriage, turned into truths, also the motives I ascribed to James William Barlow, and the possible scenarios about how his ideas may have been inspired by his mother, have been completely misinterpreted and taken for real. That was of course never my intention; what I aimed for in my sketch was to show Catherine as a living, suffering human being to whom we could relate, who was betrayed by her family and coerced into a marriage she did not want, and through whom it would be understandable why Hamilton became so distressed; that we all would be in distress if that would happen to someone we once loved. I did not aim to describe the real Catherine or even the real James William and Jane; we simply do not know enough about them, and they may have looked at things very differently. Yet I did hope that in any case Catherine Disney would have been able to recognise her sufferings in the imaginary person I gave her name.
As an example of my romantic fiction having been misinterpreted: after having mentioned that Catherine Disney had been forced to marry Willian Barlow and tried to commit suicide in 1848, in the article it is written, “These events undoubtedly had a profound effect on James William’s character: since Hamilton was his astronomy professor at Trinity College from 1847, he witnessed the anguish from both sides, though he did not realise the truth of the situation until he read it in the second volume of Robert Perceval Graves’s Life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1882-9).” That James William only understood what had happened after having read Graves’s volume was a supposition in the scenario I was describing: it is not known when James William heard or understood that his mother had been in love with Hamilton even after her marriage. Moreover, to state that James William could see the anguish “from both sides” is not based on any facts; there is not any indication that James William associated his mother’s suicide attempt with Hamilton before the latter’s death in 1865, and in Hamilton’s letters even contra-indications can be recognised. The suggestion about Hamilton’s anguish suggests that Fennell did not read the sketch cover to cover, and therefore still assumes that Hamilton only loved Catherine, therewith colouring his assumptions about James William Barlow.
When I found that James William had been rebuked in 1859 and read James William’s 1865 Eternal Punishment and Eternal Death, I imagined that he was actually writing about his mother about whose 1848 suicide attempt he must have known, expressing how difficult life had been for her shortly after her death, and about whom he had to believe that she would be ‘tortured for eternity,’ as he expressed what would happen in Hell. Yet in the article it is written, “Barlow’s theological outlook, influenced by his mother’s suicide attempt and the traumatic revelations of her romance with Hamilton, was unorthodox.” This is again quite beyond the boundaries of what may have happened; it is very doubtful that Catherine ‘revealed her romance’ with Hamilton to her son, and if she had told him about their youthful very happy months, and that her love for Hamilton never diminished (if that was the case), he would have known about what had happened in or before 1853, a very long time before Graves published his biography. It therefore contradicts Fennell’s earlier statement that James William only realised the truth of the situation when Graves published, in 1885, the second volume. And if with the “traumatic revelations” Fennell did mean James William’s reading it in 1885, it could not have influenced his having been rebuked in 1859, or the 1865 Essay. It does not make any sense, and mentioning this seems to show again that Fennell did not read the sketch, just the chapter. My suggestions, however much I think they might be realistic, have been turned into distorted truths.
Even worse is the ‘nothingness’ Fennell mentions. My suggestion that Catherine experienced a ‘nothingness’ (p. 73) when she made her suicide attempt was inspired by something I had found in James William’s Eternal Punishment and Eternal Death, and in Jane’s poem By the Bog-Hole; they both describe afterlife, in case we do not go to Heaven, as a void or a nothingness we return to instead of going to Hell, perhaps after Lucretius, making it less ‘unorthodox’ as it might seem. I introduced the idea that Catherine had mentioned her experience to her son just to associate her unhappiness to their ideas; nothing is known about what she was thinking, or what they said to each other. But in the article, unfortunately, it became the truth; “[James William] maintained that the end of the soul was a return to the nothingness from which it had emerged at birth – a belief scholar Anne van Weerden puts forward in her biographical sketch Catherine Disney, and feels was likely inspired by his mother’s description of the peace she had felt following her suicide attempt." It is completely turned around; instead of my having found the nothingness in James William’s and Jane’s work, Catherine now told her son about the nothingness. And it is absurd, because Jane’s quote going with the poem ‘By the Bog-Hole’, ‘Non omni somno securius exstat’, shows that in any case her idea, and perhaps that of her father, of a void, or nothingness, or the great sleep as she called it, came from, or was associated with, Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura.*
* Volume 3 line 975. Note: “Our state after death will be as it was before our birth: thus Nature shows us that there is nothing to fear.”
It is a pity that in the article, when discussing James William’s Hesperos novel, nothing is said about Van Varken’s extremely miserable youth which James William describes penetratingly; not mentioning it takes out the logic of the actions of the protagonist; he just becomes some unintelligible psychopath, torturing British sailors at will (not that this Dutchman was in any way kind, yet he was extremely scathed). But even stranger is Fennell’s remark that on Hesperos “in the event of a serious traumatic injury, surgeons euthanise the patient so that he or she will be resurrected in perfect health at the southern pole. One can easily detect the lingering trauma of Catherine’s suicide attempt in this restorative destruction – and also, perhaps, the guilt that Barlow might have felt at owing his existence to his mother’s misery. On Hesperos, there is always a chance to escape intolerable circumstances, and there is no moral judgement of those who do so.”
This is a very far-fetched idea, and there is much to say against it. Catherine’s misery was certainly not easy to recognise; if it had been I would not have been the first to do so, and why I saw it was because I was deeply immersed in the researches concerning Hamilton’s private life, having found that he sincerely loved his wife. But where it really goes wrong is in where Catherine’s ‘trauma’ could be ‘detected’; Fennell somehow finds a deep morality, and ascribes to James William Barlow a profound existential doubt. That is not recognisable in the novel, nor in his other work; what was so very easy to see is the subject of divorce, which was allowed on Hesperos but not possible for Catherine. James William discusses the Hesperian divorces extremely cautiously, and in 1909 a reviewer (p. 102) wondered why Barlow had even written about it.
Yet the doctrine that God has a place in every marriage, where wedding vows have been exchanged before the altar, even when coerced, and which therefore no man may put asunder, is something James William apparently agreed with as a true member of the Anglican Church. He did not grant this alternative society happiness without a God, and a society allowing divorce could therefore not have been an alternative for his mother. That she would not be punished for Eternity seems to have been the consolation he could find, that is, again as I imagined things; James William never said anything about his mother in connection to his written works. The only known sentence he said about his mother concerns her death; that he knew “the change a happy one for her, as she was for so long a time in a very great mental affliction and depression.”
Lastly, as far as I know Maria Devine, who is not mentioned in the article, was the first to notice Jane Barlow’s letter to Alfred Russel Wallace, in which she credits her father with the writing of the Hesperos novel; until then both Jane and James William had been named as the author, without any decisive proof. But I can be mistaken; if somehow I was -not- the first to connect James William’s work with Catherine’s sufferings, and Maria Devine was -not- the first to attract attention to Jane’s letter, please let me know.
Utrecht, 20 September 2020 — Furry Park House Killester
Writing my biographical sketch of Catherine Disney, searching for the places where she might have lived I had found many advertisements placed by her father Thomas Disney, in which he gave his office addresses. Because it was apparent that both the first address he gave, Kilmainham Hospital, and the last one, 4 Westland-Row, were also the family’s residences, I had assumed that whenever he could, he would hold office in the family residence. But when lately someone sent me some chapters of the 1995 book The Disneys of Stabannon by Hugh Disney, I read to my amazement that in 1813, when Catherine’s eldest sister Jane married John Barlow, the Disneys lived in Furry Park House in Killester. That address had not been amongst Thomas Disney’s office addresses.
I therefore did a new search and came across a pamphlet, Furry Park House - a short history, written in 1985 by Seamus Cannon and published by the Furry Park Action Group. This group aimed to protect the house from demolition, in which they succeeded. I was able to buy a copy, hoping that in the description of the history Thomas Disney would be mentioned. On the first page the house is described, “Furry Park House is situated off the Howth Road, in Killester, Dublin. Built in 1730 it is a building of national importance, both for its architectural merit, and an account of its association with people and events prominent in Irish history.” And to my happiness Thomas Disney was indeed mentioned as one of the occupants of the house.
It soon became obvious that the Disney family lived there in 1812 and 1813, but I could not find confirmations for other years. Yet there is much information about Furry Park House on the internet, and combining several sources it was possible to infer from it, albeit crudely, a lower and an upper bound for the Disneys having lived there. It appeared that around the 1800s the house was bought and sold by various people, who then regularly rented it out. Also the Disneys lived there as tenants.
Furry Park and the Disneys
According to the 2004 Henrietta Street Conservation Plan, in 1780 Richard Boyle (1727-1807), 2nd Earl of Shannon, “purchased No. 12 Henrietta Street, and amalgamated it with No. 11, already in the possession of his family.” To which The Irish Aesthete adds that Boyle “became known as ‘the Colossus of Castlemartyr’ (the name of his country seat in County Cork) due to the power he wielded by controlling so many electoral boroughs. If only for this reason, he needed to have a residence close to the centre of power in Dublin and thus settled on linking the two houses.”
The Furry Park House pamphlet mentions that, also in 1780, Boyle bought Furry Park, for “£1,300.00 plus £100.00 per annum (to value these amounts see Measuring Worth). Richard Boyle was a member of Parliament and required a convenient residence while Parliament was in session.” According to The Irish Aesthete, “He held [...] the title of First Lord of the Irish Treasury, only relinquishing the position in 1804 in return for an annual pension of £3,000; he would die just three years later.”
Because Boyle died in 1807 at Castlemartyr, he will have left Dublin in 1804. But apparently Thomas Disney did not yet come to live in Furry Park then; from 1797 he had placed advertisements giving his address as the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, where he had apartments. As was inferred from the advertisements, in 1804 he became agent for the Earl of Darnley; on 25 October Disney placed an advertisement in Saunders’s Newsletter for property to be let, and “Propofals in writing will be received for both lots, Thomas Difney, Esq. Royal Hofpital.” Advertisements giving his Royal Hospital address were found until 22 July 1805 (searches including Difney and Difncy), then for some months no more advertisements appeared. On 9 January 1806 Thomas Disney gave his office address as Merrion Street.
It thus seems reasonable to conclude that Thomas Disney moved his family to Furry Park in the second half of 1805, but a problem is that his son Lambert Disney, the only son for whom an actual baptism record was found, was baptised in 1808 in Glasnevin by Robert Disney, Thomas’ brother. I therefore had assumed that after leaving Kilmainham Hospital the family moved to Merrion street, and then to Glasnevin.
Listing the addresses in Thomas Disney’s advertisements, it appeared that from January 1806 he held office at 31 Upper Merrion street, then from October 1809 at 33 New Gardiner Street, from August 1810 at 32 Lower Gardiner Street. No advertisements were found for 1811 and 1812, then in January 1813 he held office at 38 Gloucester Street. From June 1813 until January 1815 there are no advertisements giving his address, only one indicating he is working for Lord Darnley, but in January 1815 his address is again given as 38 Gloucester Street. It can thus be assumed that he also worked there in the meantime. Because his daughter Jane married in October 1813, and the note gives Thomas Disney’s address as Furry-Park, it can be inferred that he then thus did not work from the family residence, and that my assumption had been incorrect. Yet in September 1822 Thomas Disney moved to 4 Westland-Row; at that address children of family members and household staff were born or baptised, and others died.
Owners and occupants
It was mentioned already that in 1780 Furry Park House had been sold to Richard Boyle. In 1791 it was occupied by William Walcot (1756-1807). In 1792 an advertisement in the Dublin Evening Post reads, “Mr. Walcot’s elegant villa of Furry Park, near Clontarf, is taken by Mr. Cooke [(1755-1820)], the Secretary of War, for his country refidence.” In 1797 Edward Cooke still lived at Furry Park, “The Lord Lieutenant [John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland] is to have it had in contemplation to refide during the fummer, in Mr. Sec. Cooke’s beautiful villa Furry park.” Cooke returned to England in 1800 or 1801.
On the website of the Walcot Family of Walcot, Shropshire, it is mentioned about Maj. William Walcot that he was of “Ferry Park, Dublin, and Moor Hall, Shropshire.” It cannot be derived herefrom where he died, but in 1818 Anne Walcot married; she was the “eldest dau. of Maj. William Walcot of Perry Park, near Dublin.” This might mean that Walcott had returned and spent his last years at Furry Park, and that he died there in 1807, the year that also Richard Boyle died.
Note: In December 2020 I was contacted by Benjamin Bather, one of Walcot’s descendants; Major William Walcot (1756-1807) (sometimes Walcott) was his 4 times great-grandfather. Walcot was a Customs Officer, Landing Waiter for Drugs (a customs officer who enforced import-export regulations and collected import duties, etc. from vessels). He lived in Furry Park House from 1786 until 1792. More information can be found in The Walcots of Birmingham and Bristol by Michael and Patrick Walcot. Any new data will be added to the overview of owners and occupants below.
I could not find who then lived at Furry Park, but in August 1810 an advertisment was placed in the papers; someone living in or owning Furry Park had gone bankrupt, moved or died, “Furry Park near Clontarf. Houfehold Furniture, Superb Paintings and Prints, To Be Sold By Auction, On Monday the 13th day of Auguft, 1810, The entire houfehold furniture, paintings and prints, a large telefcope, three draught horfes, farming and dairy utenfils, &c. &c. The fale to begin at 12 o’clock, the paintings and prints to be fold the firft day at two o’clock. W. Jones, Auctionier.”
It thus seems reasonable to assume that after the house had become vacant, Thomas Disney moved his family to Furry Park. It is even possible that Thomas Disney was agent for the Boyle family because he would also be agent when Furry Park was for rent in 1835, see below. He may have done the same as he later seems to have done when he was agent for Lord Langford and lived at Summerhill; rent the house which had become empty and live there with his family as long as that was convenient for both parties.
Then, in 1812, “Mrs Disney, Furry-Park” subscribed, for two copies, the book Cumbrian legends, or, Tales of other times, by Mrs F. Ryves, Frances Harding (1756-1817). This is therewith the earliest time it is certain the Disneys lived at Furry Park. And as mentioned, in October 1813 Catherine’s eldest sister Jane married, the family note reads: “Married, At Clontarf Church, by the Rev Brabazon Disney, John Barlow, of Sibyl Hill, in the County Dublin, to Miss Disney, eldest daughter of Thos. Disney, of Furry-Park, in the same Co. Esq.” It therefore is in any case certain that Catherine lived at Furry Park House in 1812 and 1813.
It is mentioned in the Furry Park House pamphlet that after the Disneys the house was occupied by Thomas Burton Vandeleur (ca 1767-1835), who indeed occupied Furry Park for instance in 1828. On Sunday 14 June 1835 Judge Vandeleur died “at his seat, at the north suburbs of this city,” and on 26 June an advertisement appeared in the papers, “To be let,” “the House and Demesne of Furry Park,” “Proposals will received by Thomas Disney, Esq., No. 4, Westland-row, where Tickets for viewing the place may be had.” On 3 and 4 July the household furniture of Vandeleur was sold by auction, and the advertisements for letting the house stopped some time after 10 September. In any case in April 1836 Thomas Bushe (1801-1862) lived at Furry Park.
Also Bushe may have rented the house as a tenant; Griffith’s valuation does not seem to give John Barlow as the owner of Sibyl Hill, and neither Thomas Bushe as owner of Furry Park. In 1848 the “Immediate Lessor” of the “House, offices, and land” of the townland of SibylHill was John E.V. Vernon, while John Barlow was given as Occupier. Likewise for Furry Park, in 1848 the “Immediate Lessor” of the “House, offices, and land” of the townland of FurryPark was John Barlow, the Occupier was Thomas Bushe. What thus seems most likely is that John Barlow rented both townlands from Vernon, and then subletted the townland FurryPark with its House to Bushe.
Of course, a problem here could be that the houses had the same names as the townlands, the only difference being the space in the names of the houses. It would be interesting to know who bought or rented what, but it does not have to do anything with the Disneys any more, they then had left Killester already.
What now is known about the history of the house (I will update whenever I find or receive more information.)
1730-1748(?): Furry Park House was built in 1730, as a week-end villa for Joseph Fade, who died in 1748
1748-??: occupied for a time by Peter Paumier
??-??: owned by Charles O’Neill
1765-1780: owned by Edward Howard
1780-??: owned by Richard Boyle 1786-1792: owned or occupied by William Walcot
1792- after 1797, perhaps 1801??: owned or occupied by Edward Cooke
1810(?)-1813, perhaps until 1822(?): occupied by Thomas Disney (as agent for Boyle, John Barlow, or John E.V. Vernon?)
(?)1828-1835: owned or occupied by Thomas Burton VandeLeur
1835-1874: occupied by Mr and Mrs Thomas Bushe, owned by Barlow or Vernon
1874-??: owned by Ralph Smith Cusack
??-1920: owned by M. Fetherston Whitney
1920-??: owned by Crompton and Moya Llewelyn Davies
From the late 1930s it became residential housing.
Catherine Disney and Furry Park House
Yet the question still is when exactly the Disneys left Furry Park; it may very well possible that they lived at the house until 1822, when Thomas Disney placed advertisements, that in September “Mr. Thomas Disney, has removed his Office from No. 38, Gloucester-street, to No. 4, Westland-row, Lower Merrion-street;” it contained a house, offices and a yard.
This all would mean that Catherine lived in Killester in 1812 and 1813, but probably much longer, from 1810 when she was ten years old, until 1822 when she was twenty-two. Coincidences are very common in the stories of these families; if this is correct, then Catherine spent her teens living at Howth Road (between the house numbers 219 and 243), just as her granddaughter Jane Barlow later would, also The Cottage in Raheny is on Howth Road (nr 476).
The 1985 Furry Park House pamphlet contained two marvellous drawings. One is from the back side of the house, of which I could not find any photo. The second one, a staircase, is remarkable because also in case of Summerhill, where Catherine would meet Hamilton in 1824, next to the photo of the hall which I used for the cover of my book the only picture of the interior is a staircase. The drawing does suggest an “impressive interior,” as Maurice O’Sullivan wrote in his 1933 book Twenty Years A-Growing (translated from Irish by Moya Llewelyn Davies of Furry Park House and George Thomson). It must have been a beautiful house indeed as can be read in the quote the pamphlet gives from O’Sullivan, “Isn't it a fine life is given to some rather than others! I don't know what in the world could trouble the man who lives here, though I have often heard it is they who are the worst for discontent. It is a great life. He would only need to sit outside his castle listening to the music of the birds for all the sorrow to be lifted from his heart.” If Catherine had a happy childhood, as she seems to have had, she will have been very happy here.
Utrecht, 22 August 2020 — A second portrait of Catherine
Early in August someone sent me a picture of Catherine which was shown in the book by Hugh Disney (1995), The Disneys of Stabannon : a review of an Anglo-Irish family from the time of Cromwell. Seeing the picture was a great surprise; it did not look very similar to the first portrait. When I had found the first photo, which is kept at Trinity College Dublin Library, an art historian had told me about the ‘image codes’ of the early nineteenth century, in this case how to paint or draw a beautiful woman, and how the first portrait largely complied to those codes. This time he commented, “She certainly was pulled through the stylistic mold of the early nineteenth century. Quite typical Pride and Prejudice.”
At first I was a bit sad that I had not seen this picture earlier, so that I could have used it for her biographical sketch. But that feeling soon disappeared when I realized that had I used it then, she would have become completely angelic, whatever I would have written about her. Having heard about the image codes I had commented that I should have made her nose smaller and indeed, it can now be seen that her nose was quite long, but very thin. If there is anything realistic about the portrait of course.
Something else is that this picture having been provided by Patrick Wayman, Dunsink director from 1964-1992, it must have been part of the Hamilton papers and photos which were donated to Dunsink by John O’Regan, one of Hamilton’s great-grandsons. That would imply that it was made before Catherine’s marriage in 1825, and indeed, in the larger picture she looks very young, perhaps between 15 or 18. I am very curious to know where the original photo is, or whether the original drawing still exists.
The question then remains which portrait this is; a copy of the miniature or the better portrait Louisa gave Hamilton in 1861. Catherine being so angelic here, I would guess it was the latter one, but if Hamilton preferred a copy in which he would really recognize Catherine as she had been when he fell in love with her, it might as well be the first portrait. We may never find that out.
Utrecht, 20 July 2020 — Catherine’s siblings, especially Louisa
When writing A Victorian Marriage and the sketch about Catherine, I could not find the birth and death years of one of Catherine’s youngest siblings, Louisa Disney. But in November last year Finbarr Connolly sent me information about her. It came from the civil records; I do not know why I did not search them for Catherine’s siblings. Louisa’s civil marriage record shows that, in Bangor in 1850 as Louisa Hobson, she married the merchant Alexander Reid. On 30 December 1890, four years after Alexander, Louisa died in Belfast, and completely new for me was that her civil death record gives her age as 79, she thus was born in 1811.
When writing my books I did know that Louisa married Henry Hobson in 1839, became a widow in 1847, and married Alexander Reid in 1850. In my sketch I assumed that when Catherine lived in Carlingford she and Louisa were very close, because during her marriage with Hobson Louisa lived in Ballymascanlan, “where she was surrounded by relatives,” Hamilton wrote about Catherine that she “was allowed to receive members of her own family as often as she could wish” [CD, 62], and Carlingford and Ballymascanlan are only about 20 km apart. I therefore also supposed that after Catherine’s 1848 suicide attempt it was Louisa who brought her to their brother Edward in Newtown-Hamilton, assuming that Catherine will have made her attempt when Barlow was not at home; if he would have been the risk of discovery and survival would have been to large.
In his book Disneys of Stabannon, Hugh Disney called Louisa “a flirt,” and I think that asks for some explanation. Catherine died in 1853, and according to Hankins in 1861 Louisa became fascinated by Hamilton and Catherine’s story. That is indeed easy to imagine if she had been so close with Catherine during those, for both women, difficult years. Yet it may also suggest that Catherine never revealed Hamilton’s identity to Louisa; she still was married to Barlow, and in those times marriages and feelings of love were almost forbidden to talk about. In 1861 Hamilton and Louisa met again at her brother Thomas Disney’s house, and it thus may have been Thomas who told Louisa about Catherine and Hamilton’s youthful love, and how in 1825 Catherine was forced to marry Barlow.
Or it may have been Lady Wilde who told Louisa about the early love story. She seems to have been more free minded about private matters, and to her Hamilton certainly was very open. In July 1861 he wrote to Lady Wilde about having kissed Louisa in the Meridian Room of Dunsink Observatory. He realized that he had been substituting Louisa for Catherine; “You may conclude how intimate we once were, when I mention that I found an opportunity for saying to [Louisa] (lately) that I had once  wished to marry her – or rather had thought that I so wished: but found that I had sought in vain to transfer my feelings from her (by me) lost sister and that I had mistaken affection to the family, for love to the individual, in short, had confounded recollections with hopes. ... She sweetly assured me, that she knew, she understood it all.” [AVM, 321]
Around that time Hamilton sent Louisa a copy of his 1848 six-week correspondence with Catherine, and because there is no copy preserved in Trinity College Library, the only hope ever to see these letters is if descendants of Louisa have kept them. Every now and then I therefore sought for children of Louisa. It now appeared that in Leslie’s Armagh clergy and parishes a short description of Louisa’s first husband Henry Theophilus Hobson was given. Henry was a younger brother of William Hobson,* who became the first Governor of New Zealand in 1840, and named the new capital Auckland. Henry had been married to a “Miss Christmas” from Waterford, and because also Henry came from Waterford, she may have been a childhood love, and she apparently died young. In 1839, about 37 years of age, Henry married Louisa Disney.
* As judged in their time the Hobson brothers seem to have been warm-hearted people. Of William is is said in the biography, “In his official duties he strove to be just, and saw protection of the Māori as a major reason for establishing British rule.” About Henry it was written in Leslie that “He died of fever, which he contracted during the famine period, when ministering to the afflicted.”
Louisa and Henry’s first child was a daughter, who was born 12 March 1840 at 4 Westland-row, the house of Louisa’s parents. This daughter, Caroline, married 13 June 1867 Rev. Thomas Shaw Woods from Ballygowan. It is not known how many more children Louisa and Henry had, but in Armagh clergy and parishes a son is mentioned, baptised 17 September 1843, and called William Christmas. That might say something about Louisa; she apparently allowed her son to be named after the first wife of her husband. In any case from 1881 William Christmas Hobson was manager of the Bank of Ireland in Armagh and in 1882 he became a member of the Commission of the Peace for county Armagh. In August 1884 he married Mary Charlotte Jane Sharkey, only daughter the late Rev. John Sharkey, Senior Chaplain H.B.M. Indian Service. I did not find children from Louisa’s second marriage, with Alexander Orr Reid; possible descendants are therefore of the Woods or the Hobson family.
It is not known whether or not Hamilton confessed it to his wife, but in my AVM I have shown that they must have talked with each other, and after each of Lady Hamilton’s illnesses again more openly. Lady Hamilton knew about Catherine even long before their marriage and she never made a problem of it, she even met Catherine at least once. Indeed, a story so terrible as that of Catherine, and the hard way Hamilton learned about her forced marriage throughout the years, is easy to sympathize with. Yet Lady Hamilton became ill in 1856 because, as I inferred from the letters given by Graves, Hamilton had lost himself in memories for some time and therefore had paid her less attention; if she feared for her marriage as I supposed, she will have been heartbroken and terrified in that for married women extremely harsh society. But Hamilton then took care of her for months and was so worried that he became ill himself. Thereafter, even though he remained to be sad every now and then as the romantic he had always been, his priorities had become clear again; his bond with his wife was the most important one. And even Graves commented that the Hamiltons remained attached to each other until the end.
Louisa’s name does not appear in Graves’ biography; it will have been utterly impossible for him to write about her because of the contemplations about marriage and the kiss. Both Graves, the Hamilton couple and the Disney siblings grew up during the Regency, when society was somewhat more relaxed about romance and certainly easier for women, but in the 1880s, the time of the writing of the biography, it was forbidden to talk about anything connected to marriage unless in some heavenly tone, and the kiss would have meant the end of both Hamilton’s and Louisa’s reputation. It is known that later, at the time Graves started to write the first volume, there was a correspondence between Robert Graves and Aubrey de Vere, of which the letters written by De Vere are kept in Notre Dame Library in Indiana (Manuscript and Ephemeral Collections, MSE/IR 1040). The letters are not online, but it appears that De Vere advised Graves to leave one woman out of the biography completely; that must have been Louisa. Unfortunately, the way Gaves undertook his concealments were the end of Lady Hamilton’s good reputation, and even though Graves meant to accomplish the opposite, it also was the end of that of her husband. Of their good marriage nowadays nothing is left but some sentences in Graves’ biography. Yet happily confirmed in Hamilton’s letters and love poems for his wife.
Another reason why Hamilton had decided not to pursue marriage with Louisa sheds again some light on Lady Hamilton; Louisa did not seem to be interested in science, something which for Hamilton “would weaken any affection,” as he wrote to his sister Eliza in 1827. Therefrom it can easily be inferred that Lady Hamilton did like to listen when he was talking about his work and to read about the grinding process of the telescope mirror at Birr [AVM, 182], and she was very proud of his successes. It then was indeed a highlight to have been present at the birth of the quaternions, and have seen something like that happening to her beloved husband.
Now also searching the civil records I found some more info, such as the marriages of three Disney brothers, Thomas, James and Edward. These records did not contain new information, but there was a confirmation; in the handwritten records it can be seen that Dorathea Jane Evans’ first name was indeed written with an -a-. Just as on her headstone, but the Calendars of Wills and Administrations again writes Dorothea. It must have been difficult, to have a name differing so slightly from the usual, but attention should be paid because names are obviously extremely personal.
But more surprisingly, there were also three death records of Sarah Disney’s, of which one exactly matches Catherine’s youngest sister Sarah about whom, together with their sister Patience, I had found information earlier. Sarah is described as a Gentlewoman; in Louisa’s above mentioned marriage record their father Thomas was described as a Gent(leman). It is also given that she was a spinster; it is known from her father’s letter to General Hill [CD, 19] that she was unmarried in 1838. She died in Armagh, and indeed quite a few family members lived in the North. Also the age being exactly right, it seems very likely that the Sarah Disney who died in 1878 in Armagh was indeed the youngest Disney sibling. It is even possible that she also was one of the many relatives Louisa and Catherine had contact with when Catherine lived in Carlingford. But unfortunately, I did not know about her when writing the sketch.
Still missing were the birth an death year of Susan Paton, who married James Disney. Another search yielded some results; she seems to have been born in Banff, Scotland, in 1826, and they had a daughter Susan Disney, who died in November 1940 in Eastbourne, Sussex. Because James Disney’s data given there corresponds exactly with what I had found earlier, and he also died in Eastbourne, this information may be accurate, and the birth year of Susan Paton then was 1826.
It seems that now the list of siblings is complete. And it is of course nice to know that most of my guesses were nearly correct.
The 15 children and 10 children-in-law of Thomas Disney and Anne Eliza Purdon, who married in July 1791, were:
Jane (1792/1793-1865), m. 1813 John Barlow (1791-1876)
William John (1796-1813)
Anne Eliza (1797-1839), m. 1829 John James Disney (1805-1865)
Thomas (1799-1889), m. 1847 Dorathea Jane Evans (1823-1896)
Catherine (1800-1853), m. 1825 William Barlow (1792-1871)
Robert Anthony (1802-1885), m. 1841 Caroline Disney (1810-1855)
Edward Ogle (1804-1882), m. 1854 Matilda Miller (ca 1816-1881)
Henry Purdon (1806-1854)
James (1807-1896), m. 1851 Susan Paton (1826- ..)
Lambert (1808-1867), m. 1835 Anne Henrietta Battersby (ca 1815-1873)
Louisa (1811-1890), m. 1839 Henry Theophilus Hobson (1802/1803- 1847), m. 1850 Alexander Orr Reid (ca 1809-1886)
Update 17 January 2021:
Also about the family of John Barlow and Jane Disney, Catherine’s eldest sister who lived at Sibyl Hill, as given on p. 130 of Catherine’s biographical sketch, I found new information. Moreover, I received extracts from Hugh Disney’s book Disneys of Stabannon. I now have corrected some details in my biographical sketch about this family, and commented on the for this family relevant parts of Hugh Disney’s book: Jane Disney, John Barlow, and their children.
Utrecht, 22 February 2020 — Remarks from Hamilton’s notebook containing notes from 1853
When we were in Trinity College Library last summer, we saw Hamilton’s notebook containing both 1848, the year of Catherine’s suicide attempt, and 1853, the year of her death. The notebook contained the two quotes which were given in the book Myths Exploded, as given below, about Hamilton’s “secret petitions,” clearly showing his distress after Catherine’s death, and James Barlow’s remark, about how terribly unhappy his mother had been.
Yet the notebook contained more surprises, again explaining remarks and events. I had planned to work them out before writing about them, but time and circumstances makes that something for the very long run. I will therefore give them now, and perhaps later write some more, or further correct them.
Very remarkable, but not changing the story as given in Catherine’s biographical sketch, is that apparently Brabazon suffered a severe accident in his childhood, causing him to fall behind at school. Changing the story a bit is that when Catherine died, her sons Brabazon and Arthur were not at home, they were at sea. That means that of her sons only James William and Thomas Disney may have been present when Catherine died.
Quite amazing is that Hamilton wrote about Catherine feeling very guilty about the death of John Lambert, whom they apparently called “Johnnie”; he died in 1849, when he was only eight years old. He died less than a year after her suicide attempt, and she had been afraid that he had died because of her neglect, something she must have told Hamilton in one of their two ‘parting interviews.’ It underpins the idea that she indeed suffered very much from feelings of guilt, as I had suggested in my biographical sketch, yet now it seems to have been even more intense than I had assumed, and lasted until her death instead of until her separation of Barlow, as I had hoped for her.
In that sense even more remarkable is that she did not write her heartbreaking sentence, “to the mercy of God in Christ I look alone, for pardon for all my sins” as a conclusion of the 1848 six-week correspondence, as I had understood, but she said that to Hamilton in one of their parting interviews. It again emphasizes that she remained very unhappy until her very last days, which explains James Barlow’s remark after his mother’s death, that he knew “the change a happy one for her, as she was for so long a time in a very great mental affliction and depression.” It is sad; even her last years were less quiet than I suggested in my sketch; they had seemed unhappy enough already.
All this openly shown unhappiness must also have made the parting interviews even more difficult for Hamilton than I had suggested; he must have been devastated not only because she had loved him and he had not known about it, but also that she was even more unhappy than he had known already. It makes his hatred against Barlow even more understandable, and it is a good thing that he did not have it in him to really act upon such feelings. Without revealing her identity other than to her family and Lady Campbell, he started to write about Catherine and her unhappiness, and wrote very many letters. Which he certainly will have needed, as a married man not being allowed to talk about it openly.
Leaving Parsonstown on 12 September 1848 and returning later that month
Lasty, there was a big surprise. The notebook contains a copy, in shorthand, of a letter sent from the Observatory on 21 September 1848, to James William Barlow, Catherine’s eldest son who apparently was in Carlingford, where his parents and in any case their youngest son Johnnie then lived. It might mean that my suggestion that Hamilton remained in Parsonstown after 12 September is not true. I asked Birr Castle whether they could shed light on the dates of Hamilton’s visit to Parsonstown, if he perhaps left but returned for a second time, but unfortunately, the oldest Visitor’s Book is from 1850. It therewith appears to be beyond my capabilities to really solve this riddle.
Yet it does not say that Catherine wrote her suicide letter in September, as Hankins suggested. While being in Parsonstown Hamilton wrote happy letters about his visit to James William Barlow, which would have been almost cruel had he known that James’ mother just had tried to commit suicide. Likewise, in the letter of 21 September the word Quaternion can be deciphered, and again that would be quite insensitive in such circumstances. Hamilton moreover sent the letter to Carlingford, allowing for the possibility that James’s father would see it, only some weeks after his wife would have tried to commit suicide. Knowing how honest Hamilton was it is completely unimaginable that Hamilton would do something like that, and risk bringing James in such a difficult position.
It is therefore very plausible that Hamilton left Parsonstown on 12 September as he had written the day before, but that he returned again later in September 1848, and thus received Catherine’s suicide letter in October while being in Parsonstown; Graves remarks that “soon after his return to the Dunsink Observatory, [Hamilton] received letters from his noble host and hostess.” Hamilton answered Lady Rosse, who had sent a poem written by Robinson, on 18 October, and he answered Lord Rosse on the 24th, but this delay was due to a search for some early optical investigations which were requested by Lord Rosse [AVM, 285-286]. It does not sound at all as if more than a month had passed since his return to the Observatory.And there were certainly compelling reasons to return to Parsonstown and be able to use Lord Rosse’s gigantic telescope, the Leviathan; on 16 September Hyperion, the eighth moon of Saturn was found, and in any case on 22 September the return of comet Encke was seen. Hamilton always was enthusiastic about astronomical events such as comets and eclipses, and it is very well possible that he could not see Hyperion with the Dunsink instruments. It would not be too surprising if in that case the Royal Astronomer of Ireland would return to Parsonstown to try to see this new moon, and the nights between 21 September and 5 October would be perfect for a search after Hyperion. The rings would not reappear again that year, and on 27 September it would be new moon. On 21 September Saturn would cross the meridian at half past eleven in the evening, just before moonrise, and at 5 October Saturn would cross at half past ten, just after the moon had set. In that time frame, between 21 September and 5 October, in case of clear skies Saturn thus would be seen in moonless circumstances.
That also means that the comet Encke could be seen in ideal circumstances; from its discovery in September until its perihelion in November, it could be seen from the northern hemisphere. The moonless nights around the time of the new moon, on 27 September, would also make trying to observe this phenomenon worthwhile; if not with the Leviathan (the comet may not have crossed the meridian in the night), then perhaps with Lord Rosse’s three-foot telescope, which was still better than the Dunsink telescopes.*
* In 1835 Hamilton wrote to his wife about the three-foot telescope, “it was really surprising to see the great brilliancy of the planets, and even of some stars which were not of the first magnitude. When the tube was nearly, but not exactly, adjusted to Jupiter, so strong a light was thrown upon the side by the reflexion from the mirror, that it reminded me of the light thrown on the ground by a coach-lantern [...]; whereas my largest object-glass does not throw a sensible picture on paper (so far as I remember) of any but the brightest stars and planets.”
Utrecht, 31 August 2019 — Again Catherine’s birth year
In my sketch I reasoned that Catherine could not have been born in 1806 as is often assumed, because her brother Henry Purdon must have been born in 1806, and her brother James in 1807 [AVM, 10 footnote 29]. What I had not discussed was the possibility that Henry and James might have been twins, which is certainly not unthinkable knowing that Henry entered TCD on 1 July 1822, fifteen years old, and James entered TCD on 7 July 1823, sixteen years old.
Yet, Henry and James having been twins seems very unlikely because neither Hamilton nor Graves, nor any text on the Internet Archive I found, mentioned anything about them having been twins. Graves most likely would have mentioned it; he did mention the possibility that uncle James Hamilton had been twins (which he had been indeed). Furthermore, James Disney having entered a year after his brother Henry although they were twins would suggest that there had been a reason that James entered later, something like a very severe illness, and there is no mention of that. Another option could have been that he simply was less intelligent than his brother Henry and needed more time for his entrance preparations, but having been a premium man [Graves 1882, 179], that is also very unlikely.
Unexpectedly I now found this apparently recent entry, Find a Grave -- Rev Henry Purdon Disney in which the headstone of Henry and his father Thomas Disney is shown, they were buried in Tullyvallen-Newtownhamilton, Old Church of Ireland, Newry, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. On the headstone it is written that Henry died on 11 July 1854, and that he was “aged 48 years.” That means that he was born in 1805 or 1806.
Not having assumed Henry and James to be twins, in the above mentioned footnote I had concluded that Henry must have turned sixteen very soon after entrance, and that also seems to be confirmed by the data on the headstone. Of course, especially the accuracy of the entrance record can be doubted, yet until a birth record is found, or a newspaper article showing when he was born exactly, the best available data so far are the entrance record and the headstone, which state that Henry was 15 on 1 July 1822, and 48 on 11 July 1854. The consequence is that he must have turned forty-eight between 1 and 11 July, and that is indeed in accord with my conclusion that he turned sixteen very soon after entrance. If Henry thus was born in July 1806, it is impossible that Catherine was born in 1806.
Utrecht, 11 June 2019 — Catherine’s lineage, a sister, and some quotes
After I had finished my sketch about Catherine, it slowly began to dawn on me that something was wrong with her family tree on the Geni website. In my sketch I had happily mentioned that Catherine’s lineage could be followed up to her first known ancestor, Lambert De Isney, but looking at John Burke’s A genealogical and heraldic history of the commoners of Great Britain and Ireland again, it became obvious that it was impossible. The problem was that to the family of Sir Henry D’Isney (1569-1641) a son, William Disney Sr. (ca 1600-1667), had been added who was not in Burke’s Commoners.
Searching online for more information, it appeared that in his Commoners Burke only gives three sons of Sir Henry D’Isney, namely William (1589-1656), John (1603-1680/1681) and Thomas (1606-..), because the other sons died young. William was from Henry’s first marriage; Burke gives his male lineage which ended in 1722. Burke also gives the lineages of John and Thomas which continue until long after 1622, the estimated birth year of the John Disney of whom it is certain that he was an ancestor of Catherine. It is therefore impossible that Catherine was a descendant of Lambert De Isney in the line of eldest sons and heirs.
I then came across a remarkable book which I had not seen before. I had seen, and quoted from, the 1995 book by Hugh Disney, Disneys of Stabannon, but this 1997 book by Edward Disney, Hugh Disney and Twila Johnson Beck, A Story of Disneys : Some Myths Exploded, was new to me. It then also appeared that this book can freely be read online through FamilySearch, after making an account. The book contains a clear confirmation that the aforementioned William Disney Sr., who came to Ireland as a lieutenant colonel in Cromwell’s army, was the earliest known direct ancestor of Catherine, and that he was not a son of Henry D’Isney. The link between Henry and William in de Geni website has now been removed, and Catherine does not have a direct line to Lambert De Isney any more. Hopefully, someday someone will find out how she was related to this older branch, because it can easily be assumed that they were indeed family, but through someone’s younger brother.
Update 16 January 2021: from information I received it appears that Hugh Disney showed, in his 2002 book Disneys of Norton Disney, 1150-1461 that the existence of this Lambert, who allegedly came with William the Conqueror in 1066, is highly questionable; that the first known use of the surname Disney in Ireland was in 1150, when a William Disney became lord of the manor house and estate of Norton in Lincolnshire, England; that this William was of Norman descent and his ancestors may have lived in Isigny, but that some family trees showing associations with Norton Disney in mediaeval times are incorrect. The first known ancestor of Catherine Disney is therefore indeed Lieutenant Colonel William Disney, who died in 1667. Again according to Hugh Disney it is not known where Lt Col Disney came from, but it is known that he was acknowledged in 1651 as family by William Disney who was married to Bridget Molyneux, and who was the eldest son of Sir Henry Disney (1569-1641).
The book also contained a real surprise. Because in 1838 Thomas Disney had written that he had three unmarried daughters while I had found only two, and of the names of the grandparents only Patience and Coote had not been given to one of the children, I had assumed that Catherine must have had an older sister called Patience, or Patience Coote. Indeed, it is mentioned in Myths exploded that there had been an older sister Patience, who was even born in the year I had guessed, 1795, but sadly, she had died again that same year. I had not thought of that. The missing daughter was, apparently, Sarah, who according to the book was born around 1813, making her one of the youngest Disney children. Thomas and Anne thus had fifteen children instead of the fourteen I had found.
And there were two, to me unknown, quotes in the book, again perfectly fitting Catherine’s terrible story as deduced from the scarce information. The first is from Hamilton, according to Myths Exploded written shortly before Catherine died, and therefore presumably after their ‘parting interviews’ during which Catherine had told Hamilton that she had also loved him, “I rarely hear the Commandments or repeat the Lord’s Prayer without putting up a secret petition that I may never love her too much or Him too little.” The second was made by Catherine’s eldest son James Barlow; after his mother’s death he wrote to his uncle Thomas, “I know the change a happy one for her, as she was for so long a time in a very great mental affliction and depression.” This again heartbreaking remark shows how very difficult her life had been, and therewith explains Hamilton’s great distress around the time of her death.
Utrecht, 24 April 2019 — Thin books and cards
The books have arrived, and I was surprised about how thin they are. I did work on Catherine’s sketch for about half the time I needed for Hamilton’s essay, and I also knew of course that the sketch had much less pages, yet it did not feel so different, also because it was much more difficult to write. The digital world is strange: places on the other side of the earth seem close by, and books do not have comprehensible sizes.
Because my books have been printed in only very small editions, and I wanted to give some of the copies to family and friends, I was worrying about writing in the books; my handwriting is not that good. So Rietje Smeets made two beautiful cards to go with the books, which I can write on and waste until it seems alright.
On the left side of the card for Catherine’s sketch a quote from a poem by Hamilton is given, because there is hardly any description of Catherine; this is one of the few. Beneath it there are three little angels, photographed at the ceiling, or a wall, of Summerhill. I wanted to show it because it was from the house where Catherine and Hamilton saw each other for the first time, but it could also symbolize (not too seriously) Hamilton, Helen Bayly and Catherine Disney, yet without any indication of who is who. The three photos on the right side are all Regency-like scenes. The first is ‘Music lesson’ by Vittorio Reggianini (1858-1938); if Catherine later could play the harp she must have had lessons. The second is a dinner in Regency style, dining together with family and friends or visitors was a very common thing to do, and in Hamilton’s biography indeed very many dinners are mentioned. The third scene is also by Reggianini, see ‘The Letter’, here it represents Catherine and her sister reading Hamilton’s Valentine poem.
On the left side of the card for Hamilton’s essay a quote can be seen about which Hamilton wrote, “Be such my epitaph!” Beneath the quaternion equations are two quaternion fractals, a Mandelbrot and a Julia fractal, see for instance Hypercomplex Fractals. The three photos on the right also have to do with quaternions: they were used in the Space shuttle program, in Tomb Raider making the movements of Lara Croft and her background so smoothly, and for the Hubble telescope. I now regret I did not also give his equations of motion; together with the quaternion equations they symbolise his two major discoveries or inventions, where one of them would have sufficed to make him famous.
Utrecht, 5 April 2019 — The book is with the printer, in the Dutch Royal Library and on Google Books. Red dresses and imagining Catherine vividly
On the 31th of March I finally finished the sketch about Catherine. It has been uploaded to our Royal Library and to Google Books, and the files have been sent to the printer. I am now making an epub.
And of course, the printer’s ink not dry yet (actually, not even wet yet) I found a mistake. In the story of the haunted Rectory in Carlingford, I imagined Catherine as a sixteen year old girl in a red dress. The red dress because the apparition wore one, sixteen because that is what the girl in the red dress said about herself in Hans Holzer’s chapter about the haunted Rectory of Carlingford in Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond.
I then erroneously assumed that Catherine’s red dress would be Victorian,* but she was of course sixteen in the Regency period, and those dresses were quite different from the Victorian dresses. Searching for Regency dresses I saw that they were indeed much smaller than Victorian dresses, therefore perhaps more like Edwardian ones, which would have fitted the story even better. But then I also saw that the Victorian dinner and day dresses were much smaller than I had imagined, apparently, the enormous skirts I mentioned in the footnote were Victorian ball gowns. There is much to know about fashion.
But during these searches I saw a remarkable painting, The Letter, by Vittorio Reggianini (1858-1938). He was born after the Regency but painted scenes apparently from that period, and looking at this painting it struck me how much the woman with the blonde hair looked like Catherine.** Suddenly it was far more easy to see Catherine smile, talk, and play the harp. I then imagined that she showed Hamilton’s Valentine poem to her sister Anne Eliza, and that they reread it together on the couch. There is a fair chance that she really did that, because Anne Eliza befriended Hamilton’s sister Eliza who, perhaps through her, seems to have known what Catherine felt for Hamilton. Tragic, that they could not talk about such things.
* Because twenty more books will be printed, I took the opportunity and corrected the footnote; now Catherine’s apparition is wearing a Regency dress. Where it was possible the books in e-form have been changed accordingly, it is a pity that the one in the Dutch Royal Library cannot be replaced.
** Apparently, that has something to do with the image code (literally translated from Dutch, I did not find a good translation yet) of that period: how an artist should depict people in such way that they would look beautiful (or whatever characteristic trait should be emphasized) in the eyes of their contemporaries. I clearly should have made Catherine’s nose even smaller, as it will have been on the original drawing.
Utrecht, 8 March 2019 — International Women’s Day
Today is International Women’s Day, which seems to be a marvellous day to put the last draft of the sketch about Catherine Disney online at ResearchGate. As a celebration that in most parts of the world forcing women into marriage is not possible any more. Catherine’s life would have been very different and very much happier if she had not been coerced into her loveless marriage, and it is hoped and should be worked towards, that soon all over the world such a practice will become unimaginable, and no woman will lose her life any more in the way Catherine lost hers.
Note added 5 April: That RG link contains the final version now.
Utrecht, 3 November 2018 — 165 years ago, Catherine died. Some info about the sketch I wrote about her
Today 165 years ago Catherine Disney died, five years after she had made an attempt at suicide by taking laudanum. She did not love the man she had been forced to marry, and her unhappiness may have been worsened by the death of two young sons. She survived though, and thereafter lived mainly with family. In her last weeks she was finally able to explain what had happened to her to the love of her life, in two intensely emotional interviews. A golden lining at the end of her very difficult life.
The view on Hamilton given here and in the sketch is motivated extensively in my essay about him, A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton. The events described in the sketch all come from Hamilton’s letters, except what happened during Catherine’s 1845 visit to the Observatory, what happened in Carlingford around Catherine’s suicide attempt in 1848 and when and how she was brought to her brother in Newtown-Hamilton, and whether or not she attended her eldest son’s wedding in 1853.
But because not much is known about Catherine Disney, and nothing is known about her own view on her story, in the sketch that is extrapolated from the scarce information there is about her, yet at the same time firmly based on Hamilton’s observations of how she felt. Even though in some aspects Catherine may have seen things slightly differently, due to Hamilton’s two main biographies there is no doubt about her unhappiness, her love for Hamilton, her love for her children, and her rejection of her husband, and this is the thread which runs through the sketch.
Three of Catherine’s seven sons died young: William Brownlow (1831-1841), Maxwell Close (1837-1838), and John Lambert (1841-1849). Missing here is Catherine’s fifth son Arthur Edward Barlow (1835-1911). Of him no photo was found, but there is an interesting letter from him during his time as Commander on the steamship Nizam. It was written in March 1876, and Arthur Edward describes the saving of a life at sea by a life-buoy, invented by Holmes. In the letter Arthur mentions having had “twenty-five years’s experience at sea,” which means that he went to sea in 1851 when he was sixteen, and two years before Catherine’s death. That is in accord with Hamilton’s remark that Brabazon and Arthur were at sea when their mother died.
For two photos of Brabazon’s wife see Harriette Ellen Guinness.
Publications by Jane Barlow (1856-1917)
In her time Jane Barlow was a very well-known author of poems, short fiction, and novels. This is an overview of her work. Links are given to the open access available copies of her work; only 'Between Doubting and Daring' still is not available online. For readability and findability I transcribed the texts, given here as .txt files, and as .epubs. If my transcriptions contain errors, please let me know.
Bog-land Studies, 1892, here 3rd revised edition 1894, poetry; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Irish Idylls, 1892, short fiction; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
The End of Elfintown, 1894, narrative fairy poetry; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Kerrigan’s Quality, 1894, novel; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Maureen’s Fairing, 1895, short fiction; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Strangers at Lisconnel, 1895, short fiction, dedicated to her deceased sister Mary Louisa Barlow (1866-1887); as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Mrs. Martin’s Company, 1896, short fiction; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
A Creel of Irish Stories, 1897, short fiction, dedicated to her father James William Barlow (1826-1913).
From the East unto the West, 1898, short fiction, dedicated to her sister Katharine Barlow (1857/1858-1929); as text, epub 2, epub 3.
From the Land of the Shamrock, 1900, short fiction.
Ghost-Bereft, 1901, poetry, dedicated to her deceased mother Mary Louisa Barlow (1832-1894); as text, epub 2, epub 3.
At the Back of Beyond, 1902, short fiction; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
The Founding of Fortunes, 1902, novel, the scan here linked to contains an inscription to Katherine Tynan Hinkson (1859-1931); as text, epub 2, epub 3.
By Beach and Bog-Land, 1905, short fiction; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Irish Neighbours, 1907, short fiction, dedicated to her father James William Barlow.
The Mockers and Other Verses, 1908, poetry; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Irish Ways, 1909, short fiction, dedicated to her father James William Barlow; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Flaws, 1911, novel, scanned by Edwin Beune; as text, epub 2, epub 3. In his 1919 review Stephen Brown writes about four wholly new sets of generally disagreeable characters, yet this book does feature recurring characters, and also agreeable people. Because between the very many names the recurring characters are difficult to distinguish I made a Who is Who (beware of spoilers). It doubtlessly contains errors; if you notice one please contact me.
Mac’s Adventures, 1911, short fiction, dedicated to the memory of Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), scanned by Edwin Beune; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Doings and Dealings, 1913, short fiction; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Between Doubting and Daring, 1916, poetry; as text, epub 2, epub 3. The theme from the poem ‘A Knell and a Chime’, “Qui bien aime tard oublie” (“Who loves best forgets slowly”, from Chaucer’s poem ‘The Assembly of Fowls’), is written on her tombstone.
In Mio’s Youth, 1917, novel, scanned by Edwin Beune; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
In 1894 Jane Barlow translated the Batrachomyomachia as The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, 1894, poetry, which she called “an attempt at rendering the most ancient of Greek mock-Heroics into the measure of the most charming of English ones - the Nymphidia of Michael Drayton” (1627). Because the chosen font is largely unreadable for computer programs I made a transcription, as text, epub 2, epub 3.
A novel by Felix Ryark; for me beyond doubt by James William Barlow, but also ascribed to Jane Barlow.
Publications by James William Barlow (1826-1913)
An overview of James William Barlow’s publications, perhaps not complete; when I find other work I will add it. James William wrote theological and historical essays, historical non-fiction, and science fiction. Links are again given in case of open access availability, and transcriptions.
Eternal Punishment and Eternal Death, 1865, essay; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
De Origine Mali, 1872, essay; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
History of Ireland during the period of Parliamentary Independence, 1873, lecture; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Gibbon and Julian, 1879, history, article in Hermathena; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
The Ultimatum of pessimism, 1882, ‘ethical study’; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
A short history of the Normans in south Europe, 1886, history, non-fiction.
History of a World of Immortals without a God, 1891, science fiction; as text, epub 2, epub 3. For a long time there was confusion about who wrote it, as can be seen from the note on the title page. The sf novel was soon withdrawn, perhaps because its mixed reviews might harm the reception of Jane’s first publication, Bog-land Studies, in 1892. It was republished in 1909, under James William’s own name, as The Immortals’ Great Quest.
Doctors at War, 1914, history, non-fiction, no online copy available; as text, epub 2, epub 3.
Sermons by Thomas Disney Barlow (1828-1905)
Catherine’s second son, the reverend Thomas Disney Barlow, published a volume of sermons in 1863, Rays from the Sun of Righteousness.
For comments and corrections please contact me.
While searching for information about Carlingford, where Catherine lived when she made her attempt at suicide, I came across a most remarkable story which concerned ghost stories about a haunted Rectory in Carlingford. In the 1960s a ghost hunter had conjectured that it had been about a romantic tragedy in the mid nineteenth century, involving a girl with golden hair in a red dress and a clergyman. Then it indeed turned out the be the house where the Barlows had lived, in their time called the Glebe House and later the Rectory.
Thinking about Barlow’s side of their story it seemed to me that, strangely enough, it might be visualized by the haunted Rectory. For his times not having made an extraordinary decision when insisting on marrying Catherine, in some way he also was a victim of their strict society. He certainly will have hoped for many years that his marriage would work out after all, and that the beautiful and radiant girl with the golden locks he had fallen in love with so many years ago would return in her if he would be a very good husband. I imagined that while slowly realizing that his wife would remain so sad, only finding solace in her children, the death of two of them in Carlingford made him lose his last hope that his wife would ever become her happy self again, and that for him that town with all its ruins became the embodiment of the ruins of his life. I did not imagine Catherine to be doomed to stay in Carlingford as a ghost, but that the clergyman in the story visualizes Barlow who in his mind stayed in Carlingford forever, chasing the beautiful young girl she once had been, always hoping against all knowledge that in the end she would learn to love him as she should. And who was not able to accept that he finally lost her completely.
Realizing that Catherine made her suicide attempt in 1848 the conclusion about the time of the tragedy, the mid nineteenth century, is certainly remarkable. But ghosts do not seem necessary at all in searching for explanations where the ghost stories came from. Many people must have known about Catherine’s unhappiness and her suicide attempt, in any case their domestic servants. And people talked with her, she was after all the reverend’s wife; they will have noticed long before her attempt that something was wrong. Catherine had to buy the laudanum somewhere, and after her attempt she had to be taken care of. She then left Carlingford, never to return anymore, but for some time Barlow and perhaps the children still lived there. There will have been much talk in town but all in secret, people did not openly gossip about the incumbent. Then, over the generations, they will slowly have forgotten about whom the tragic stories had been told. But that it had happened in the Rectory, that part was well remembered, explaining the legend about the haunted Rectory.