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Gertrude Colmore

2012 March 16
colmore statue

C.L.Hartwell 's statue dedicated to Gertrude and Harold Baillie Weaver in Regent's Park

This is a summary of my entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Gertrude Baillie – Weaver [née Gertrude Renton; known as Gertrude Colmore] (1855-1926), writer, feminist and animal campaigner, was born in Kensington. She married Henry Arthur Colmore Dunn, who died in the 1890s and then barrister, Harold Baillie-Weaver (1860-1926). He was a supporter of feminism and, like his wife, a humanitarian, theosophist, and campaigner for animals.

Gertrude’s reputation as a writer, using the name Gertrude Colmore, has rested upon two suffrage works reissued in the 1980s. Her novel Suffragette Sally (1908) was reissued in 1984 under the title The Suffragettes: a Story of Three Women and her hagiographic account The Life of Emily Davison, originally written as an extended obituary after Emily Wilding Davison died in 1913, attempting to gain publicity for the suffrage cause by grabbing the reins of the king’s horse at the Derby, was reissued in 1988 as The Life and Death of Emily Wilding Davison. However, Gertrude’s output was much broader, including poetry, short stories, pamphlets, and a number of melodramatic novels dealing with social, political, and animal issues .

Gertrude’s use of melodramatic narratives and devices is most strikingly found in three of her novels that deal directly with the suffering of animals: The Angel and the Outcast (1907), Priests of Progress (1908), and A Brother of the Shadow (1926). In The Angel and the Outcast Gertrude explores the nature/nurture debate in the context of the morally contaminating Deptford slaughterhouses. The novel focuses on the lives of two sisters born in its environs. Yan, who remains in the area, becomes an alcoholic adoring her estranged sister, Lilian, from afar never revealing her sisterly relationship. Lilian, having been adopted by a ‘lady’ in South Kensington grows up to develop into an ‘angel’. A key section of the novel is a murder of a slaughterman by Bill, the estranged lover of Yan, and himself also a slaughterman. Bill enraged by his colleague’s apparent brutality towards the ox they were both killing is depicted as having some sense of humanity and fair play. Later the barrister Rupert Haste, who subsequently marries the ‘angel’, Lady Lilian Mallingham, defends his client Bill on the grounds that he is forced by the society of which he is a unit to do brutalizing work but has redeemed himself morally by killing his fellow worker who was carrying out his job as a form of wanton torture.Improbably, Bill is found not guilty.

So forceful was her anti-vivisection message in Priests of Progress (1908) that it was condemned by physiologists in the Research Defence Society, who discussed how to mount a ‘counter-attack’. Her last book, A Brother of the Shadow (1926), developed such themes. The villain, a professor of physiology, exercises power over men, women, and animals, using hypnotic and devilish powers to coerce them to self-destruction. The villain is Sergius Donnithorne, a foreigner, who is both a cold and rational professor of physiology and a worshipper of the devil. His cruelty – epitomised in the first pages of the  novel when a dog is set upon a cat to silence it as the cat’s noise was preventing Donnithorne from working  -is depicted here as ‘the essence of black magic’. The young heroine Jessica is particularly vulnerable and she dreams of her own death waking up alive in a coffin. Indeed she is almost burnt alive at Golders’ Green crematorium and rescued thanks only to the quasi-divine intervention of John Scott. Scott is a very particular deus ex machina since he is described as a member of the White Brotherhood, which  ‘holds the darkness back’. These extra terrestrial powers are such that when Donnithorne in the final dénouement is confronted by Scott in Richmond Park, Donnithorne dies as if struck by lightning.

Gertrude’s suffrage and animal campaigning fiction drew on her contemporary political activity and the humanitarian milieu in which she lived. From 1910 she sat on the management committee of the pioneering Battersea Hospital, an anti-vivisection establishment for the local poor, which forbade experiments on animals and patients alike.

Gertrude supported the militant suffrage organization the Women’s Freedom League, which published a collection of her campaigning suffrage stories entitled Mr Jones and the Governess [1913].

Harold and Gertrude joined the fashionable central London branch of the Theosophical Society in 1906. Harold was general secretary of the society in England from 1916 to 1921; he was active in their anti-vivisection group, the Starry Cross, and, as chairman of the European Theosophical Federation, was described by theosophist colleagues as ‘a tower of calm and peaceful strength’.

Gertrude wrote pamphlets for the Theosophical Society on progressive ideals in education and against cruelty to animals.. Gertrude and Harold’s empathy with, and practical help for, animals was exemplified by their membership of the National Canine Defence League (now Dogs Trust). Harold chaired the 1910 annual general meeting and, to loud and prolonged cheers, he supported the sentiments of the guest speaker, Women’s Freedom League president Charlotte Despard, declaring ‘the sooner you get women’s suffrage, the sooner will you succeed in emancipating dogs from cruelty’ . With Ernest Bell of the Humanitarian League he wrote a pamphlet, Horses in Warfare (1912), exposing the plight of horses in the Second South African War and calling for the extension of the Geneva convention to include them.

After their marriage  they moved to Newport, near Saffron Walden, Essex, where Gertrude was local secretary both of the NCDL branch and of the animal welfare group Our Dumb Friends’ League (later Blue Cross). As supporters of the Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society they also campaigned for the humane slaughter of animals. In the 1920s they moved to Wimbledon, Surrey, with the intention of acting as guardians to Krishnamurti, hailed by the theosophists as a new messiah. Harold died in March 1926. Gertrude survived him by only eight months.

Hartwell’s statue Protecting the Defenceless, dedicated to them for their pioneering work in founding the National Council for Animals’ Welfare Work, stands in the St John’s Lodge public gardens of Regent’s Park  in London as a reminder of their important activity.

See Traces and representations: animal pasts in London’s present in  The London Journal (vol 36: 1) March, 54-71 for more on memorials in London

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. margarida permalink
    June 16, 2012

    Very interesting article about Gertrude Colmore, specially because I only knew her feminist side. Are there any photos of her? I’m thinking of publishing one of her short stories in Portuguese, but I have no images.

    • Hilda Kean permalink
      June 17, 2012

      Thanks for your comment.Gertrude Colmore was not unique as a suffrage activist in being a campaigner for animals. See, for example, my Smooth Cool Men of Science. I researched Gertrude Colmore quite extensively and looked at material in various locations including the Theosophical Society Archives and various animal charities but unfortunately never came across an image of her (or her husband Harold Baillie Weaver). I have recently read an interesting article in Animal Pictorial for November 1938 that has extensive coverage of the statue to the Baillie Weavers and their animal campaigning but, again, no image.

      What story are you thinking of publishing? Apart from Suffragette Sally that was re-issued in Britain in the 1980s by Virago as far as I am aware none of her other books /stories has even been reprinted in English – and copies of the originals are rare.

      • margarida permalink
        June 19, 2012

        Oh well, no image then… but thank you anyway.
        I’m thinking of publishing “The introduction” in a collection of several short stories about strong feminine characters (if everything goes according to plan it will be released in October.) I found this story by chance in “Literature Of The Women’s Suffrage Campaign In England”, a volume published in 2004.

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