Wednesday, February 24, 2021

500. The Two Husbands of Edith Catherine or 'Ryllis' Broadbent

This blog about the adventurous but partly secretive life of one of Charles Shannon's models is written by Armand Robichaud and Paul Delaney. Robichaud, trained in geography and urbanism in Moncton and Montréal, has written two books on the Robichaud family genealogy. Delaney has written about the history of the Acadians, and is the author of Charles Ricketts's biography. Both are distant relatives of William Robichaud, the second husband of Edith Broadbent (later Hacon, later Robichaud). I would like to express my sincere thanks to the authors for this special contribution.

The Two Husbands of Edith Catherine or 'Ryllis' Broadbent, William Llewellyn Hacon and William Joseph Robichaud

The life of Edith Catherine or 'Ryllis Broadbent has intrigued historians of the 1890s, since she was involved in both the literary and the artistic world of the time. Yet, she is an elusive character. Consistently, in her two marriage records, she claimed that she was the daughter of John Broadbent and Margaret Rayment, but no such couple occurs in the civil marriage records or in the censuses of 1871, 1881 or 1891. According to the age she gave in various records, she was born about 1874/5, but there is no civil birth record for her and no mention of her in the censuses. She should certainly be somewhere in the census of 1881. In the record of her first marriage, she claims that her father was a gentleman. In that of her second marriage, she says he was an artist painter. All the above unanswered questions lead us to doubt these assertions. 

William Rothenstein, 'Portrait of a Lady'
[from: The Yellow Book, Volume 1 (April 1894)]

She is sometimes said to have been born in London. However, she told her niece by marriage, Cecily Hacon, that she had come down to London with a friend and became an artist's model (note 1). In this role, she called herself Muriel or Mu Broadbent. In 1894, she inscribed a photo of herself with 'All my love Yours Mukins' (note 2). She had an opulent beauty and golden auburn hair, reminiscent of the women painted by Titian and Rossetti. In a memoir of Herbert Horne, Arthur Symons recalled her thus: 'She was frightfully nice and kind to me; one of those women who are sensual and excitable though not passionate. There was something bright and attractive about her, apart from her erotic nature...' (note 3). 

Though the origins and early life of Edith Broadbent, or Ryllis Hacon, have proved unfathomable, her days as a beautiful muse and model are better documented (note 4). 'Edith' being too prosaic a name for such a beauty, she was dubbed Amaryllis, or 'Ryllis. She occurs in the memoirs and the biographies of several artists and writers of the 1890s. Herbert Horne set her up in a flat in London. He was succeeded by Arthur Symons, who wrote a poem to her and a fictionalized account based on her life in three stories, the first two of which published in The Savoy (note 5). She posed for the 'Portrait of a Lady' by William Rothenstein, published in the first volume of the Yellow Book in April 1894 (p. 150). To him in 1899, she inscribed a photo of herself.

'Ryllis Hacon, photo portrait
with handwritten dedication to William Rothenstein, 1899
[Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas:
Carl Woodring collection on Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. Series IV, Box 2, Folder 15.]

or Charles Shannon, she posed for 'In the House of Delia', which he did in several versions, in oil, pastel and lithography, and for his lovely 'Lady with a Chinese Fan' (note 6).

Charles Shannon, 'Mrs. Hacon (Lady with a Chinese Fan)' (1900)
[Dublin City Gallery: 'The Lady with the Green Fan']

According to her niece, Cecily Hacon, she also posed for a 'portrait of a mermaid (Ryllis) out of a boat with lots of men' (note 7). This must be an early version of 'The Mermaid' (1909), depicting a man leaning out of a boat to embrace a mermaid in the water. In this painting, there is only one man. This too was done both as an oil and a lithograph (1918).

Charles Shannon, 'The Mermaid' (lithograph, 1918)

The hair colour of the girl in the painting would be consistent with Edith being the model. Charles Ricketts did a portrait of her sculpted in gold in a jewel commissioned by her first husband in 1900. She bequeathed it to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Before her marriage in 1895, Ricketts and Shannon gave her a copy of George Meredith's Jump to Glory Jane, one of a special issue of a hundred copies, inscribed to 'Ryllis Broadbent fro: C.R.& C.H.S.' in Shannon's hand (note 8).

It was through a pastel drawing of her by Rothenstein that she came to the attention of William Llewellyn Hacon. Rothenstein had met her at the Vale, and the pastel he did of her was exhibited at a joint show with Shannon in May 1894. Hacon bought the drawing He was a barrister by education, but, having private means, he never took a brief. A widower, he had lost his first wife in childbirth. Through Rothenstein, Hacon was able to meet the original sitter for his drawing, when they were both invited for a day’s yachting at the Isle of Wight.

Charles Shannon, 'Llewellyn Hacon' (lihograph, 1896)
[British Museum, London: 1899,0321.14]
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.]

Rothenstein also introduced Hacon to Ricketts, and Hacon invested in the printing venture that Ricketts was hoping to set up. Thus was founded the firm of Hacon and Ricketts, the Vale Press. Hacon, a sleeping partner, got a good return on his investment when the press was wound up in 1904, but the final financial settlement gave little return to Ricketts, on whose hard work and talent the entire success of the venture had depended. This led to awkwardness between them. On 11 November 1904, Ricketts wrote in his diary: 'Hacon to dinner, we found it difficult at times to avoid forbidden subjects' (note 9). It was perhaps for this reason that Hacon left Ricketts 100 pounds in his will, one of only three bequests apart from that to his wife.


After her marriage to William Llewellyn Hacon at the fashionable St Margaret's Church, Westminster, London, on 18 February 1895, she still moved in artistic circles. Hacon was very sociable and good company. Ricketts and Shannon had moved to Beaufort Street in late 1894, and the newlyweds took over the lease of their house at the Vale where they entertained Ricketts and Shannon, Max Beerbohm, Charles Conder, Laurence Binyon, Rothenstein and others. The Hacons also received Conder and Toulouse Lautrec at their flat on Aguado Street in Dieppe. At Oversteps, their Scottish retreat at Dornoch in the north of Scotland, Conder came for a long stay in the summer of 1896. There he painted Edith twice. She was the model in ‘The Shore at Dornoch’, which the artist inscribed 'To Mrs Ryllis of Dornoch' and presented to her (note 10). This lovely work is often reproduced, and she appears also to have posed for the lesser known painting, 'The Ord of Caithness'.

Charles Conder, 'The Ord of Caithness' (oil on canvas, 1896)
Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums]

However, the Hacon's marriage soon came under strain. Edith had gained weight and Hacon was drinking too much. On 25 June 1904, Ricketts wrote in his diary: 'Hacon made a confession of failure, the failure of affection, lust, companionship, daily habits. I believe I said things I did not quite believe as consolation, though I have felt also at an age when one puts one's house in order. Hacon again made reference to his undue share in firm. I felt embarrassed' (note 11). On 7 December 1904, Ricketts made the following enigmatic entry: 'tragic grub with Hacon and his wife'. On the same date, Shannon wrote in his diary: 'Dine with Hacon at Monaco Grill Room [...] Had most uncomfortable dinner with Hacon who arrived apparently drunk & spent the evening in insulting his wife. He afterwards ran away & we ... met him later at his rooms.' (note 12).


The Hacons are listed at Oversteps, Dornoch, in the 1901 census, along with a cook and a maid. They had moved to Scotland because they found life in London too expensive and because Hacon loved golf and yachting. Dornoch was (and still is) the home of a famous golf club, The Royal Dornoch Golf Club. founded in 1616. Hacon was elected to the town council, which pleased him very much. In about 1906, the Hacons had planned to return to London, and had packed up, but their plans were changed when a friend Margaret—known as 'Daisy'—Davidson, was looking for a place to stay. They took her in, and she never left. A school teacher, she acted as a buffer and helper in the house. When Hacon wanted to drink, Edith could never refuse him the key to the cellar, so she gave the key to Daisy who could say no (note 13). Daisy is listed as a ‘boarder’ in the 1911 census, but there were also three visitors listed as living in the house. Edith took in guests, among them, Herbert Asquith (1852–1928), Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916, who stayed at Oversteps every year.


Upon Hacon's early death on 23 July 1910 at only forty-nine years old, Edith was the principal beneficiary of his estate. She continued to live at Oversteps, a large house with twelve rooms that had one or more windows. Now she was well off; the 1911 census noted that she had 'private means'. With her racy and glamorous life behind her, Edith devoted herself to philanthropic works, to the suffragette movement, to the Liberal party and to the Girl Guides. She contributed to setting up 'The White Rest', a rest home for Irish Catholic girls working in the herring fishery in Scotland. In 1911, she offered a solid brass tabernacle and flowers to the new Catholic church at Lerwick in the Shetlands. For her work with Girl Guides, she received the Special Services Medal from Lady Baden-Powell.


Little has been published about her second marriage. On 30 October 1918, she married a French-Canadian, William Robichaud (born 25 April 1886), lumberman, at St Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Cathedral in Aberdeen. At some point earlier, she had converted to Catholicism. Her new husband was the son of the late Olivier Robichaud, a teacher and Justice of the Peace, and the late Marie-Claire Légère of Tracadie Beach, in northern New Brunswick, Canada. Nine years younger than she was, he was five feet five inches tall, had black hair and grey eyes. He was an Acadian, a descendant of early French settlers in Canada's Maritime provinces who are distinct from the better known French population in Québec.

William Robichaud in his late teens or early twenties
[Private collection]

The ninth of eleven children, William lost his father when he was only fourteen. At the age of twenty-nine, he enlisted in the 55th Canadian Infantry on 20 April 1915 as a gasoline engineer. He sailed for England from Montréal on the SS Corsican (Allan Lines) on 30 October 1915, arriving on 9 November. In the army, he had a chequered career, being promoted three times, only to be demoted each time. After being first stationed at Westenhanger in Kent in southern England, he arrived in France on 15 April 1916. Shortly afterwards, on 3 June, he was wounded at the battle of Mount Sorrel, near Ypres in Belgium, having suffered a gunshot wound in the chest and a punctured lung. He was admitted to the Camiers Military Hospital in Pas-de-Calais, France, on 4 June. Then, on the 16th, he was transferred to England, to the Folkestone Canadian Air Base, and afterwards was at the North General Hospital in Newcastle-upon Tyne until 15 July. Finally, he completed his treatments at the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bear Wood, in Wokingham, Berkshire, where he spent over a month, and was discharged on 24 August 1916.


It is often stated that William met Edith in a military hospital in France. Indeed, this is what Miss Cecily Hacon believed (note 14). Edith did work in a hospital there operated entirely by women volunteers from Scotland. Called The Scottish Women's Hospital at Royaumont, it was located in a huge, ancient Cistercian monastery in Asnières-sur-Oise, France. Her good friend, Margaret Davidson was also there. There, Edith worked as a nurse orderly and as superintendent of the kitchen, known as 'Mother Hacon' or 'Head of Char'. She was responsible for overseeing the kitchen staff, for supervising the work of the seamstresses, who made and repaired uniforms, and for organizing teas and field hockey matches to keep up morale of the soldiers. 

Abbey de Royaumont (photo: Clicsouris, 2010)
[Creative Commons license]

She was there from 1 February 1915 to 1 February 1917, and for her service she was awarded the 'Médaille des épidemies' (silver) by the French government and the British War Medal and the British Victory Medal by the British Government. As we have seen, William was in France from 15 April to 16 June 1916, but he is not known ever to have been at or even near Royaumont. Ypres, where he was wounded, is about 150 km, and the hospital at Camiers, where he was first treated, is over 200 km, from Royaumont. Nor has any record been found of her working elsewhere in France. It is therefore not known how they could have met in a military hospital in France.


What is more certain is what enabled them to carry out their courtship. After his release from hospital, William was transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps, and his last posting was with Company 129 in District 51 in the north of Scotland. The company operated two sawmills in Dornoch. Company 129 operated Sawmill no 2 there after 22 November 1917, so William must have been in Dornoch at that time. About a year later, a few days before the Armistice, William and Edith were married.


Five months after their marriage, William, aged thirty-three, and Edith, aged forty-two, left for Canada on the SS Lapland from Liverpool to St John, New Brunswick, on 2 June 1919, arriving on the ninth. The day after his arrival, William was demobilized. He had promised to build Edith a 'chateau' in Canada. First, he built a sawmill, so that he could cut the wood, and then, using the most modern materials and techniques, he constructed the house at 37 rue de la Pointe des Robichaud, in Tracadie Beach With its large projecting central dormer, its three gables and its hardwood panelling in the dormer, it was certainly more elaborate than most houses in the village. It had two sitting rooms and four bedrooms. For her part, Edith generously financed his business ventures. She is listed with William at Tracadie Beach in the 1921 Canadian census along with 'une fille adoptive', Lydia Robichaud, William's niece.


However, life in a remote, small French-speaking fishing and lumbering community with long, snowy, harsh winters did not agree with Edith (note 15). She returned without her husband to live in Scotland. Cecily Hacon said that Edith had gone to Canada twice, the second time with her two adopted sons (note 16). So she must have gone back to Scotland, and then returned to Canada before 18 September 1927, when she made a final departure from Canada for Scotland on the ship Athenia, with her sons Antony aged eight and Raymond aged seven. She also took back with her Lydia Robichaud, aged fifteen or sixteen, who was never legally adopted but who remained with her and married in Scotland. However, this was not a final break between William and Edith. Ties between him and her and their sons were maintained. Ten years later, on 19 June 1937, Antony left Greenoch on the Antonia to visit his father in Tracadie, and on 31 July 1938 William and his son Raymond set sail for England on the Aurania to visit their family in Scotland. Edith kept using the name Robichaud.

Oversteps, Dornoch (1910)
[History Links Archive, photographer unknown]

Edith Robichaud died at Glasgow on 29 August 1952, aged seventy-seven. In her will dated 7 March 1951, she made many bequests, to her children, her nieces, her friends, her doctor, her parish priest, her domestic help, the Mother Superior of a Convent in Aberdeen, and she even left 100 pounds to William's sister Marguerite Gautreau in Tracadie, but to William himself she bequeathed nothing. However, in a second codicil dated 24 March of that year, she explained, 'Considering what sums I have already expended and sunk in his business enterprises I hereby leave to my husband William Joseph Robichaud a legacy of Two Hundred and fifty Pounds Sterling and I hope that he will find it of some assistance' (note 17). No member of her own family attended her funeral or was mentioned in her will. She was buried alongside her first husband in the cemetery of the Free Church in Dornoch.


When Edith's lawyers made a search for William Robichaud so as to send on Edith's bequest to him, they found that he was in jail. On his release from prison, William carried on with his business, manufacturing windows, doors and furniture. In 1954, he moved to Saint-Camille-de-Lellis special care home in Bathurst, New Brunswick, where he lived for eight years, receiving room and board in return for his services as a cabinet-maker. He died aged seventy-six on 26 August 1962 and was buried in Bathurst.


                                                                Paul Delaney and Armand Robichaud

1. Interview with Paul Delaney, 22 January 1977. Miss Cecily Hacon knew Edith well, and her information has proved to be reliable. She was one of the beneficiaries of Edith's will.
2. Information from the late Prof Ian Fletcher of Reading University.
3. The manuscript is at Princeton University. Information from the late Prof Ian Fletcher. 
4. There is an article on her as 'Edith Hacon' in Wikipedia, which has furnished some details for this article.
5. These are 'Pages from the Life of Lucy Newcome', in The Savoy, no 2 (April 1896), pp. 147-160; 'The Childhood of Lucy Newcome',  in The Savoy, no 8 (December 1896), pp. 51-61; and 'The Life and Adventures of Lucy Newcome'. The third story was published posthumously by Alan Johnson in English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, vol 28, no 4 (1985) pp. 332-335.
6. Now in the Dublin City Gallery, Ireland.
7. Interview with Paul Delaney, 22 January 1977.
8. Formerly collection of John Russell Taylor, cf. Catalogue of Illustrated and Private Press Books. The Property of John Russell Taylor. London, Bloomsbury Book Auctions, 20 November 1996, no. 9.
9. British Library, MS 58102.
10. Now in the collection of the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum.
11. British Library, Ma 58102.
12. British Library, Ms 58116.
13. Most of this paragraph is form the interview with Miss Cecily Hacon, 22 January 1977.
14. Interview with Paul Delaney, 22 January 1977.
15. Though Dornoch is much further north than Tracadie, the winters are not so long, so snowy or so harsh as they are in Canada.
16. Interview with Paul Delaney, 22 January 1977.
17. Sheriff Court of Caithness, Sunderland, Orkney and Zetland, Dornoch.