Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tracking the Life and Travels of Vera Louise Beauclerk Mills, Part 1

What an exciting World Cup match yesterday! The U.S. and England put on quite a show, and despite U.S. expert predictions of a hard-fought American 2-1 win and British prognostications of an easy 3-1 win, no one hit the nail on the head. In the States with our less-than-complete understanding of all of this, it's said that a tie is like kissing your sister. That's why we're still adjusting to games without clear-cut winners and losers on a global stage.

Speaking of the global stage, one character in our story of George Mills who could claim to be an international entity would be his wife, Vera Louise Beauclerk. Let's turn back the clock a bit…

As we know, Sir Robert Hart [pictured, right], 1st Baronet, G.C.M.G., [20 February 1835 – 20 September 1911], was a
British consular official in China, who served from 1863-1911 as the second Inspector General of China's Imperial Maritime Custom Service (IMCS). After his retirement, Hart became Pro-Chancellor of Queen’s University.

Hart's first daughter, Evelyn "Evey" Amy Hart [b. 1869 in China; d. 10 June 1933], married William Nelthorpe Beauclerk [born 7 April 1849] on 5 September 1892 in Peking, China. Beauclerk, twenty years her senior, was of the lineage of the Duke of St. Albans, and eventual consul to Peru, where he died in Lima on 5 March 1908.

They had spent enough time on the same continent to have had two children, Vera Louise Beauclerk, born on 21 September 1893, and Hilda de Vere Beauclerk on 21 January 1895. The girls were also born in China, Vera apparently in the Chefoo British Consulate in Chefoo, Shan-Tung. There is a record on, however, that lists Vera's birthplace as "Wafangdian, Fu Xian, Liaoning, China."

Vera sailed out of Sydney, Australia, on 10 March 1913 on the S.S. Marama with her mother and sister, Hilda. She is listed as being 19 years old at the time, and the family is listed as "tourists" traveling to a final destination in London, England. Other details of that ship's manifest [pictured in excerpts below, left] assure us that each family member could both read and write, that each one was in possession of at least $50 at the time, and that Evelyn had visited the U.S. once for 3 months and had toured "all over," while the 1913 landing in Honolulu was the first visit to the United States for both daughters. The trio is listed as being in "good" mental and physical health, as not being "polygamists" or "anarchists," and are all listed as having been born in Peking, China.

The manifest states that, as citizens of England, they are going "home," and describes the physical appearance of each: Mrs. Beauclerk and Vera Louise both being 5 foot 6 inches tall, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a "dark" complexion. Hilda is also 5' 6", but with "straw" hair [straw-colored? strawberry blonde?], green eyes, and a "fair" complexion.

They arrived in Honolulu on 21 March.

In that year of 1913, Mrs. Beauclerk would have been traveling as a widow with her teen-aged girls.

The next shipping manifest on which we find the ladies listed is dated over six years later [right]. The trio embarked from New York and arrived in London on the 'Saxonia' on 5 May 1919. Although there is less on this manifest, there is still information to be gleaned.

The ladies, now aged 50, 25, and 27 [although the girls' ages are reversed, and Vera is actually only 26], list their address as both "Honk Kong-Shangai Bank." and "9 Grace Street London E C." Their occupations are given as "None."

They list their "Country of Intended Future Permanent Residence" as "England." Very interestingly, however, they list their "Country of Last Permanent Residence" as having been the "USA"—that being defined on the manifest as: "By Permanent Residence is to be understood residence for a year or more."
Thus, we find the Beauclerk women entering the United States via Honolulu in 1913 and departing via New York in 1919 for London. In between, the only thing we can be sure of is that they spent "a year or more" as "permanent residents" in the USA immediately before their departure for England. There is no record of them leaving or re-entering the United States between 1913 and 1919.

Wikipedia describes the state of Atlantic shipping during that time, at the onset of the First World War: "Many of the large liners were laid up over the autumn/winter of 1914-1915, in part due to falling demand for passenger travel across the Atlantic, and in part to protect them from damage due to mines or other dangers. Among the most recognizable of these liners, some were eventually used as troop transports, while others became hospital ships."

Did the Beauclerks initially stay in the U.S. either for fear of crossing the Atlantic to England, or because they had difficulty making arrangements due to declining departures? Were they simply the self-described "tourists" of the Marama's manifest, or did Mrs. Beauclerk have family and/or friends with whom they could connect and stay? After all, she had once traveled "all over" the U.S. for months without her daughters, and that may not have been alone. Is it also possible there were relatives in Canada?

Wikipedia continues: "By early 1915 a new threat began to materialize: submarines. At first they were used by the Germans only to attack naval vessels, and they achieved only occasional – but sometimes spectacular – successes. Then the U-boats began to attack merchant vessels at times, although almost always in accordance with the old cruiser rules. Desperate to gain an advantage on the Atlantic, the German Government decided to step up their submarine campaign. On 4 February 1915 Germany declared the seas around the British Isles a war zone: from 18 February Allied ships in the area would be sunk without warning."

The same Wikipedia entry goes on to say: "At the end of 1917 Allied shipping losses stood at over 6 million GRT for the year overall… [but] by 1918, U-boat losses had reached unacceptable levels, and the morale of their crews had drastically deteriorated; by the autumn it became clear that the Central Powers could not win the war. The Allies insisted that an essential precondition of any armistice was that Germany surrender all her submarines, and on 24 October 1918 all German U-boats were ordered to cease offensive operations and return to their home ports."

By the end of 1918, one can assume that the waters of the North Atlantic were again safe to travel, and the Beauclerks continued their long-delayed journey to London—a journey that could conceivably have taken them six years to complete!
Specifically regarding the Saxonia, here's information from the Cunard Line, via "The outbreak of World War I, in July 1914, forced a change in the [passenger] ship's role. After returning to Liverpool the Saxonia sailed to the Thames to be used as a POW accommodation ship. It soon returned to the company's service and, between May 1915 and October 1916, made several voyages from Liverpool to New York. It was not until 1917 that the Saxonia was again requisitioned by the government, this time to carry troops and cargo between Liverpool and New York. After the war ended the ship was employed transporting American troops from France home to New York. This task was completed by April 1919 and the Saxonia was free to return to commercial service."

The Beauclerks were on board the Saxonia during that first post-WWI trip from New York to Plymouth and London. Why they chose not to sail on passenger cruises between May 1915 and October 1916 is open to conjecture, but it seems likely that while fear may have played into the decision to stay in the U.S., they must also have been in a comfortable situation somewhere over here and were willing to wait for an end to the hostilities.

The Beauclerks would have arrived at 9 Grace Street in London [pictured, left] soon after leaving the Saxonia on 5 May 1919. George Ramsay Acland Mills arrives at Christ Church with his father, Rev. Barton Mills, on 19 October 1919, so the future bride and groom are finally both in London! By 19 October, George was 23 and Vera was 27 years of age.

By the time of the nuptials of Miss V. L. Beauclerk and Mr. G. R. A. Mills on 23 April 1925, Mrs. Beauclerk is residing at "4, Hans-mansion, S.W." according to The Times. While entering that "Hans-mansion" address into Google Maps only turns up a location near Datça, Turkey, I can find a "Hans" area very close to the Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, where George and Vera were wed and the hotel where their reception was held. It's also a stone's throw from "Cadogen Gardens, S.W." where we found George's sisters, Agnes and Violet Mills, living with an unknown "Barbara Mills" in 1938.

In fact, the Mills' homes in both Cranley [Cranleigh] and Onslow Gardens were less than a mile to the southwest of the area of the wedding, making Kensington the hotbed of Mills family activity between the wars in the early 20th century.

Anyway, George Mills spent time at Christ Church [below, left] from October 1919 through May 1921. On the 21st of May that year, Mills entered Oxford. How long he stayed at Oxford is unknown because he neither takes his final examinations nor a degree.

By 1925, however, he is employed as an Oxford graduate at Windlesham House School, then in Portslade, and begins teaching in "Lent 1925." I'm not exactly sure when that term began, but in 1925, Ash Wednesday fell on February 25.

Two months later, Mills was married. I think it's safe to assume from the size of his wedding and location of the reception, it had been planned for some time. Is it safe to say he proposed marriage to Vera and asked for her hand in 1923 or early 1924?

How and when George met Vera is unknown. Their families obviously lived within the same London district, and perhaps they all attended Holy Trinity there in Brompton. By the early 1920's, though, George's brother, Arthur, and sister-in-law, Lady Dorothy Mills, are gaining notoriety as novelists, so perhaps George was invited to functions in exclusive literary circles where he became acquainted with Vera.

No matter how they met, the couple set sail in matrimony in 1925, after Vera, born in China, had probably spent years in the United States.

Next time we'll take a look at Vera's life after her marriage and, unfortunately, her early death. Until then, however, I'd like to extend many thanks to Alan Ramsay and his work on for linking the Beauclerks to the Saxonia's manifest—and for opening up a new line of research for me!

[To read Part 2 right now, click HERE.]

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