Friday, 26 June 2020

How Murphy bought a title
from the Pope and saw his
daughter marry a Wolseley

The confirmation by Pope Leo XIII of Anita Murphy, later Lady Wolseley … a painting in the Villa Magistrale on the Aventine in Rome identified by Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen

Patrick Comerford

I wrote last Saturday [20 June 2020] of my memories of Sir Charles Wolseley, and how his plans for the Wolseley estate in the late 1980s and the 1990s eventually led to financial disaster and, finally, the loss of the Wolseley estate, which had been in his family for 1,000 years.

But a century earlier, in the 1880s, another Sir Charles Wolseley – the ninth baronet and the great-grandfather of the late eleventh baronet – also thought he was going to save the Wolseley estate from threatened financial ruin when he married a rich and titled Irish-American heiress who had been confirmed by Pope Leo XIII and whose father had been given the papal title of marchese or marquess.

This Sir Charles was born in 1846. Already the income from the family estates had been diminished by the exploits of his father and grandfather – both also named Sir Charles Wolseley – and his aunt Marianne Wolseley, as I wrote last night (25 June 2020), had managed to avoid her own possible financial and social ruin in 1834 when she married Count Francis Baruch Lousada (1813-1870), a member of a rich family of sugar planters in Jamaica who had bought his own aristocratic titles from the Duke of Tuscany.

While the Irish branch of the Wolseley family were well-known members of the Church of Ireland with many senior clergy, including deans and archdeacons, the Staffordshire branch of the family had become Roman Catholics by the end of the 18th century, and married into some of the best-known Staffordshire Catholic families, including the Clifford, Talbot and Weld families.

Sir Charles Wolseley (1846-1931) of Wolseley Hall, the ninth baronet and a Roman Catholic, seems to have taken his aunt Marianne as a role model, deciding to marry into a wealthy family, with a title that had been bought, and with the hope of rescuing lost fortunes and social status.

Esther (née Chichester) Grehan wrote from London in 1882 to her husband in Dublin, Stephen Grehan (1859-1937), a solicitor, describing how Sir Charles came to London to look for an heiress. (I was interested to note that Stephen Grehan was descended through his mother from the Langton and Comerford families of Danganmore Castle, Co Kilkenny.)

In her letters, filled with snobbish elitism and scathing disdain, Esther Grehan describes how Sir Charles was introduced to two Irish-American Murphy sisters from San Francisco, who were ‘vulgar but pretty.’ He fell in love, but had a reputation as a fortune hunter, and was distraught when he was rejected. But in 1883, he married the elder sister, Anna Theresa (Anita) Murphy.

Anna Theresa or Anita Murphy was one of the four daughters of the Irish-American entrepreneur Daniel T Murphy, founder of the pioneer house of Murphy, Grant & Co, who was then living in San Francisco.

Anita, her sisters and her mother had moved to London, and moved in fashionable circles in England and Europe. Anita was confirmed by People Leo XIII and was presented at the Court of Saint James. She visited Osborne, the royal residence on the Isle of Wight, where she met Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice, ancestor of the Mountbatten family.

In her private diary, she tells how she turned down a proposal of marriage from Prince Luigi del Drago, a member of an Italian aristocratic family that included many cardinals and princes. Back in England, her first choice of husband was George Brundenell-Bruce, then known as Viscount Savernake and later 4th Marquess of Ailesbury. But Willie, as he was known, was an excessive gambler with an excessive lifestyle, and he brought his family to the brink of financial disaster. Eventually, Willie married a music hall actress known as Dolly Tester, and Anita had a fortuitous escape from certain calamity.

In contrast to Anita’s first choice of husband, her father, Daniel T Murphy, was a self-made multi-millionaire who seems to have made money than he could spend. Murphy and Grant started in 1851 and became the largest wholesale dry goods house on the Pacific coast.

Murphy was born in Albany, New York, in 1833, and when he was still a boy left home for Lexington, Kentucky. He then joined the gold rush in California in 1849, going to Santa Fe, San Diego and San Francisco, where he became a partner in a dry goods house that became Murphy and Grant. The firm established branches in Manchester, Paris and New York, and became the leading house on the Pacific coast. It is said Murphy made a personal fortune of about $30 million.

After Murphy had become a commercial success, he returned to Lexington, and in 1857 married Anna Geoghagan, also from an Irish background. The couple returned to San Francisco, where they lived for many years, taking several trips to Europe at intervals.

Anna and Daniel Murphy were the parents of four daughters, Isabella (Issy), Helene (Nellie), Anna Theresa (Anita) and Frances (Fanny), and three sons, Eugene, Daniel and Samuel. Anna Murphy later moved to London with her daughters, while their sons remained in the US, and Daniel visited his wife and daughters in London at least once a year.

Daniel Murphy was a staunch Roman Catholic and donated an estimated $5 million to Pope Pius IX to be used for the Church. In return, the Pope first made Murphy a Knight, then a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory. Later, Pope Leo XIII confirmed two of their daughters in Rome, gave him the Grand Cross of Saint Gregory, and with a royal and papal patent of nobility, gave him the papal title of marchese or marquis, with the right of succession to his eldest son and his heirs.

Murphy enjoyed showing his American friends the papal patent, but he never used the title in public and his wife was known in London only as Mrs Murphy.

A painting of two of the Murphy girls at their confirmation by Pope Leo XIII was once among the most prominent paintings in the Wolseley family collection. It was still at Wolseley in the early 1970s when I interviewed Sir Charles Wolseley for the Lichfield Mercury and the Rugeley Mercury.

When Charles and Imogen Wolseley were moving out of Wolseley to Penkridge, Imogen talked about the painting being so large that it would be better placed in a museum in San Francisco. Although I cannot ascertain its fate, a similar painting in the Villa Magistrale on the Aventine in Rome has been identified recently by Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, the Hungarian Ambassador to the Vatican and the Order of Malta.

The people in this painting of Pope Leo with the Murphy family are, from left, Cardinal Macchi, Father Armilini SJ, Pope Leo XIII, Isabella (Issy), Helene (Nellie), Anna Theresa (Anita) and Frances (Fanny) Murphy, Monsignor Cataldi, Mrs Anna Murphy and, I guess, Daniel T Murphy.

The Wolseley Arms … near the former seat of the Wolseley family near Rugeley, Staffordshire (Photograph: fatbadgers)

Anita Murphy and Sir Charles Wolseley were married on 17 July 1883 in the Catholic Pro-Cathedral in Kensington – the site for Westminster Cathedral was not bought until the following year. The four bridesmaids were the bride’s three sisters, Nellie, Frances and Isabella, and a Miss Bedingfeld.

The wedding Mass was said by the Revd Cuthbert Wolseley, OP, a Dominican priest and a younger brother of the groom – he was born Robert Joseph Wolseley (1850-1920). The wedding was blessed by Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, and there was a telegram from Pope Leo XIII.

The clergy in the sanctuary included Bishop (later Cardinal) Herbert Vaughan of Salford, later Archbishop of Westminster, Bishop James Lair Patterson, titular Bishop of Emmaus and auxiliary bishop of Westminster, Cardinal Edward Howard of the English College, Rome, and the English Provincials of the Dominicans and Passionists, as well as prominent Benedictines, Jesuits and Redemptorists.

The newspapers of the day delighted in lengthy lists of the titled and public figures who were present, including the US ambassador and poet James Russell Lowell, the Duke of Norfolk, Prince Doria Pamphilji, son-in-law of the Earl of Shrewsbury, the Marquis of Bute, and Lady Londonderry.

The genealogists John Burke and Sir Bernard Burke once described Staffordshire as ‘a district proverbial for the antiquity of its families.’ So, of course, many of the titled, landed and Catholic families of Staffordshire were at the wedding, including Talbots from Alton Towers, Lord and Lady Stafford, and members of the Littleton, Fitzherbert, Jerningham, Weld and Clifford families.

Mrs Murphy hosted the wedding breakfast at her residence in Queen’s Gate. In toasting the bride and groom, Cardinal Vaughan spoke of the wedding as another link uniting the Old World and the New.

On the day Anita and Charles were married, Mrs Murphy gave her first-born a cheque for $5 million on the Bank of England. The newly-married couple left for Devonshire, for the first part of their honeymoon. They arrived in New York from Liverpool on the Cunard line’s SS Servia in September, and made their way to San Francisco, where her father had made his fortune.

Daniel T Murphy died in the Windsor Hotel, New York, on 3 June 1885. Many of his business interests passed to his brother Henry M Murphy and son, also Daniel T Murphy. His wife, who arrived from England earlier that week, was with him when he died, as were two of his sons, a daughter, and his former business partners, Eugene Kelly and Joseph Donohue. There was no funeral in New York. Instead, Murphy’s embalmed body was sent to San Francisco, where he was buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery.

Murphy’s will, dated 15 May 1883, named his executors as Edward C Donnelly, Joseph H Donohue and John T Doyle of San Francisco, Eugene Kelly of New York, and his widow, Anna L Murphy.

Murphy left $5,000 to Archbishop Riordan of San Francisco for charity. He left an annuity of $6,000 to his widow, with his silver plate and personal effects. His mother, Julia Murphy, was left an annuity of $1,500 and a house on Hudson Avenue, Albany, New York. His sister Mary was to receive an annuity of $1,500 after her mother died.

The rest of Murphy’s estate was to be divided among his children, with each daughter receiving at least $50,000 each, even if that meant his sons received less.

In September 1893, Anita Wolseley’s sister, Helene (Nelly) Murphy, married Don Vincente Dominguez, a son of the Argentinian Ambassador in London. How much Nelly received from her mother on wedding day is not known – presumably she fared as well as her sister with a cheque for $5 million.

Anita’s inheritance was put at $2 million, at first, but Charles never got his hands on it. By the time the marriage contract had been signed, Daniel T Murphy had died and her sisters contested his will. When Anita received her money, it was for her personally and not for her husband.

Imogene Wolseley, wife of the late Sir Charles Wolseley, wrote that marriage was relatively happy to begin with, and they had two sons, Edric born in 1886 and William born in 1887. But Anita soon tired of life at Wolseley Hall and began travelling abroad alone. She sent Charles a regular allowance, but this dropped steadily. By 1919, he had to sell almost all the contents of Wolseley Hall and several hundred acres of his estate. He moved to Surrey a broken man, and died on 30 January 1931; Anita died on 11 October 1937.

When Sir Charles died, the Wolseley title and estates passed to his elder son, Sir Edric Wolseley (1886-1954), father of the late Sir Charles Wolseley.

But I am still wondering what happened to the painting of Anita (Murphy) Wolseley’s confirmation, whether it ever made its way to San Francisco, or whether the painting in the Villa Magistrale on the Aventine in Rome is the original.

The original Wolseley Hall, near Rugeley, Staffordshire, before its demolition

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