Fetherstonhaugh Women

The women in Cuthbert the Governor’s immediate family – his mother, sisters and niece, were exceptionally well educated and creative women for their time, all of them making their mark on the family’s history in one way or another.

About Susan Fetherstonhaugh

Walled gateway to rear of Annaghmore from: NIAH 2004

Susan Fetherstonhaugh was Cuthbert snr, the Old Governor’s, wife. She was born in 1798 and was the daughter of Susan Rollston and William Curtis, who was a clergyman and poet1,2. He published two volumes of his poetry in 18205, which are now part of the British Library’s digitalised collection. William is likely the reason his daughter Susan had such significant scholarly, artistic and musical attributes, which were then inherited by her Fetherstonhaugh children and grandchildren. Susan grew up at Annaghmore, in County Offaly in Ireland.

Annaghmore House was built in c1790 by her father William, who was devoted to Susan’s mother, whom he called Delia (epithet for Artemis, the goddess of the moon and the hunt), but she died young, before 1810 when his daughter Susan was 12. William invested an enormous amount of work and money into the house and into creating beautiful gardens, employing over a 100 people. Sadly, he went into bankruptcy and the house had to be sold in 1815. In 2010 it was offered for sale for €550,000 and was described as “a grand dame who has known better and brighter times, but still manages to retain her original style and elegance“.

Lines written at Delia's urn by William shortly before he left Annaghmore for ever, April 27, 1815.

Oh, Thou I for whom yon willow waves,
Hovereth thy spirit o'ver that urn?
hearest thou the sigh my bosom heaves
To leave it - never to return?

Floatest thou around me, while this scene
Sacred to thee, i fondly stray,
In wildest dreams of what hath been;
Visions of bliss long pass'd away?

Looks thy fond angel eye, oh tell!
On him thou lov'd'st, repeating o'ver
And o'ver again "farewell, farewell!
"Sweet! - sweetest spot of Annaghmore
William's Last evening walk at Annaghmore June 23, 1815 (first lines of a 25 page poem)

The sun to the sweet plains of Annaghmore
Had given its last kiss, and the lake's wild shore, -
On the green larch's spiry tops still bright
It glow'd, and on the mountain's wavy height;
Tranquil was all around, - the waters slept
Upon the lakes soft side, - the waters slept
Upon the lake's soft side, - the wild duck crept,
paddling amongst the reeds, with all her flock, - 
The sea lark whistled as it left the rock, - 
The plover wail'd with wild unvaried scream,
As some strange footsteps near the tussock came
That held her treasured young: far, far away
The sound of pipe died on the dying day,
And the slow-working oar was soft to hear,
flapping the bosom of the water clear;
'Twas the last evening I was doomed to meet
Light's fading blushes on those scenes so sweet;
The gloomy hour that said,"prepare to turn
"Thy last fond look upon thy loved one's urn
"To check the trickling tear, and learn to part
"That last dear relic of thy broken heart!"

View of Neuwied am Rhein from the Monument of General Hoche by Osterwald, 1846.

Susan married Cuthbert snr in 1827, and then resided at Dardistown, in County Westmeath. She bore three sons and six daughters, although one daughter died young. As the economy began to falter and sectarian disruptions increased Susan travelled with Cuthbert snr and their eight children to Germany to provide them with the opportunity for a better education. Cuthbert jnr , their son, describes their moving all their belongings to Frankfurt “as no joke!” 2; p9. They lived at Neuwied-am-Rhein for a year and then moved to Frankfurt-am-Main for the next four years. Their house, the “Burgenmeisterhaus” was a large three storied building that fronted the Promenade.

With the threat of revolution on their doorstep Susan then had to pack her large family up yet again and they returned to Ireland in 1848, at the end of the potato famine. As Dardistown had been sold they rented a place in County Westmeath called Rath-Caslin. Although the worst of the famine was over Cuthbert jnr describes “many terrible times of trouble and distress“. The family was said to have spent a lot of of their wealth on helping the poor at this time1. From Rath Caslin they moved to Kingston, on the sea near Dublin.

Although Cuthbert jnr described himself as “an Irish homeruler” 2; p13 his parents decided to seek a better life for their family away from the sectarianism of Ireland. It was then that Susan’s husband, Cuthbert snr, travelled to Australia in 1852 with their two eldest sons and three of his nephews. Susan, however, remained in Ireland with their five daughters and Cuthbert jnr. However, Cuthbert jnr persuaded his mother to allow him to join his father in Australia a year later when he was 16.

Susan, her maid Mary Brennan, and the other children did not migrate until 1856. They sailed on the clipper James Baines (left), from Liverpool to Melbourne, which was known as one of the fastest and more luxurious boats of that time (left), making the journey in as little as 69 days. Despite a quick and relatively modern ship, sea journeys were hazardous and uncomfortable, and Susan was 58 by this stage! Although their cabin was next to the Captains and they contributed a great deal to the social life and entertainment on board with their combined musical and singing talents.

After arriving in Australia, they at first lived with friends, Victoria’s first settlers, the Hentys, at Portland on the Victorian coast until ‘Correagh’, the family homestead in Hamilton, was completed3. Although Susan must have become accustomed to moving her family from place to place, it would have been a significant burden and culture shock at her age to first make the journey from Dublin to Liverpool and then onto Melbourne, and then Portland and later to have to travel to Hamilton and her new home, Correagh. Susan’s son Cuthbert jnr (“the Pastoralist”) in his book ‘After Many Days’2 describes his mother Susan as a:

devout Christian, faithful friend and helper of the poor and sorrowful” (p53)… “She came from a clever talented family – was very musical and well read, and to a certain extent, a classical scholar. She could read her New Testament in the Greek text and had a little knowledge of Hebrew (she also spoke Italian, German and French and read Latin)…. She used to read Dickens and Thackery to her five daughters and to me (Cuthbert jnr), I remember how eagerly we all looked forward to a new number of ‘David Copperfield’… truly our home was a happy one.” (p19).

Her son Cuthbert also describes her as deeply religious, but that “hers was not the church-going and psalm singing and pulling a long face sort of religion, but real religion – the religion of Christ.” Susan died in 1871 aged 73.

About Susan and youngest daughter Grace

References to Susan and Grace (the youngest daughter) appear in the diaries of pioneer and diarist Annie Baxter Dawbin4. Annie Dawbin’s observations alternate between being sympathetic to patronising, but do give a perspective of Susan and Grace we wouldn’t otherwise have. Grace appears as a young women of independent thought and actions, even at 15 years of age. Susan would have been 60 years old (see left)and they both would have been in Hamilton for two years when these descriptions were written:

1958, 12th Monday Annie writes  – “Mrs Fetherston is seemingly very delicate, and I should think by her subdued manner that she has seen sorrow in her time. Her daughter Miss Grace has rather a nice profile and might with a little care, be made a really pleasant looking girl; but she is at present like a small Blenhelm spaniel, with hair all over her forehead (which is naturally exceedingly low) and frizzed in the most untidy way. I believe her mother has often expressed a wish that her coiffure should be altered; but the young lady fancies it classical!”

Wednesday 14th she writes: “Mrs Fetherston is elderly; she must have been pretty in her youth; she is in exceedingly delicate health, and suffers from the slightest change in weather. Her performance on the piano is beautiful, and her voice is still fine. She has a very Irish accent, but she doesn’t know it. The last time I was here her youngest daughter, Miss Grace, was here also; she is 15 years old, and from her self-possession you would say, 10 years older. She wears her hair in a ludicrous style; and I thought at first it had been cut off in some sore place and had begun to grow again! All her family object to her coiffure but she told her Mama the other day that it was not in the least use asking her to alter it, as it was ‘classical’ and she should continue dressing it in the way she now does. Mrs Perry, in describing her, said she never saw such a poor little disguised thing in her life!

18th Sunday (in the afternoon after church) she writes:  I remained with Mrs Fetherston; the poor thing began telling me of all her children, and went on enumerating the blessings they were to her, and some of them to their husbands (one actual and two in perspective). The one married to a Frenchman who came out on board the same ship to Melbourne with her, had proved to her husband (as he wrote) a greater angel than we ever thought existed in the world! The second daughter accompanied the married one, and is engaged to the Bishop of London’s secretary; a third is going to be married to a Mr Macpherson, a settler near Hamilton (who later became Victorian Premier). This young lady is, by all her own family, thought to be a mixture of an Angel and a Venus! She also wears her hair in an extraordinary style, and possesses a pair of very high shoulders: I don’t know exactly whether these are attributes of either an angel – or Venus!

More about Grace

Born in 1843, Grace Fetherstonhaugh (left) was the youngest of the five daughters and was married in 1868 to Alexander John (Jack) Learmonth (1841 – 1894). They had five children: Mary Frances (Birdie) Learmonth, Cecil Brooke Learmonth, Pearl Smith (born Learmonth), Elmer Bethune Learmonth, & Grace Adelaide Roberts (born Learmonth). Grace separated from her husband c1880, after which time she lived with her daughters in Melbourne. In 1900 she returned to Correagh with her daughter Pearl, likely to care for her father in his last years. As an accomplished pianist, she gave piano lessons and was also heavily involved in community and philanthropic works. She is also noted as signing the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition at Highton. She was left £2000 in her father, Cuthbert snr’s, Will of 1892, and continued to live at Correagh with her brother Theobald until his death in 1909. After this it was sold to relatives of her husband who lived nearby, however she continued to live at Correagh until 1922 when she went to live in Sydney with her daughter. She died in 1924 at the age of 81.

A small obituary (above) appeared in the Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 – 1953) · Mon 27 Oct 1924.

About Louisa

Louisa Fetherstonhaugh was born in 1833 and was the second of Cuthbert snr’s five daughters. She was married in 1858 to John Alexander Macpherson (1833-94). Trained as a lawyer, John Macpherson was a pastoralist who went into politics in 1864, serving as Premier of the State of Victoria in 1869-70, and holding ministries in later governments before he retired in 1875. After travels in Europe, in 1878 the Macphersons settled at Thorpe, Chertsey, Surrey (on the proceeds of a legacy from John’s father).

Louisa and John (above) had a son and seven daughters. Louisa’s London Times obituary declared that she was “an artist to her fingertips, and for years produced magnificent large-scale embroideries in silks, largely to her own designs” Louisa died in 1924 at the age of 91. Above is Louisa’s obituary from the London Times Aug 21, 1924.

Louisa and John’s daughter Fanny Macpherson Fetherstonhaugh, was born in 1863 and died in 1924 at age 61, shortly before her mother Louisa. Fanny became a famous artist and attended the Slade School of Art in London. In 1905 her portrait (below, public domain) of her husband Sir Charles Holroyd (later to become Director of the National Gallery) was included in the book Woman Painters of the World. Holroyd’s portrait of his wife, Fanny, from 1898 was entitled ‘Night’ (below) © The British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); both portraits are in the British Museum.

Fanny also painted a portrait of her aunt’s husband Lord Sydney Colvin, which was given to Robert Louis Stevenson. Both her aunt (Lady Frances Colvin) and Lord Colvin were very close friends and mentors to Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote of the portrait in a letter to Sidney in June 1891:

“…. your portrait, which is, in expression, your true, breathing self, and up to now saddens me; in time, and soon, I shall be glad to have it there; it is still only a reminder of your absence. Fanny (RLS’s wife) wept when we unpacked it, and you know how little she is given to that mood; I was scarce Roman myself, but that does not count – I lift up my voice so readily. These are good compliments to the artist.

About Susan jnr

Susan jnr was born in 1834, the third eldest daughter of Susan and Cuthbert snr. Although just as long lived, compared to her sisters, Susan’s life was not an easy one. She met her future husband Eugene Ponsard in 1856 on the long sea journey out to Australia. Ponsard was making his second visit to “the colony” in pursuit of business interests in machinery for gold mining, which was ultimately unsuccessful.3 Harris and Rogers (2020, p2) write:

They married on 4 April 1857 in Portland, returning to Europe soon after. Little is known of their life together, beyond their living through the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. They experienced privation, and “had to live on dogs, cats, rats, etc., before the siege was over”, communicating with family in Australia by letters sent by balloon post (“the envelopes were marked ‘par ballon monté’” – Hamilton Spectator). Ponsard died from yellow fever in 1881 while working on the Panama Canal, and Madame took up governessing to support herself thereafter…

Harris & Rogers3 go on to describe Susan’s position as governess through letters written by George Meredith (the English poet and novelist). Meredith was a friend of Susan’s sisters, Louisa and Frances (then Frances Sitwell ), and its likely because of this Susan was able to take up the position as Governess to George Meredith’s 14 year old daughter Mariette (or Riette), following the death of Riette’s mother. Susan held the position for less than a year. Initially, George Meredith writes of Susan in glowing terms:

“She (Susan) is in certain essential respects a jewel. Irish, widow of a Frenchman, recommended by friends of mine and hers (Frances & Louisa), well born, well bred, brisk, intelligent, rational.” (Cline 2:835). This paragon, a Celt to boot, is Madame Ponsard (from: Harris &Rogers, 2020, p. 9).

However, later Meredith writes to Frances justifying his decision to terminate Susan’s employment:

“my duty to the girl (his daughter) commands me; she is at the critical time for teaching, when prolonged holidays, or a want of vigour in the tuition, must cause a stiffening of her natural indisposition for work” and hence “I must look elsewhere for her preceptress”. She (Susan) wants to return; I have to be firm. Next week a lady comes, unlikely to be so agreeable to me, but according to the chances a better preceptress. Madame (Susan) was perpetually on high-jumps and her cap in air unless I sobered her, when at once she subsided; her nature pathetically throwing up a bubble or two; but I wanted a less infantile lady in Riette’s close guide; so with something to regret, I am not sorry. (15 Sep. 1887, Cline 2:888-89) (from Harris & Rogers, 2020, p. 9).

In later years Susan lived in Surrey or London with either Louisa or Fanny at various times. She shared in a bequest from her father’s will in 1892 with her sister Frances, which included part proceeds of land her father Cuthbert snr still owned in Great Britian and Ireland, as well as being given, as joint tenancy with Susan, land in Confey in County Kildare. Susan jnr died on the 8th May 1917 at the age of 83.

About Adelaide

Adelaide is the oldest of the five sisters being born in 1832 but seems to have the least recorded about her. Below is an excerpt from an article from the Hamilton Spectator. “An Historical Family. Mrs. John Learmonth and Her Sisters.” 23 Oct. 1924.

Adelaide married Edmond Watton, an uncle of James Hickson, the well-known spiritual healer. Edmond was a fine fellow, and one of the best of men; they were very happy and left three children. Adelaide was a very beautiful girl. When the family was living in Frankfurt-am-Main, Frederick Leighton, afterwards Sir Frederick (Leighton), was, as a youth very much in love with her, this was in 1847.  Edmond Watton was drowned when working in Queensland in 1883. For many years Mrs Watton lived in the old Correagh home … she drew people to her by her wonderful sympathy: as a friend said of her “One could not be her guest without being impressed by the beauty, peace and purity of her life.

And from Correagh (1985)1 – “Adelaide, the eldest daughter, had lived at Correagh until her death in 1899. When as a girl in Frankfurt, Frederick Leighton of the Royal Academy in London (reputably the best waltzer in Rome) fell in love with her but this was not to be. Adelaide married Edmund Watton (son of Dr John Watton of the Mount Rouse Aboriginal protectorate) at Correagh in 1860.

Adelaide was nominated executor of her father’s Will in regards to matters pertaining to the ‘colony of Victoria” in the event Cuthbert jnr (who was executor) should predecease him. She also inherited “all furniture and every article, matter and thing” at Correagh, whilst her brother Theobald inherited the house and other dwellings for his use for ever, plus horses, cattle, crops, farming implements, driving carriages or vehicles and all stable furniture , harnesses, bridles and saddles. Adelaide and Theobald continued to live at Correagh together until Adelaide died aged 67 in 1899, and Theobald (who was very much a recluse all his life, and about whom almost nothing is known) died in 1909 at the age of 91. Grace had returned with her daughter Pearl to live with Theobald in 1900, perhaps to care for him as Adelaide had. After Theobald’s death Grace continued to live at Correagh until 1922.

About Frances

Frances, or Fannie as she was known to her close family, was the second youngest sister born in 1843. She became Lady Frances Colvin and is the most famous of Cuthbert snr’s sisters and has her own webpage on this site.


  1. Rogers W. Correagh 1855 -2005 [brochure]. Hamilton, Vic; 2005.
  2. Fetherstonhaugh C. After Many Days. E. W. Cole: Book Arcade, Sydney: 2017. Accessed Online Oct 2022 https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7197560M/After_many_days
  3. Harris M, Rogers W. George Meredith, Governesses, neckties, and Friends: New Meredith letters. 24(1) 2020. Accessed online Jul 30th, 2023. https://openjournals.library.sydney.edu.au/AJVS/article/view/15328
  4. Dawbin, AB. Baxter Journal Vol 25 – 8 Oct 1857 – 1858 Vol.25 microfilm/file no.ab55a/sz/28-6-84
  5. Curtis W. Poems of Annaghmore. self published 1820; Digitised by the British Library (March 18, 2010)

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