The Shepherdess

The recent controversy over the Mary Wollstonecraft memorial on Newington Green calls to mind another, less controversial, monument erected in London to commemorate a progressively minded woman but, instead of depicting her, the monument featured a partly unclothed fictional woman.  The Shepherdess, also known as The Goatherd’s Daughter by Charles Leonard Hartwell was unveiled in 1929 and now stands in Regents Park.  The statue was commissioned to commemorate the life’s work of Gertrude Baillie Weaver as well as her husband, Harold, and was sponsored by the National Council of Animal Welfare, of which the Baillie Weavers were founding members.  The inscription on the plinth reads ‘To all the protectors of the defenceless’.

As activists, the Baillie Weavers stood at a common crossroads at the time where the struggle for animal rights and women’s rights often intersected.  Largely because of their privileged backgrounds they had the time and resources to devote themselves to many campaigns and they became prolific founders and joiners of numerous organisations.

Gertrude Renton, the daughter of a stockbroker, was born in June 1855 in Kensington.  She married a lawyer called Henry Colmore Dunn but was widowed after four years.  Staying with the legal profession she then married Harold Weaver, a barrister. Harold was a member of both the Theosophical Society and the Humanitarian League and his new wife Gertrude soon joined him in the TS and came to share his views on animal welfare.  The Theosophical Society was a spiritual movement co-founded by, and based on the mystical writings of, Helena Blavatsky.  After Blavatsky’s death the society was led by the former secularist, journalist and trade union agitator Annie Besant. Seeking a more social outreach orientation for the movement, in 1908 Besant founded the Theosophical Order of Service (TOS).  TS members were encouraged to form ‘leagues’ relating to various interests within the Theosophical world view.  Subsequently leagues were set up to promote such things as Esperanto, education, peace, temperance, art, charity and so on.  In 1909 a Theosophical Order of Service League for the Abolition of Vivisection was formed and Gertrude duly became a member.  Complementing the anti-vivisection league, in 1912 a TOS Humane Research League was established.  Not surprisingly the suffrage issue was also represented in the TOS, Besant had been an early member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.  In 1913 the TOS League to Help the Women’s Movement was formed.  Both Baillie Weavers joined and Harold became the Chairman (the term chairperson had evidently yet to be invented). 

Harold was also a Co-Mason, a form of Freemasonry which had developed in France and was open to both men and women.  It was a rival to the better known and more established male only version and naturally emphasised equality and inclusiveness.  Within Britain, Co-Masonry became part of the Theosophical Society’s galaxy of fraternal organisations and almost inevitably came to be led by Besant.  Co Masonry became a not insignificant component of the women’s suffrage movements in both France and Britain and Co-masons even participated in suffrage demonstrations wearing full regalia. 

Outside of her Theosophical Society commitments, Gertrude Baillie Weaver was also a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union led by Emmeline Pankhurst, the foremost of several suffragette groups. As is common with many political movements, the WSPU suffered a number of schisms.  One of these revolved around opposition to Pankhurst’s authoritarian style of leadership and led to the formation of the Women’s Freedom League in 1907.  Gertrude followed the dissidents into the WFL and some of her work was later published by the organisation.  Gertrude also wrote for two suffragette newspapers Votes for Women, owned by another suffragette ‘power couple’; Emmeline and Frederick Pethwick-Lawrence and The Suffragette. Unable to join the women-only WSPU, Gertrude’s husband Harold joined the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, which had been set up in 1907.  Among the many other notable men in this organisation could be found Laurence Houseman whose legacy survives to today in the form of Houseman’s Bookshop in Caledonian Road, one of London’s few remaining left-wing bookshops.

More locally Gertrude was a prominent member of the Saffron Walden and District Women’s Suffrage Society, where she and her husband lived at the time, chairing at least one public meeting hosted by the group. Gertrude became an author and, using the name Gertrude Colmore (part of her first husband’s name), wrote Suffragette Sally (1911).  This was one of a number of suffrage novels which together constituted a popular fictional genre of their time. Also under the name Colmore, Gertrude wrote an obituary to Emily Wilding Davison, the famous suffragette martyr who died after throwing herself in front of the King’s horse, Anmer, at the 1913 Derby.  The obituary was expanded into a biography and published as The Life of Emily Davidson (1913).  Gertrude also wrote a number of tracts in defence of animal welfare but it was her writing for the suffrage cause that has remained her major literary legacy. One final suffrage movement that both Baillie Weavers were involved in was the United Suffragists. Founded in February 1914 by former WSPU members, the United Suffragists were an all-inclusive group that accommodated both militant and more passive campaigners and crucially, men as well as women.  Alongside the Baillie Weavers the membership included the aforementioned Pethwick-Lawrences as well as Harold’s comrade from the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, Lawrence Houseman.

The overlap between the Suffrage movement and animal welfare issues was highlighted in another of Gertrude’s endeavours.  Together with fellow Women’s Freedom League member Charlotte Despard, she founded the Our Dumb Friends League, initially to provide medical treatment for horses.  In 1912 ODFL launched a Blue Cross Fund to help horses in the Balkan War which then raged.  Later the charity took the name of the fund and is now known simply as The Blue Cross.  Gertrude and Harold were also active members of the National Canine Defence League (now known as The Dogs Trust and headquartered in Angel).  Harold chaired the annual general meeting of the League in 1910 where Despard was the guest speaker representing the WFL.  Today Charlotte Despard has a pub named after her in Archway 

From 1910 onwards Gertrude was also on the management committee of the Battersea General Hospital.  This had been founded in 1896 as the National Anti-Vivisection Hospital by Mrs Theodore Monroe, the then secretary of the National Anti-Vivisection Society (which had been founded by the Unitarian Frances Power Cobbe).  The hospital became known affectionately by locals as the ‘anti-viv’ because of its ethos.  Another Battersea connection (and another statue) comes with both Harold and Gertrude’s active membership of the Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society (not to be confused with the similarly named organisation above).  Now known as the Animal Defence Trust, the ADAVS was founded by Louise Lind-af-Hageby, a Swedish born activist living in London and known for her central role in the famous Brown Dog affair.  The current Brown Dog statue can be found today in Battersea Park.  Given the closely knitted character of the circles the Baillie Weavers moved in the reader won’t be entirely surprised to learn that Lind-af-Hageby was also a suffrage campaigner and a member of the Women’s Freedom League.

Harold and Gertrude both died in 1926, Harold in March and Gertrude in November; she was 71.  The Shepherdess can be found in St. John’s Lodge Gardens in Regents Park.

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