Turtle Bunbury

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For Benson Part 1, click here.

This history was commissioned by the Greens of Ballyvolane House, County Cork, Ireland, one of the finest places you could possibly stay in Ireland.

Captain D'Arcy Benson (1894 - 1963)

Wendy Benson's father, (Henry Percy) D'Arcy Benson, was the oldest son of Dr. Henry Porter D'Arcy Benson and his wife, Mary Louisa Hawkes. Born on 18th March 1894, he grew up in Guernsey. When it came to being schooled back in England, he enjoyed the fact he could simply sail home from Dartmouth rather than take the bus and train like the other pupils. "He was always rather pleased with that!", chuckles his daughter. She says he was possessed of a brilliant brain and, while he employed a mariner to sail his boat, he managed to get a Master's Deep Sea ticket of his own accord. The sea-faring life evidently appealed to him and he joined the Royal Navy sometime before the Great War. He is known to have occasionally lunched at Devonport with his cousin, Philip Goldsmith. One of his friends ran the nursing home in London where Horace de Vere Cole lay low for some months after the Dreadnought Hoax in which he'd dressed as the Sultan of Zanzibar and deluded the entire Royal Navy. Ian reckoned they'd have thought it extremely funny at the time, particularly if one of your siblings was in the Navy.

The Battle of Jutland

During the battle of Jutland in May 1916, D'Arcy Benson and an engineer pal navigated a 'terribly fast' motor torpedo boat deep into the heart of the German fleet. The idea, explains Ian, was that one 'rushed up to a German boat with a bomb in one hand, steering wheel in the other, sank it and dashed off again'. But they sank a few and managed to live to fight another day. D'Arcy later confessed to a delighted Wendy that, in spite of all the naval discipline and his stern upbringing, the horror of this 'terrible little boat, whizzing along' had been the most terrifying event of his life and that 'he thought of jumping overboard'. In the controversial aftermath of the battle, D'Arcy took the side of salty old Admiral Jellicoe rather than the cocksure Admiral Beatty. 'My father thought Jellicoe was the cat's whiskers. A lot of people didn't but he did. I grew up with photographs and chat about him and everything'. Indeed, D'Arcy went around the world twice on board the Hood with Jellicoe, describing the ship as 'the most beautiful, absolute perfection of a ship'. The loyalty to Jellicoe came good again over forty years after Jutland when Wendy and Ian moved to the Blackwater only to discover that the Admiral's daughter Norah Wingfield was living just down the road in Cappoquin.

Mrs. D'Arcy Benson - The Surgeon's Daughter

On 24th December 1917, D'Arcy Benson married Margerie Douglas, twin daughter of the Australian surgeon, Dr. Alfred Douglas, MD (Edinburgh), of Cootamundra in New South Wales. Her sister Dorothy would go on to marry D'Arcy's brother Geoffrey. Apparently, Dr. Douglas died in a horse-riding accident which is something of a coincidence as the same fate had befallen D'Arcy's grandfather, Dr. John Robinson Benson. Margerie was an enthusiastic tennis player and once played for Ireland, qualifying for Wimbledon while D'Arcy still in the navy. Their only child, Joan ('Wendy') Benson was born on 11th April 1919.

As the daughter of a naval officer, Wendy inevitably grew up following her father around the world, although they always maintained a residence in England, such as at Holbrook in Suffolk. In 1926, for instance, Captain Benson took his family to Simonstown, a coastal port in South Africa where the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet. They stayed there for nearly three years, during which time Wendy recalls an encounter with her 'sweet pudding aunt Alice', a nun. 'We actually didn't know where she was so it was a bit strange to find her there'. They lived in a house set upon pillars and surrounded by a verandah, the tidal waters rising and falling directly beneath them. These were happy days. The Earl of Athlone was Governor and Wendy learned to swim. Shortly before the Wall Street crash of 1929, they returned to England.

The next major event in their lives occurred in 1932 when Greenwich Hospital was left a considerable estate in Suffolk. The board decided it would be a good thing to build an exact replica of the hospital in Greenwich and open it as a school for the sons of deserving sailors - some 800 boys whose fathers had perished or been disabled in the wars. They felt the school would be much more healthy in the country air and such like. After he retired, Lieutenant-Commander D'Arcy Benson took charge of this, the Royal Hospital School. He particularly wanted the post and "waggled his retirement earlier than he might have done" in order to get it. Ian says it was "an unbelievably wonderful set up", one of the most positive steps taken in Britain during a time when such steps were sorely needed. The school boasted "a fearfully elaborate grand chapel" on account of a great friend of D'Arcy's called Gilbertson, who was 'very High Church'. 'Every Sunday there was a parade with a Boy's Band and 800 boys in uniform with my father in a cocked hat and sword presiding', recalls Wendy. 'This is why I find church rather dull these days'. Almost all of D'Arcy Benson's pupils joined the Navy afterwards. The war inevitably brought much sadness to the Benson household. Many of D'Arcy's former pupils died in the conflict.

Hood Sunk!

A particularly black day came in 1942 with the sinking of D'Arcy's old ship, the Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy. The ship sank without trace just minutes after the Bismarck fluked a bomb down its magazine. One of the three survivors was an ex-schoolboy of D'Arcys who had been on deck just before the bomb struck but ran back below deck to collect a postal order for 5-bob he'd forgotten and was saved. Pat Stewart, a great friend of Wendy, was Chaplain on board the Hood. For years, he had famously preached sermons with rugger shorts and riding britches under his cassock. The 31 year old was apparently taking a service on the quarter-deck during its final minutes. He was the son of Surgeon Rear-Admiral Robert Stewart, O.B.E., and of Mabel Stewart, of Bayswater, London. When the news came through at 9 o'clock that evening, Pat Stewart's mother Mabel was actually staying with the Bensons. The reaction to the Hood was widespread horror in Britain. In a POW camp in Germany, Jack Leslie told me the news brought morale lower than at any other point during the war.

Death of D'Arcy Benson

D'Arcy Benson died in 1966. His cousin Ian described him as "an extraordinary guy" very like his own father, "a big part academician" and a keen tennis player. His wife played tennis for Ireland and qualified for Wimbledon when D'Arcy was still in the navy. As for the Royal Hospital School, the post-war Labour government put paid to that. 'Money had been bequeathed specifically to keep it as a school for naval sons', explains Ian. 'But when Labour came into power after the war, they ignored the whole point and all the thought that had gone into the building of the place. All the best efforts of the Royal Navy had been focused on it. And they turned it into a normal school. It was the most heinous crime'.

"Pooh" Benson (1869 - 1952) & Enid Whishaw

Having seen the descendents of Dr. Henry Porter D'Arcy Benson safely through to the 21st century, we now turn to his six younger brothers. His next brother, Dr. John Robinson Benson, was a leading surgeon in Bath and is of particular significance to this tale as he was Ian Benson's father. He was born on 18th March 1869. Pooh Benson served as a Major with the Royal Ambulance Medical Corps during the First World War. On 12th November 1912, he married Enid Whishaw, daughter of James Whishaw of Wilton House, Hungerford. They ran two asylums in Wiltshire and had an address at Venn in the Benson stronghold of Morchard Bishop, Devon. The Doctor's brothers Percy and Arthur Benson often used to come and stay. Ian remembers encountering the three of them "absolutely powerless as the sideboard" swapping anecdotes. "They were great raconteurs, which I think a wonderful art, equivalent to a violinist or a pianist or a singer". With seven brothers, you have to put in an effort to get noticed. Enid passed away in 1936 and Dr. Benson in 1952, leaving Ian and two daughters, Diana and Barbara.

A more complete account of Enid's forbears, children and grandchildren can be found at The Whishaws.

Rev. Ned Benson

The third of the seven Benson brothers was the extremely bright Rev. Edward ('Ned') Ernest Macgowan Benson, Rector of St Paul's School in Darjeeling from 1908 to 1922. He was born on 21st January 1871. He was educated at Trinity College Cambridge where he became the "senior wrangler" (or highest-scoring student) when he completed his third year (Part II) of the Mathematical Tripos with first-class honours. On 23rd December 1902, he married May, daughter of Rev Wakefield Suft Meade and scion of the Meade-Waldo family of Stonewall Park in Chiddingstone, Kent. In 1908, he became rector of St. Paul's School in Darjeeling. The public school, effectively the Eton of British India, was founded in 1823 by John William Ricketts, a prominent Anglo-Indian leader, to meet the needs of the growing Anglo-Indian population in Calcutta. In 1863 it was relocated to the large Jalapahar estate outside Darjeeling where Ned was later based. He stepped down from the post in 1922 and died on 19th November 1935, leaving a son, Gerald Edward (who married Stella Gabrielle Mary, daughter of Rev Andrew Henry Hollis, Vicar of Beer, S. Devon) and daughter, Enid. The latter subsequently married Lt-Col Richard "Dick" Simpson, DSO. During the Second World War, Enid received notification from the War Office that Dick had been killed in action. She naturally became quite distressed but that wasn't a patch on how she felt when her brother Gerald bumped into the same apparently deceased officer in the mess at Alexandria a short while after. Further issue of the Simpson line survives to the present day.

Captain Percy Benson

The fourth of the Benson brothers was arguably the most colourful. Percy George Reginald Benson was born on 14th September 1872. He was educated at Christ Church College, Oxford, during the merry days of the 1890s. Like his brother Ned, he clearly had a scientific mind. In August 1901, he passed with a First in his Intermediate Science Examination from Cheltenham Training College. On 2nd July that same summer he was married to the extremely wealthy Lillian Mary Louisa, daughter of Andrew Frederick Gault (1833 - 1903), a prominent Irish-born cotton baron and railway magnate based in Montreal. Perhaps boosted by his prize-catch, Percy showed an early passion for politics. He was of a Liberal imperialist persuasion. On October 5th 1903, for instance, he was among the crowd who gathered to hear former Prime Minister Lord Rosebery speak out in defence of Free Trade at the Sheffield Steel Works. At the 1906 General Election, Percy contested the Howdenshire seat in the stunning East Riding of Yorkshire on behalf of Campbell-Bannerman's Liberal Party. However, although the Liberals swept the polls, Percy was unable to unseat the sitting Unionist candidate, Colonel Henry Broadley Harrison-Broadley of Welton House, Brough. He seems to have been better suited to gentlemanly pursuits. 'He wasn't strictly the working type', opined his nephew, Ian Benson. He wasn't a serious worker. That said, during the war, Percy served as a Captain in the West Somerset Yeomanry. His charming and kindly wife Lillian busied herself on the home-front. In June 1918 'Mrs. Percy Benson' was one of the principal donors to the collection of pearls for the Red Cross necklace, called "In Memory", commemorating the heroism of nurses. The Bensons were well used to high society. In June 1922, for instance, Lillian presented their daughter Miss Doris Benson to the King and Queen.

The Pony Club

During the 1920s, Percy was Master of the Taunton Vale Hunt in Somerset. At the Somerset Hospital Ball in the County Hotel, Taunton, on January 3rd 1924, Sir Denis (Master of the West Somerset) and Lady Boles and Captain Percy and Mrs. Benson were guests of honour. (They had all been at the New Year Day Hunt Ball two nights earlier). Percy's English home was Sheafhayne Manor, an Elizabethan shooting lodge at Honiton in Devon that belonged to Sir Francis Drake "when he retired from bowling on Plymouth Ho". It was here that Percy hosted the first children's meet in England and effectively founded the Pony Club. Percy's nephew Ian Benson recalls how he 'truly loved children'. Harry Faudel-Phillips, a member of the Institute of the Horse and close friend of Percy's, initiated a Sub Branch scheme in different parts of England to encourage riding. In addition to running events for adults, several of them began to organise paper-chases and gymkhanas for children. The earliest recorded event was a gymkhana organised by the Oxted Sub-Branch in Surrey in 1928. Faudel-Phillips was invited to give a lecture and demonstration on equitation while Percy instructed them in the essential arts of hunting. Total Pony Club Membership in the United Kingdom had topped 25,000 by 1953.

Pat Blackader & the Malcolm Clubs

One of Percy and Lillian Bensons' protégés was Patricia Blackader, the lady who introduced Malcom Clubs to Allied Europe during World War Two. Her life story is certainly a colourful one. Her father Gordon Blackader was born in 1885 into a prominent Montreal family. After graduating from the McGill School of Architecture shortly before the war, Gordon set up practice as one half of Barott and Blackader Architects and designed several of the more prominent homes in Montreal. In 1915, he joined the Canadian Black Watch 42nd Battalion and went to Europe. He was wounded at Ypres (Zillebke) on 2nd June 1916 and taken to the military hospital in London. Here he met a fellow patient, his cousin Andrew Hamilton Gault, who had also been wounded at Ypres. Before Captain Gordon Blackader died in August 1916, he asked Hamilton, known as Hammie, to take care of his wife Kathleen (nee Newberry) and infant daughter Patricia, then two years old. Upon his return to Montreal, Hammie proposed to Kathleen. She was tragically killed in November 1920, just weeks before the wedding, when the open-top car Hammie was driving to a meet of the Taunton Foxhounds skidded on wet leaves and over turned. Patricia, who was in the car, had turned seven that same day.
Hammie's sister Lillian Gault was by then married to Percy Benson, Master of the Tauntons, and living in Somerset. The Bensons, who adored children, swiftly adopted the child, sharing responsibility with her Blackader grandparents in Montreal.

In a 'Memoriam' offered by Richard Vernon after Pat's death in 2002, he talks of how she grew up 'beautiful, talented and wealthy'. Schooled in Switzerland flight in a Gypsy Moth at Lausanne triggered a lifelong interest in flying. On her 17th birthday, Hammie took her to dinner at the Ritz in Paris. After dinner he asked if she rather go dancing or view Paris from the air. She inevitably opted for the flying and off they went to Le Bourget and flew all over the city in the dead of night. When they returned to the airfield, armed police were there to meet them for having broken just about every rule in the flying book. Only Hammie's reputation and charm and Pat's beauty reportedly kept them out of prison that night.
In June 1932, aged 19, Pat married Lord William (Bill) Waleran, a Devonshire peer. The marriage lasted less than two years but they always remained good friends. In 1935, she married Rex Hoyes, a New Zealand businessman. She bought Marwell Hall, near Winchester for them to live in and they led a very grand life with butlers, maids and a full staff. During the War, they hosted the War Cabinet at weekends. The marriage to Rex was unhappy, but her wartime years at Marwell were productive. An airfield was constructed in the grounds of Marwell and served as an important site for the conversion of Spitfires to Seafires and the modification of American bombers and fighters for RAF use. Pat, duly qualified, was its Air Controller until the Air Ministry promoted her to manage the whole airfield, which she did for three years. In 1944, she was asked by her friend Air Chief Marshall Lord Tedder, then Eisenhower's deputy, to come to Normandy to open Malcolm Clubs for British airmen stationed abroad. She duly started clubs in France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. The stories of Pat and the Malcolm Clubs are the stuff of legends; she spent VE Day dancing the night away in the Grand Platz in Brussels. After the war, she went to the Middle East to open a Malcolm Club in Cairo and other places.

She returned to the UK in 1948 and was awarded an MBE. By now, Rex had sold Marwell (which was not his to sell) and so an acrimonious divorce ensued after which Rex ended up in prison. While living and working in London, Pat met Brig Tom McCarthy, a neighbour in her apartment building, who turned out to be a friend of Dorothy Gault. They married in 1949 and moved to New York where he worked for the Foreign Office as Senior Trade Advisor to the British Government. Their daughter Alexandra was born at this time. After New York, they all moved to Calgary, Alberta where he was an extremely successful investor in the early development of the Canadian oil industry. They eventually retired to the Bahamas, but also spent time in Switzerland and Portugal. After Tom died in 1977, Pat lived on in McCarthy Cottage, Lyford Cay, enjoying an active life. She had many friends on the island and was known by the Bahamians as "The McCarthy". She was a brilliant landscape gardener and designed many gardens for the rich and famous in Nassau. For many years she ran the Gardening Committee of the Lyford Cay Club. She survived until the age of 88, despite her innate thiness, chain-smoking cheroots and living on 'a succession of strange diets'. Pat Blackader died in a tragedy the equal of both her parents when her Nassau home caught fire 14th May 2002. Vernon recalled her as 'a unique person who brought colour and light to the many she touched during her long life'.

Christmas at Sheafhayne

Wendy Benson, Percy's goddaughter, spent many happy childhood days at Sheafhayne. She recalls how Percy would assign each of his servants and huntsman to look after 'a bundle of children' on meet days. Under a wide gravel sweep at the front of the old Elizabethan manor, Percy 'built a large ballroom with huge double doors opening out into the garden beyond'. 'At Christmas he used to put a pair of antlers onto my pony, a bit cock-eyed, and fix it to a sleigh with bobbing lights and a groom dressed at Father Christmas driving and all sorts of holly and things. You could see it coming at least two fields away before it got to the garden and the jingling got louder and louder and louder and louder and the lights brighter and brighter and then it came right into the ballroom and there were presents for everyone there'. The only qualification you needed for an invitation was to live within 8 miles of the house. 'Every child in that area came. It didn't matter who they were. It was terrific fun'.

The Move to Ile Clash

After the Second World War, by which time old age had ruled out the possibility of hunting, Percy and Lillian moved to Isle Clash in Ballyduff, just east of Fermoy on the Blackwater. Ian and Wendy Bensons were regular visitors and got to know the house well before their eventual inheritance of Percy's house at Carrigane Lodge in Ballyduff in 1963. The following description of Ileclash is based on information supplied in Anna Maria Hajiba's superb book on 'Houses of Cork, Vol. 1 - North', published by Ballinakella Press in 2002.

'Ileclash is one of the jewels of the Blackwater Valley. It stands gracefully on an elevation and commands a fine view over the river and surrounding countryside. The demesne contains over two kilometres of river bank and a variety of terrains, ranging from terraced lawns to mature woodlands, rockeries to caves, and lily ponds to newly planted box hedge gardens. The house is of a mid-Georgian appearance with a five bay, two-storey entrance front and a central fanlit doorway. The garden front has two large bows, each comprising three bays, decorated with a string course. These bows are adjoined by another three bays to the west. There is also a Victorian extension to the rear, overlooking the walled garden. The house is under restoration and many Victorian additions, including the large castellated porch, have been removed to return the house to its Georgian elegance. Other features of this property include a large tumulus and the remains of Licklash Castle, one-time stronghold of the Roches. The castle was later granted to a Catholic gentleman by name of Henry Hedley, whose descendents built the nearby Mount Rivers'.

The earliest recorded occupant of Ileclash was Leitrim-born Gifford Campion, who also owned Bushy Park near Rathcormac. Thirty years later, Ileclash was the home of Edmond Barry of Rockville and Dundullerick, whose daughter Mary Anne married her cousin Philip Barry of Ballynahina House in 1784. In 1837, Lewis mentioned Ileclash as the residence of the Rev. James Mockler, Rector of Castle Hyde in the early 1800s. Later in the century, Ileclash was home to William Ogilby, whose daughter Elizabeth married Colonel Frederick W Bell of Stand House. Colonel Bell commanded a regiment during the Boer War and served under General Little in Cape Colony, Orange River Colony and the Transvaal. Injured on service, he returned to Stand House an invalid in December 1900 and turned his energy to breeding hunters and race horses, amongst them the celebrated Jovial. By the early 1900s, it was home to Michael Bourke, an attorney, whose family 'amused their friends by hosting elaborate picnics on top of the ruins at Licklash Castle'. Michael's eldest daughter Lisa Wilhemina Bourke married General Edmund Smith Brook, Connaught Rangers, and their son, Captain Ranger Campbell Brook, also of the Connaught Rangers, was the last family owner. After the death of Michael Bourke's second daughter, Mrs. Rosalie Frances Bourke at the end of the Second World War, the house fell into disrepair. It was at this point that Percy Benson purchased the property and set about its restoration. He was acquainted with the Bourke family as, during the 1950s, he gave away Captain Brook's daughter Rosalie.

Percy and Louisa celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary in July 1951. Sometime after Louisa's death on 13th September 1954, Percy sold the property which became a summer residence for Sir Oswald Mosley, friend and ardent admirer of Hitler. Mosley's second wife Diana was one of the famous Mitford sisters, daughters of the 2nd Baron Redesdale. After a succession of foreign and Irish owners, Ileclash was sold to John Feehan, an antique dealer, bookseller and founder of the Mercier Press. It is now home to the Ledwith family.
Percy's Legacy

Percy Benson died in 1963. He was survived by his daughter Doris; their son Clive died in 1961. In December 2007, I recieved an email from Julia Elcock explaining how she had been cleaning out books from her mother's house in Ottawa and came upon a book entitled 'A Disconnected Diary', inscribed 'With lots of love to Clive from Dad Oct 1956'. Julia's mother hails from Montreal but Julia was unsure how the book came to be there. She suggested that Clive may have lived in Montreal and been part of a hunting circle that included her grandparents, Ward C. and Grace Pitfield. Julia described the journal as being 'full of bits of writing by, I presume, Percy Benson which may not be literary gems but are energetic and entertaining'. It also contained some loose pieces of typewritten copy, one entitled Ileclash. Julia is kindly sending this book to Ian Benson at Ballyvolane in due course.
Clive Gault Benson

Percy and Lillian's son Clive Gault Benson was born on 25th August 1904 and educated, like his father before him, at Christ Church College, Oxford (BA). He settled in Canada and was married in August 1935 to Judith Margaret Dawson, youngest daughter of Mr and Mrs. W. J. Pace of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He predeceased his father by two years, passing away on 22nd September 1961.

Doris Benson

Percy and Lillian's daughter Doris Benson was married on 9th June 1928 to Graham Gadsden of Piers Court, Stinchcombe, Dursley, Gloucester. They had one son. Doris was great pals with Wendy until her death in 1999. Adam Green recalled this sweet old dear telling him a Limerick when he was a young lad:

"There was a young man from Australia,
Who painted his bum like a dahlia,
A penny a smell was all very well
but tuppence a lick was a failure".

Ian Benson also has a vivid recollection of seeing his wife Wendy, his daughter Merry and his cousin Doris chatting together on the sofa. He says he and his son-in-law Jeremy were often paralysed laughing watching the three of them babbling at full-throttle, their faces so alike, their mannerisms almost identical. 'You couldn't tell one from the other', he maintains. 'They had the same intonation, the same way of speaking. It was worth a guinea a box. Paralyzingly funny'.

Charlie Benson, DSO

The fifth Benson brother was the gung-ho Charles "Charlie" Bingley Benson. Born on 21st August 1876 and educated at Radley, he joined the British Army on 4 January 1899, as a Second Lieutenant in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (now the 1st Green Jackets). He served with the Mounted Infantry in South Africa during the Boer War (1901-1902), taking part in operations in Orange River Colony (March - December 1901; January - May 1902) and in Cape Colony (February - March 1901; December 1901 - January 1902). He was promoted Lieutetant, mentioned in Despatches [London Gazette, 29 July 1902], received the Queen's Medal with four clasps, and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order [London Gazette, 31 October 1902].He was promoted Captain on 4th May 1905 and placed on retired pay on 14th March 1914. He served in the European War in France, Belgium and Germany, from 1917 to 1919. He was promoted Major in the Reserve of Officers in September 1915, and subsequently became Lieutenant Colonel. For his services he was mentioned in Despatches, and awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order. On 5th April 1905, he married Maud Heath, only daughter of (then) Colonel Lewis Heath, Indian Army. Her father went on to become Lieutenant General Sir Lewis Macclesfield Heath, KBE,CB,CIE,DSO,MC. He commanded the Indian 3rd Corps in Malaya between 1941 and 1942 (in which capacity he must have encountered Squirrel Green) and was captured in Singapore. He spent the rest of the war in Manchuria and Taiwan and retired in 1946. He was married twice and fathered six children. Charlie died in 1946, leaving a son, Captain Charles William Benson (who married Patricia Boyd, only daughter of Maj-Gen Ian Herbert Fitzgerald Boyd). He also had a daughter, Margaret Adria, who died 'under tragic circumstance' in Portugal in 1905. See: Anglo-Boer War website and 'The V.C. and D.S.O' by Creagh and Humphries.

Arthur Benson, DSO - 'The Pirate of Portugal'

The sixth of the Benson boys was Captain Arthur "The Pirate" Winford Benson, DSO, RN (ret). Born on 25th July 1882, he was married in February 1909 to Avida, daughter of Thomas Goodman. He had previously been engaged to a very prim and proper friend of one of his brothers but that all fell through. 'She looked very flashy and pretty', recalled Wendy. 'Like a chorus girl, absolutely charming, very artistic, she kept their house beautifully arranged". Ian similarly remembers her as a 'frightfully pretty woman' but nobody knew who she was or where she came from and Arthur never told anyone. He was great friends with Ian's father but not even he knew. He served with the Royal Navy in the Great War. He held the influential post of Shipping Attaché to Lisbon during the Second World War, latterly living at Quinta da Venicelas Selubal, Portugal. He was simultaneously heading up the Naval Control Service in Portugal. Ian explains that he was "very much given to getting prisoners-of-war into Lisbon and out the other end. He pulled all kinds of strings and was known as The Pirate". One of his most horrible experiences came one evening when he and his wife were preparing to host some naval dignitaries to dinner. The wives of the naval officers were already present when word arrived of an awful tragedy. The officers car had veered off the road and tumbled over a cliff, killing all five men at once. Arthur and Avida were faced with five women who had become widows on the spot. 'Can you imagine anything worse than that?', wonders Ian. 'Uncle Arthur never mentioned it to anybody ever. It was too awful'. Arthur died on 24th April 1953.

Bones Benson - The Seventh Son

The seventh and youngest of the Benson boys was William "Bones" Knox d'Arcy Benson. Born on 21st September 1885, he was 'tall and gangly and thin and all the other Benson were short and fat', says Wendy. 'He had a brilliant brain', adds Ian, 'but did nothing the whole of his life'. He didn't approve of doing too much and so his elder brother, Ian's father, effectively kept him. He was very popular, a hopeless case, and lived in Guernsey. Bones Benson! He served with the Royal Garrison Artillery during the Great War. The RGA was responsible for the heavy, large calibre guns and howitzers that were positioned some way behind the frontline. Bones married twice. His first wife Kathleen was a daughter of a Guernsey neighbour, William de Huray. They were married on 31st October 1916 and had a son Patrick d'Arcy Benson (who later served with the RAF and married Jean Leslie Newcombe). Kathleen was 'an absolutely sweet woman but she died of consumption not long after'. Bones married again on 30th August 1919. His new bride was the rather more formidable Verena Shakespear, daughter of Edward Bucknall Shakespear, who produced a daughter called Joan Bertha in May 1921. They lived a somewhat reclusive life at Les Fauconnaires in Guernsey during the 1920s and 1930s. Bones died aged 52 at a nursing home in Guernsey on 20th September 1937. His widow Verena died on 24th October 1957.

Bertha and Alice Benson - The Nuns

Perhaps it is a hazard of having seven brothers but it is certainly a curiosity that both of Dr. John Robinson and Bertha Benson's daughters became nuns. The eldest daughter Bertha Louisa was a beauty, constantly under pursuit from lecherous young men. Amongst these was the newspaper magnate, Lord Beaverbook, to whom she apparently became engaged. However, for reasons unclear, this all fell through and, rather suddenly, she converted to Catholicism, became a nun and settled down to a quiet life at Our Lady of Peace, 248, Camphill Avenue, Langside, Glasgow. She took all her money with her. Bertha's younger sister Alice (Maud) was 'more like a sweet pudding than anything'. She took her sister's lead and became a nun in South Africa. Wendy visited her in South Africa while her father was stationed at Simonstown in the 1920s. 'We actually didn't know where she was so it was a bit strange to find her there'.


1. Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiq and Arch Soc
2. Click for more on the Stronge family
3. On 22nd November 1776, William and Frances Benson's daughter Jane (1757 - 1826) married the Rt Rev Charles Agar, DD, 1st Earl of Normanton. Agar began life as a younger son of a country squire from Gowran, Co. Kilkenny. By the time of his marriage to Jane, he was Bishop of Cloyne. Three years later he became Archbishop of Cashel and in 1801 he became Archbishop of Dublin. Malcolmson had described him as "the Church's leading spokesman in its efforts to resist the progressive dismantling of the Penal Laws against Irish Roman Catholics". He was "the leading defender of a Church Establishment under frequent political attack from anti-clerical or greedy Anglicans in the Irish House of Commons, as well as from Roman Catholics, who remained outside parliament until twenty years after his death, but were restored to the parliamentary franchise in 1793". He was created Baron Somerton in 1795, Viscount Somerton in 1800, and Earl of Normanton in 1806, and died possessed of an estate which yielded annual rents £10,000 and comprised approximately £350,000 in investments. Lord Normanton died on 14th July 1809.
4. Early 19th century estate maps show this house to have been on the site of the present day Downshire Hotel. We cannot be sure whether the present house was built in Hill Benson's time - no records have as yet turned up among the Downshire papers as to the precise date for the building. Kathy Trant believes it dated to the end of the 18th century when the 1st Marquis revamped the town but the national inventory of architectural heritage gives c1820 - which would predate Hill Bensons time.
5. Senator James Rea Benson was born at Fintona in 1811 and came to America when he was 5. In 1836, he married Marianne Ingersoll of Ingersoll Town in Oxford County where he had a grist mill. He died at Ottawa on Mar. 18, 1885 and he and his wife are buried at Victoria Lawn Cemetery, St. Catharines. His son was Sir Frederick Benson whose Service Biography reads as follows: Volunteer, Fenian raids in Canada 1866; joined 21 Hussars 1869; transferred to 12 Royal Lancers 1876; Staff College 1880; Capt, 5 Dragoon Guards 1880; transferred to 17 Lancers 1881; Aide-de-camp to Lt Governor, North West Frontier, India 1877; Bde Maj, Poona, India 1882-1884; Garrison Instructor, Bengal, India 1884-1890; Commander, Egyptian Cavalry 1892-1894; Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (Instruction) Dublin, Ireland 1895-1898; Assistant Adjutant General, Chief Staff Officer, South Eastern District 1898-1900; Assistant Adjutant General 6 Div, South African Field Force 1900-1901; Inspector General of Remounts 1903-1904; Director of Transport and Remounts 1904-1907; Maj Gen in charge of Administration 1907-1909; retired 1909
5B. As to Captain Thomas and Alice Benson's twelve children: 'The eldest daughter is the wife of Thomas R. Merritt, of Rodman Hall, St. Catharines; the eldest son, James Binley Benson, died in 1876 at Hamilton, Bermuda, whither he had gone to recruit his health; and three other daughters and three sons are still living. One daughter is unmarried; she is the wife of Calvin Brown, of St. Catharines, and the other is the wife of Thomas Richard Fuller, of Toronto, son of the Lord Bishop of Niagara. The eldest surviving son is Thomas Moore Benson, Barrister-at-law, Port Hope, a Bencher of the Law Society of Ontario, and one of the leading men in his profession in the County of Durham. His first wife was Mary Edith, eldest daughter of Rev. John McCaul, LL.D., President of University College, Toronto, and his present wife is Laura A., daughter of the Lord Bishop of Niagara. The other surviving sons are Richard Lowe Benson, LL.B., Deputy Sheriff of Northumberland and Durham; and Lieut. Col. Frederic Albert Benson, of the 46th Battalion Volunteer Militia, Port Hope'. Further details on this branch of the family can be found by clicking on this site - Thomas Benson Family.
5C. Much of this is taken from 'The Canadian Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men', Ontario Volume, 1880
5D. Daniel Lee, father of a large family, a sawyer employed at J. R. Benson's Mills drowned in the Otonabee River, Peterborough Co., on July 24th 1838.
5E. On November 16th 1838, the government of Upper Canada raised an Embodied Militia Force, Seventh Provisional Battalion at Peterborough consisting of six companies of fifty men under the command of Col. Alexander McDonell and duties in great part carried out by Maj. Cowall. Captain John R. Benson was one of three men so appointed. "Backwoodsman and Peterborough Sentinel" Jan. 11, 1839 cited after Poole (1867). A Sketch of the Early Settlement of Peterborough, p 34.
5F. Poole (1867). A Sketch of the Early Settlement of Peterborough, p 17
6. Jacqueline Bell, 'Benson, John Robinson (1836 - 1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, Melbourne University Press, 1969, p. 144.
7. "John Benson of Heathcote Avenue, Hatfield, Hertfordshire" is listed in The Times of Jan 12, 1952 as one of the 23 people killed when an Aer Lingus Dakota crashed into Snowdonia the night before.
8. A training college with a Church Foundation Trust was established in Cheltenham in 1847. Separate Schools of Art and Science were established in the middle of the nineteenth century in both Cheltenham and Gloucester. By the time of Percy's graduation, mergers had brought these two disciplines together. Colleges of Cookery and Domestic Science were established in 1890and a technical college and colleges of art and design soon after. The teacher training college established in Cheltenham became two separate colleges in the 1920s called St Paul's College of Education and St Mary's College of Education. In 1992 the College was given the right to award its own first and taught postgraduate degrees and in 1998 it was given research degree awarding powers. In 2001 it became the University of Gloucestershire.

Appendix A - Mary Hudspeth Benson & the Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy Trial

"John Wilkes Booth having entered into this conspiracy in Canada, as has been shown, as early as October, he is next found in the city of New York, on the 11th day, as I claim, of November, in disguise, in conversation with another, the conversation disclosing to the witness, Mrs. Hudspeth, that they had some matter of personal interest between them; that upon one of them the lot had fallen to go to Washington; upon the other to go to Newbern. This witness, upon being shown the photograph of Booth, swears "that the face is the same " as that of one of those men, who, she says, was a young man of education and culture, as disappeared by his conversation, and who had a sear, like a bite, near the jaw-bone. It is a fact proved here by the Surgeon-General, that Booth had such a scar on the side of his neck. Mrs. Hudspeth heard him say he would leave for Washington the day after to-morrow. His companion appeared angry because it had not fallen on him to go to Washington. This took place after the Presidential election in November. She can not fix the precise date, but says she was told that General Butler left New York on that day. The testimony discloses that General Butler's army was, on the 11th of November, leaving New York. The register of the National Hotel shows that Booth left Washington on the early morning train, November 11, and that he returned to this city on the l4th. Chester testifies positively to Booth's presence in New York early in November. This testimony shows most conclusively that Booth was in New York on the 11th of November. The early morning train on which he left Washington would reach New York early in the afternoon of that day. Chester saw him there early in November, and Mrs. Hudspeth not only identifies his picture, but describes his person. The sear upon his neck, near his jaw, was peculiar, and is well described by the witness as like a bite. On that day Booth had a letter in his possession which he accidentally dropped in the street car in the presence of Mrs. Hudspeth, the witness, who delivered it to Major-General Dix the same day, and by whom, as his letter on file before this Court shows, the same was transmitted to the War Department, November 17, 1864. That letter contains these words :

"DEAR LOUIS: The time has at last come that we have all so wished for, and upon you every thing depends. As it was decided, before you left, we were to cast lots; we accordingly did so, and you tire to be the Charlotte Corday of the 19th century. When you remember the fearful, solemn vow that was taken bv us, you will feel there is no drawback. Abe must die, and now. You can choose your weapons-the cup, the knife, the bullet. The cup failed us once, and might again. Johnson, who will give this, has been like an enraged demon since the meeting, because it has not fallen upon him to rid the world of the monster. * * * You know where to find your friends. Your disguises are so perfect and complete, that, without one knew your face, no police telegraphic dispatch would catch you. The English gentleman, Harcourt, must not act hastily. Remember he has ten days. Strike for your home, strike for your country; bide your time,but strike sure. Get introduced; congratulate him; listen to his stories (no, many more will the brute tell to earthly friends); do anything but fail, and meet us at the appointed place within the fortnight. You will probably bear from me in Washington. 'Sanders is doing us no good in Canada. "CHAS. SELBY."

The learned gentleman (Mr. Cox), in his very able and carefully considered argument in defense of O'Laughlin and Arnold, attached importance to this letter, and, doubtless, very clearly saw its bearing upon the case, and, therefore, undertook to show that the witness, Mrs. Hudspeth, must be mistaken as to the person of Booth. The gentleman assumes that the letter of General Dix, of the 17th of November last, transmitting this letter to the War Department, reads that the party who dropped the letter was heard to say that he would start to Washington on Friday night next, although the word "next" is not in the letter; neither is it in the quotation which the gentleman makes, for he quotes it fairly; yet he concludes that this would be the l8th of November.

Now, the fact is, the 11th of November last was Friday, and the register of the National Hotel bears witness that Mrs. Hudspeth is not mistaken; because her language is, that Booth said he would leave for Washington day after to-morrow, which would be Sunday, the 13th, and if in the evening, would bring him to Washington on Monday, the l4th of November, the day on which, the register shows, he did return to the National Hotel. As to the improbability which the gentleman raises, on the conversation happening in a streetcar, crowded with people, there was nothing that transpired. Although the conversation was earnest, which enabled the witness, or could have enabled any one, in the absence of this letter, or of the subsequent conduct of Booth, to form the least; idea of the subject-matter of their conversation. The gentleman does not deal altogether fairly in his remarks touching the letter of General Dix ; because, upon a careful examination of the letter, it will be found that he did not form any such judgment as that it was a hoax for the Sunday Mercury, but he took care to forward it to the Department, and asked attention to it; when, as appears by the testimony of the Assistant Secretary of War, Mr. Dana, the letter was delivered to Mr. Lincoln, who considered it important enough to indorse it with the word "Assassination," and file it in his office, where it was found after the commission of this crime, and brought into this Court to bear witness against his assassins.

With thanks to Adam Green, Ian Benson, Wendy Benson, Chris Heath, Julia Elcock, Carrie Lee-Baker, Harriet D'arcy-Kent, Piers John D'Arcy-Kent, Caroline Esposito, Elizabeth Lewis, Rev. Victoria Geer McGrath, Charlotte Benson and Sue Squirrell.

For Benson Part 1, click here.