Isabella Fyvie Mayo (1843-1914)
Suffragist Isabella Fyvie Mayo, lived the first half of her life in central London and the second half in Aberdeen. However, she was buried in the churchyard at Christ Church, Coldharbour, Surrey, on 18 May 1914. She was also a writer and her ‘pen name’ was Edward Garrett. Lindy Moore reveals more about this fascinating woman.
Isabella’s attitude to women’s suffrage was extremely complex. She was introduced to the campaign in the 1860s, when she lived in London, probably by Langham Place contacts while she spent a week there as a (paid) secretary while Emily Davies was away. In her various fiction-writing for the popular periodical press she made occasional references to the issue of women’s roles in general and to suffrage in particular- she did not see the ‘Votes for Women’ movement as a priority. She wrote articles about women’s suffrage in 1889 and 1892 and made a number of references c.1900 referencing the injustice of taxation without representation (including letters to the press and speeches, mainly in consequence of the events of South African War). She led a women’s suffrage delegation to the local MP but she was not a member of the local suffrage society. Instead, she was interested in the socialist connections and activism of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and she chaired several local meetings in 1906 and spring 1907, attended by Mrs Pankhurst.
Dismayed by the introduction of violence as a WSPU tactic (she had become an ethical anarchist Tolstoyan follower), she dropped her public activities for the WSPU and probably eventually resigned. In various articles published in 1912, she criticised suffragette action for its implication that good could come out of evil; criticised middle-class hunger strikers for choosing to impose their actions on working women at the prisons who could not afford to make such choices; and criticised wealthy Fabians for supporting women’s suffrage and social justice without doing anything practical themselves to help relieve poverty. She may also have discussed British women’s suffrage tactics with Mahatma Gandhi!
Isabella’s husband, John Ryall Mayo, was buried in Coldharbour in 1877, and she had a cottage called ‘The Nest’ there (perhaps inherited from him), so she probably visited Surrey regularly during in the 1870s and possibly occasionally throughout her life.
Following Isabella’s death, an article in the Aberdeen Evening Express describes the granite cross marking her grave:
“Granite Chips. There has just been completed in Mr James Taggart’s yard in Great Western Road several crosses for different parts the country. One of particular local interest is a wheel cross in Peterhead granite which is to be erected in Surrey. The cross, the whole of which is rustic, stands 6 feet high, and has no die or bases. On the face of it an oval-shaped panel has been finely axed for the following inscription in raised leaded letters – “In memory of John Mayo, who departed 30th Nov., 1877, aged 33. And of his wife, Isabella Fyvie, ‘Edward Garrett,’ born 10th Dec., 1843, died 13th May, 1914.” The grave is to be enclosed by a neat set of rustic kerbs, also in Peterhead granite”. [9 November 1914, p. 4].
Perhaps this meant there had previously been no headstone marking John’s grave, or if they removed one and replaced it with a new one when Isabella was buried?
Isabella left her cottage (still in existence), to a mixed-race Sri Lankan, Dr George Ferdinands (1865-1945), who had lived in her Aberdeen household as a surrogate son. Dr Ferdinands and his wife are also buried at Coldharbour. Research at Surrey History Centre shows ‘The Nest’ situated on Abinger Road, Coldharbour, although it does not appear on the census returns for 1871, 1891 and 1911. There is a list of Coldharbour parish inhabitants for 1910 but Isabella isn’t listed (see SHC ref COH/9/1). The Ferdinands moved to Coldharbour in 1916. Dr Ferdinand appears the Kelly’s Directory for 1924 and both are listed in the Coldharbour electoral registers from 1929 onwards.
Interestingly, also buried at Coldharbour churchyard are Sir James Mackenzie Davidson (1856-1919; pioneer in the use of radiology) and his wife Georgina. Mackenzie Davidson, from Argentina, also boarded with Isabella as a student and graduate in Aberdeen, and he recommended Dr Ferdinands for a medical post. His wife, Georgina (1851-1927), came from Aberdeen and was also known to Isabella; Georgina was Aberdeen representative for the National Union of Women Workers, and on the Appeal Committee for the extension of Bedford College. The Davidsons moved to London about 1897. It therefore seems likely that both the Ferdinands and the Davidsons are buried at Coldharbour because of their contact with Isabella, and she was buried there because of her husband.
In addition to her contacts with both Tolstoy and Gandhi, Isabella Fyvie Mayo is also of interest as an early temping secretary, an anti-vivisectionist, and in particular, as a pioneering anti-racism campaigner.
Isabella Fyvie lived in The Strand, London, but in late 1869 moved to the Kennington area of Lambeth, where her future husband lived. She married John Ryall Mayo Jnr on 9 July 1870, at Clapham UP Church. The 1871 census shows them residing at 42 Sidney Road, Lambeth, with John listed as a solicitor (age 26), and wife, Isabella (age 27), born Lambeth, Surrey. They are living with Margaret Fyvie. By 1873 they had moved north of the Thames, to Devonshire Square, near Liverpool St Station.
John Ryall Mayo appears in the electoral registers for London for 1873, 1874, 1876 and 1878 (via Ancestry). His death was registered in Dec Qtr 1877, London City district, aged 33 (b. 1844). His Probate Index entry records the address as 14 & 16 Devonshire Square, London. The Coldharbour burial register entry is dated (4th) December 1877, with his address is given as St Botolph, London (N.B. the surname on Ancestry is mis-transcribed as ‘Mays’).
The 1881 census shows Isabella F Mayo, widow, living at Firrhill Place, 2, Old Machar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, with her adopted son, George R Mayo (aged 10).
The Probate Index for Isabella records her death on 13 May 1914, widow, of Bishopsgate, Old Aberdeen; estate granted to George Prowett Staples Ferdinand, M.D, ophthalmic surgeon, to the value of £1364 3s 11d. Isabella’s will was published in the Aberdeen Evening News, 29 Dec 1914.
Contributed by Lindy Moore (see https://independent.academia.edu/LindyMoore), with additional research by Rosie Everritt, Di Stiff and Mary Hustings.
Lindy Moore, ‘The Woman’s Suffrage Campaign in the 1907 Aberdeen By-election’, Northern Scotland 5 (2) May 1983, p.155-178
A letter Isabella wrote to the Aberdeen press in February 1907 is available online at http://www.abdn.ac.uk/radicalism/display.php?id=RAD182&image=RAD182_03. However, as Sarah Pedersen shows in The Scottish Suffragettes and the Press, chap. 4 (Springer Press, 2017), Isabella quickly became disillusioned with the WSPU and by November that year the Pankhursts were wishing she would refrain comment as she was causing a lot of trouble!
One of Isabella’s publication is Recollections of what I saw, what I lived through, and what I learned during more than fifty years of social and literary experience (London), 1910. One of her novels is called The Capel Girls.
Christ Church Coldharbour https://www.coldharbourchurch.org.uk/