Mrs Janet Catherine SYMONDS, née North (1837–1913)
St Giles [Ss Philip & James] section: Row 3, Grave B28

Catherine Symonds

And Wife of

Born Augt 26, 1837   Died Sep 6, 1913

Back of Symonds grave

Back of grave, shown above:



Her husband
John Addington Symonds
was buried in Rome in 1893

See entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for: (1) her husband John Addington Symonds the younger;
(2) her father-in-law John Addington Symonds the elder; (3) her sister Marianne North;
(4) her daughter Dame Katherine Furse; and (5) her son-in-law Charles Wellington Furse

Two relatives of Mrs Symonds’s husband are also buried in other graves in St Sepulchre's Cemetery:
His sister Mrs Charlotte Byron Green, née Symonds,
and his uncle Frederick Symonds

Janet Catherine North (known as Catherine) was born at Hastings on 26 August 1837. She was the daughter of Frederick North (born in Hastings in 1800) and his second wife Mrs Janet Shuttleworth, née Marjoribanks (born in Ladykirk, Scotland in 1797/8). Catherine’s father, who was the Liberal MP for Hastings, owned Rougham Hall in Norfolk. Her mother had formerly been briefly married to Robert Shuttleworth of Gawthorpe Hall: she married him in November 1816, had a daughter in November 1817, and was widowed in March 1818. Curiously this daughter was also given the name of Janet, which may explain why her younger stepsister Janet North preferred her middle name of Catherine.

Catherine’s parents were married in Wiltshire in 1825 and had three children:

  • Charles North (born at Hastings on 25 March 1828)
  • Marianne North (born at Hastings on 24 October 1830): she became a painter and traveller
  • (Janet) Catherine North (born at Hastings on 26 August 1837).

At the time of the 1851 census Catherine was aged 13 and at home with her parents and elder sister Marianne (20) at 3 Old London Road, Hastings. Her governess was living in the house, and there were also six servants. Her father described himself as a magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant for the Counties of Norfolk and Sussex.

Catherine’s mother died in 1855 when she was 18.

In 1863 Catherine was visiting Switzerland, where she met John Addington Symonds. Born in Clifton, Bristol in 1840, he was the only son of the surgeon John Addington Symonds senior and his wife Harriet Sykes, and the nephew of the Oxford surgeon Frederick Symonds. He had been a Fellow of Magdalen College Oxford in 1862/3, but then his health collapsed following an affair with a young male chorister. His health problems were diagnosed as resulting from sexual repression, and he was advised to attempt the “cure” of marriage.

On 10 November 1864 at St Clement’s Church in Hastings, John Addington Symonds married (Janet) Catherine North, and they had four daughters:

  • Janet Harriet Symonds (born in Kensington, London in 1865 and baptised at Clifton, Bristol on 22 December)
  • Charlotte Mary Symonds (born in Kensington, London in 1867 and baptised at Clifton, Bristol on 30 August)
  • Margaret Symonds (born at 7 Victoria Square, Clifton, Bristol in 1869 and baptised there on 8 March)
  • Katharine Symonds (born at Clifton Hill House, Clifton, Bristol on 23 November 1875 and baptised there on 1 February 1876).

The couple first lived in London: at 7 Half Moon Street in 1864, then at 47 Norfolk Square from January 1865. Later that year Catherine's husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Catherine’s father Frederick North died in 1868, and her brother Charles North moved into Rougham Hall. In that same year Catherine and her husband moved to 7 Victoria Square Clifton, where John lectured on Greek at Clifton College. He was still having affairs with boys during this time, and in 1869 Catherine and Symonds agreed to a platonic marriage, and that he would continue have male companions. The couple had many literary friends, and in that year Edward Lear wrote The Owl and the Pussy Cat for their four-year-old daughter Janet.

At the time of the 1871 census John (30) and Catherine (33) were on holiday at Piermont Place, Dawlish with their daughters Janet (5), Charlotte (3), and Margaret (2), together with two nurses to look after them. In September 1871 they moved into Clifton Hill House, the Palladian Villa in Bristol that had been occupied by John’s father until his death in February that year.

Symonds wrote poetry inspired by his homosexual affairs, and in 1873 his book Male Love: A Problem in Greek Ethics was published.

Notwithstanding their now platonic marriage, Catherine gave birth to their youngest daughter Katharine in Clifton in 1875.

Catherine's husband became very ill with bronchitis and the family went abroad in 1878, settling permanently in Davos in Switzerland in 1880. Catherine and other English ladies set up a private home there for 14 invalids suffering from lung trouble.

In 1884 Henry James used some details of the relationship between Catherine and her husband as the starting-point for the short story The Author of Beltraffio.

In 1887 in Paddington, her eldest daughter Janet Harriet Symonds died of tuberculosis at the age of 22; and on 30 August 1890 her sister Marianne North died.

In April 1893, when John Addington Symonds was in Rome on a lecture tour he caught influenza. He died there on 19 April 1893, and at his side was his companion Angelo, a Venetian gondolier. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome on 22 April. His wealth at death was £75,666.

Catherine returned to England, and three of her daughters were married there before the next census:

  • On 22 May 1894 at Lyme Regis, Dorset, Charlotte Mary Symonds (26), described as being of Lyme Regis, married Walter Leaf (41), a Doctor of Letters of Marylebone
  • In the third quarter of 1898 at St George’s, Hanover Square, London, Margaret Symonds married William Wyamar Vaughan (the cousin of Virginia Woolf)
  • Near the end of 1900 at St George’s, Hanover Square, London, Katharine Symonds married the painter Charles Wellington Furse.

At the time of the 1901 census Catherine was living at 4 Albert Road, Bristol with her daughter Mrs Margaret Vaughan and her son-in-law William Wyamar Vaughan, who was a schoolmaster.

Catherine’s brother Charles North died on 10 May 1906.

In 1911 Catherine was living on her own with one servant at Colway Lodge, Uplyme Road, Lyme Regis, but by the time of her death in 1913 she was evidently living at 11 Bardwell Road, Oxford:

† Mrs Janet Catherine Symonds née North died at 11 Bardwell Road, Oxford at the age of 76 on 6 September 1913 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 9 September (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church, and probably that of Ss Philip & James as well).

Her wealth at death was £10,071. Her obituary, which appeared in The Times on 8 September 1913, says more about her mother and sister than the long-suffering deceased:


The death took place on Saturday, at 11, Bardwell-road, Oxford, at the age of 76, of Janet Catherine, widow of John Addington Symonds, and daughter of the late Frederick North, M.P.

Mrs. Symonds met her husband at a time when Symonds, worn out in mind and body by his academic achievements at Oxford, had developed the consumptive tendencies inherent in his mother’s family. He sought refuge in Switzerland and spent the winter in Italy. On August 16, 1864, they exchanged betrothal rings on the summit of Piz Languard, and they were married on November 10 at St. Clement’s Church, Hastings, going to live in Albion-street, and afterwards in Norfolk-square, London. Symonds’s pulmonary troubles, however, became worse, and even before 1878, from which time he spent the greater part of his life at Davos, he made several tours abroad. Mrs. Symonds was the sister of Marianne North, who painted the remarkable series of pictures of flora which are housed in Kew Gardens. In the execution of this work Miss North visited many foreign countries between 1871 and 1879, when she offered to present the drawings to Kew and to build a gallery at her own expense. At the suggestion of Charles Darwin she made further voyages to Australasia, and finally returned to England in 1886, when she rearranged the Kew Gallery. Miss North wrote her autobiography under the title “Recollections of a Happy Life,” and this work, edited by Mrs. Symonds, appeared in 1892.

The three surviving daughters of Janet Catherine North and her husband John Addington Symonds
  • Mrs Charlotte Mary Leaf, née Symonds (born 1867) and her husband Walter Leaf, who was a banker, were living at 6 Sussex Place, Regents Park in 1911 with their daughter Katharine Symonds Leaf (born 1899/1900), plus a resident governess, and four servants. Charlotte died in York at the age of 97 in 1963.
  • Mrs Margaret Vaughan, née Symonds (born 1869) and her husband William Wyamar Vaughan had two children: Janet Maria Vaughan (born in Bristol in 1900) and David Wyamar Vaughan (born in Giggleswick in 1906/7). At the time of the 1911 census William was the headmaster of Wellington College, and they were living at the school lodge with seven servants, including a governess and footman. She died at Rugby in December 1925 and was cremated. (See her brief biography on the Find A Grave website.)
  • Dame Katharine Furse, née Symonds (born 1875) and her husband Charles Wellington Furse had two sons: Peter Reynolds Furse (born in 1901) and John Paul Wellington Furse (born 13 October 1904). Katharine’s husband died at Farnham, Surrey at the age of 36 in 1904. Katharine enrolled in the first Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment attached to the Territorial Army soon after its formation in 1909, and in 1914 she went to France, heading the first official VAD unit to be sent abroad. At the end of the year she was recalled to London to start a VAD department, and was appointed commandant-in-chief. In 1917 she was made a Dame. After the First World War she took up ski-ing and Girl Guide work. She died at University College Hospital on 25 November 1952, and her wealth at death was £10,996. Her son John Paul Wellington Furse became a Rear-Admiral in the Royal Navy.



Please email
if you would like to add information

These biographies would not have been possible without the outstanding transcription services
provided by the Oxfordshire Family History Society

© Friends of St Sepulchre’s Cemetery 2012–2017