A ‘Love of Wandering’[i]: The Webb Family Abroad- Guest Post by Harriet Bird


Harriet Bird graduated with an undergraduate degree in History from Nottingham Trent University in 2019 and is currently studying for her master’s in Museum and Heritage Development. After beginning a volunteer position at Newstead Abbey in 2018 she became interested in the history of the Webb family and has begun researching this alongside her studies.  

Scotland, France, Italy, Switzerland, Madeira, Egypt, South Africa, Jerusalem, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand. The Victorian owners of Newstead Abbey travelled extensively.  

From an early age, William Frederick Webb (1829-1899) was used to travelling to different countries. Although born in England, he was largely raised in France and was known as “the French boy” when he began his education at Eton College.[i] After leaving Eton he became a captain of the 17th Lancers and spent time in Ireland, however, “the monotony of regimental life” did not suit Webb and he resigned his commission and turned his attentions to Africa.[ii] At the age of 22, he landed in South Africa to begin a two-year expedition of the country.[iii] After reluctantly leaving Africa early in 1853, he visited India after hearing so much about the country but found “after the free life of the African wilderness the India of those days failed to attract him” and he returned to England by the end of the year.[iv]

Figure 1: A photograph of five of the Webb children stood in front of Eagle Pond in the gardens of Newstead Abbey. Photograph from Webb Family Photo Album.

In July 1857, Webb married Emilia Jane Goodlake (1835-1889), the daughter of Thomas Mills Goodlake of Wadley at Farringdon in Berkshire (1808-1877).[v] The couple moved to Pepper Hall in Yorkshire where their first three children, Augusta Zelia (1858), Geraldine Katherine (1860), and Wilfred (1861), were born. Shortly after Wilfred was born in spring 1861 the family moved to Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, where four more children followed, Ethel Mary (1862), Mabel Cecilia (1863), Algernon Frederick (1865) and Roderick Beauclerk (1867).

The Webb children’s childhoods were filled with tales of their father’s excursions abroad, in particular, his expedition to Africa, so much so that Augusta later claimed, “Africa played such a familiar part in our childhood’s days as to be almost as real to us as our home surroundings”.[vi] From surviving letters and family photograph albums, we find that William and Emilia continued to travel and often took the children with them. Not only did the family spend their summers in Scotland at Arrochar, but they also travelled abroad to places such as Switzerland, Italy and Egypt.[vii] Emilia managed to fulfil her “great desire” and visited Jerusalem, as Augusta related, “it was a very real and true pilgrimage”, and she was “very proud of her pilgrim’s ring”.[viii]  It is perhaps not surprising that their children continued to travel and may have acquired the same “love of wandering” Augusta describes her father as having.[ix]

Figure 2 : Photograph taken by a member of the Webb family identified as Jerusalem. Photograph from the Webb Family Photo Album.

Three years after her marriage to Philip Affleck Fraser in July 1889, Augusta found herself settling in Jamaica during her husband’s work with the railway.[x] Already an experienced and talented author having published articles and short stories in the periodicals in England, Augusta began her first full-length novel. Inspired by her new surroundings and the stories told to her by the local population, A Study in Colour was published in 1894. A second novel, Lucilla (1895), and a collection of short stories, A Reluctant Evangelist (1896), followed, all published under the pseudonym, Alice Spinner. Augusta’s fourth work, Livingstone and Newstead, was published in 1913 under her married name.

In the 1890s Geraldine and Ethel got the opportunity to accompany their father on a trip to Japan. On their return, inspired by their visit, rooms began to be filled with purchases and souvenirs, the Henry VII bedroom being redecorated to create a Japanese Room. Ethel also took this inspiration out into the gardens and set about designing a Japanese Garden, her sketches and research having survived to be shown to visitors at the Abbey today.

Death also haunted trips abroad. In 1889, Emilia became “hopelessly ill” and the “South African climate had been recommended to her”.[xi] Accompanied only by her husband, she travelled to South Africa where the weather did “allay much of her suffering” but in December she passed away just two months after arriving.[xii]  Two years later, a visit to Madeira was extended for some time on account of Mabel’s “delicate health” and her “suffering from the effects of a severe fall”.[xiii] When she eventually returned to England in July it was decided for her to undergo an operation, however, shortly after chloroform had been administered Mabel “sank rapidly” and died from a complication with her heart.[xiv] In 1898, Webb, like his wife, had travelled abroad for declining health.[xv] Suffering from acute laryngitis, Webb spent his last months in Egypt, passing away in February 1899 potentially from heart failure.[xvi]

Figure 3: Photograph of a sphinx taken in Egypt. Photograph from the Webb Family Photo Album.

In December the same year, Geraldine married Sir Herbert Charles Chermside (1850-1929) in a quickly arranged and quiet ceremony on account of Chermside’s departure for South Africa on active service on 4 January 1900, both Geraldine and Ethel later joined him.[xvii] Following his appointment as the 9th Governor of Queensland, a post he held between 1902 and 1904, the couple relocated to Australia.[xviii]  Whilst there, Geraldine visited New Zealand in October 1903, her husband joined her for Christmas before they both returned to Australia at the end of January 1904.[xix] Like her parents, when her health was failing she travelled abroad to Switzerland for improvement but died in June 1910.[xx]

The youngest Webb sibling, Roderick, also found himself in Australia. Likely leaving England after being examined by a bankruptcy court in 1896 for debts of over £11,000, Roderick is reportedly to have taken up mining, farming and “dairying” in Australia.[xxi] Like his father, Roderick had begun a military career after leaving school, a career he retained in Australia after taking the position of aide-de-camp to his brother-in-law, Chermside.[xxii] During the war, he was ordered to East Africa where he died from heart failure in 1916.[xxiii]

With Newstead Abbey as their base, the Webb’s travelled extensively for exploration, enjoyment, employment and easing of illness. Their combined “love of wandering” led them to places as far away as Australia and Japan and their travels often coincided with important landmarks in their lives making it almost impossible to tell their story without reference to them.   

Photographs from the Webb Family Photo Album used with kind permission from Simon Brown, Curator of Newstead Abbey.


[i] Fraser, A.Z. 1913. Livingstone and Newstead, London: John Murray, p.3.

[ii] Ibid, pp.1-2.

[iii] Ibid, pp. 2-6. See Chapters 2-6 for an account of his time in Africa and meeting with Dr Livingstone.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid, pp. 41-42.

[vi] ‘Marriage in the High Life’, Morning Post, Thursday, 16 July 1857, p.5. ; Fraser, Livingstone, pp. 64-65.

[vii] Fraser, Livingstone, p.33.

[viii] A copy of the Webb family photograph album is available for visitors to look through at Newstead Abbey and some of the letters are also on display.

[ix] Fraser, Livingstone, p.170.

[x] Ibid, p.3.

[xi] Bryan, P. (2000), The Jamaican People, 1880-1902: Race, Class, and Social Control, University of West Indies Press, p.40, 199.  

[xii] Fraser, Livingstone, pp. 248-251.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] ‘Sad Death of the Daughter of Mr Webb, of Newstead Abbey’, Mansfield Reporter, Friday, 3 July 1891, p.8.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] ‘Mr W. F. Webb’, Nottingham Evening Post, Saturday, 25 Feb 1899, p.4.

[xvii] Ibid. ; ‘Stray Pellets’, Sporting Gazette: The County Gentleman, Saturday, 18 March 1899, p.345.

[xviii] ‘Major-General Sir H. Chermside and Miss Geraldine Webb’, Nottingham Journal, Thursday, 28 Dec 1899, p.6. ; ‘Major-Gen. Sir H. Chermside, G.C.M.G., C.B., to Miss G. K. Webb’, Gentlewoman, Saturday, 13 Jan 1900, p.56.

[xix] ‘Queensland’s New Governor’, Pall Mall Gazette, Wednesday, 1 Jan 1902, p.8. ; ‘Army Personal’, Army and Navy Gazette, Saturday, 11 Jan 1902, p.28. ; ‘Sir H. Chermside Resigns’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld: 1872-1947), Friday, 30 Sep 1904, p.4.

[xx] ‘Lady Chermside’s Departure’, The Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld: 1861-1908), Tuesday, 6 Oct 1903, p.12. ; ‘Governor Gone’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld: 1872-1947), Wednesday, 16 Dec 1903, p.7.

[xxi] ‘Death of Lady Chermside’, Nottingham Evening Post, Thursday, 23 June 1910, p.6.

[xxii] ‘The Affairs of Roderick B. Webb, of Cowton, Yorks, and Newstead Abbey, Notts’, The Freemans Journal, Thursday, 12 Nov, 1896, p.7. ‘Obituary: Major R. B. Webb’, Warwick Examiner and Times (Qld: 1867-1919), Wednesday, 9 Aug 1916, p.1.  

[xxiii] ‘Obituary’, Warwick Examiner, 1916, p.1.

[xxiv] Ibid.

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