In 1895 my great-great-grandmother, Ellen Jane Cavenagh-Mainwaring (1845-1920), wife of Wentworth Cavenagh-Mainwaring (1822-1895), was widowed at the age of 49.  Of their ten children, six were daughters and five of these were unmarried. She saw all of them married before she died, even the youngest, Kiddie.

  • James Gordon (1865 – 1938) 
  • Eva Mainwaring (1867 – 1941) 
  • Mabel Alice (1868 – 1944) known as May
  • Wentworth Rowland (1869 – 1933) 
  • Orfeur Charles (1872 – 1890) 
  • Kathleen Mary (1874 – 1951) known as Kate
  • Hugh (1875 – 1953) 
  • Helen Maud (1877 – 1918) known as Nellie
  • Alice Mainwaring (1879 – 1952) known as Queenie
  • Gertrude Lucy (1882 – 1968) known as Kiddie

Ellen and her daughters were all born in Australia. In 1891 the family moved to England and lived at Southsea near Portsmouth when Ellen inherited the Whitmore estate in Staffordshire after the death of her brother Frederick (1859-1891). The estate was leased, hence The Cavenagh-Mainwaring family could not live there until the lease expired.

Christine Cavenagh-Mainwaring, writing in 2013, suggests that Ellen Jane, following her inheritance of the Whitmore Estate in 1891,

didn’t feel that Staffordshire offered sufficient suitable young men as potential husbands for her daughters, so being a very sensible and pragmatic woman, promptly took a house in Southsea, near to the naval base of Portsmouth where there were a considerable number of young naval officers and installed her bevy of girls there. (One can almost feel the approval of this strategy of Jane Austen’s Mrs Bennet. ) The girls duly obliged and in due course five of them married naval officers. (Cavenagh-Mainwaring, Christine and Britton, Heather, (editor.) Whitmore Hall : from 1066 to Waltzing Matilda. Adelaide Peacock Publications, 2013. pages 117-118)

This Jane Austen view of a bevy of girls needing husbands, on the marriage market, provides a misleading image of the Cavenagh-Mainwaring daughters. When the Cavenagh-Mainwaring women married they were not young. Eva married at the age 25 to a 41-year-old lieutenant, not a successful career officer. My great grandmother Kathleen was 27 when she married.  Helen was 25 when she married, Mabel was 37, Alice was 33 and Gertrude was 37. Perhaps their colonial Australian background hindered their marriage prospects, perhaps they were not interested marrying as quickly as possible, perhaps not all Victorian women married young and our assumptions are wrong about this aspect of Victorian  life.

My grandmother wrote on the back of the photograph that it was taken in 1908 and the names: Back row, left to right: Queenie Magee; Kate Cudmore; Nellie Millet Middle row, L to R: Eva Gedge; May Gillett Front centre: Kiddie Bennett

In 1892, the oldest daughter Eva married a naval officer, Herbert James Gedge (1851-1913). There were reports of the wedding in English and Australian newspapers. (For example A LADY’S LETTER. (1892, November 26). South Australian Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1895), p. 18. Retrieved April 14, 2014, from .)

Launch of HMS Agammemnon at Chatham Dockyard from the Illustrated London News of September 27 1879

In September 1892 Herbert J. Gedge was appointed lieutenant and joined the Agamemnon. (“Naval & Military Intelligence.” Times [London, England] 24 Sept. 1892: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.) He retired from the Navy as captain on 3 May 1904. (1912 Navy List page 645) He became an adviser in Egypt with the title of Pasha, a title denoting high rank or office. In 1913 Herbert Gedge died in Alexandria, Egypt. 

Eva and Herbert had two children: Norah (1894-1971 and Edward 1895-1991).

Kathleen, my great grandmother, married Arthur Murray Cudmore (1870-1951) in Melbourne, Australia in 1901. He was the only husband of these six daughters who was not in the navy. He was a doctor, a colleague of Kathleen’s brother Wentworth. Arthur would have known the Mainwarings in Adelaide, South Australia. He went to England to study. The Cudmores had two daughters, Rosemary (1904-1987) and Kathleen (1908-1913).

In 1902 Helen, known as Nellie, married Thompson Horatio Millett (1870-1920) in Hampshire.

Thompson Millet was appointed Fleet Paymaster in September 1909. (Navy List 1918 page 130) In the 1919 King’s Birthday Honours he was made Commander of the Bath (civil division). He then held the rank of Paymaster Commander (acting Paymaster Captain). (“Birthday Honours.” Times [London, England] 3 June 1919: 18+. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.) In recommending him for the post-war award Admiral Commanding 3rd battle SquadronSir E. Bradford wrote

Paymaster Captain Thompson H. Millet, was my Secretary throughout the period of my command of the 3rd Battle Squadron, from June 1914, to July, 1916. Being almost always detached from the C-in-C’s Flag except at sea, and generally having addition battleship and cruiser squadron and a flotilla under my orders was a source of increased Secretarial work, and Paymaster Captain Millet performed his duties with untiring zeal and an admirable punctuality. ( from

Helen died in 1918 and Thompson in 1920. They had had three children, Hugh (1903-1968) and Guy (1907-1978), and a third child, who died in infancy.

“Deaths.” Times [London, England] 14 Apr. 1920: 1. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Mabel married Owen Francis Gillett (1863-1938) on 16 April 1906 at St Paul’s Church, Valletta, Malta.

“Marriages.” Times [London, England] 23 Apr. 1906: 1. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Elevation drawing of St Paul’s Valletta by the architect William Scamp in 1842. Retrieved from

In 1924 Owen Gillett retired as Vice-Admiral, and was promoted to Admiral on the retired list. His obituary in the Times mentioned his World War 1 service at the Cape, where he was senior naval officer at Simonstown for over three years. (“Admiral Gillett.” Times [London, England] 23 Mar. 1938: 16. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.)

Mabel and Owen had two children, Michael (1907-1971) and Anne (1911-?).

Alice, known as Queenie, married William Edward Blackwood Magee (1886-1981) on 14 August 1913 at St Simons, Southsea.

In December 1910, W.E.B. Magee gave his future mother-in-law a book of the first two operas of the Ring Cycle.  I wrote about the book at

In 1917 and again in 1918, as Lieutenant Commander, William Magee was mentioned in despatches as part of the honours for the Destroyers of the Harwich Force. ( London Gazette 22 June 1917 and Edinburgh Gazette 25 February 1919) In 1920, for services in the Baltic in 1919, Lieut.-Cdr. William Edward Blackwood Magee, R.N. was made Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, for distinguished services in command of H.M.S. “Watchman.”. (Edinburgh Gazette 10 March 1920) In 1945 Captain (Commodore second class, R.N.R.) William Edward Blackwood Magee, D.S.O., R.N. (Ret.), was appointed Commander of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire for Distinguished Service in the War in Europe. (London Gazette 7 December 1945) William Edward Blackwood Magee became a Captain in 1929. (1939 Navy List).

Alice and William had two children, Richard (1915-1937) and Jean (1917-1996).

The Harwich Force Leaving for Sea by Philip Connard 1918. A view from the stern deck of a Royal Navy warship looking back at a convoy of warships arranged in two parallel lines. Four sailors stand on the deck. The foremost ships visible include light cruisers and a destroyer. The coastline is visible in the left background. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1318)retrieved from

Gertrude, known as Kiddie, married Edward Morden Bennett (1878-1941) on 30 April 1919 at St Thomas’s Church, Portsmouth.

In January 1919 Commander Edward Morden Bennett, R.N. was made Officer of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire. (London Gazette 1 January 1919) At the time of his death he held the rank of Captain. 

“Deaths.” Times [London, England] 28 Apr. 1941: 1. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Kiddie and Edward had one daughter, Jean (1921-2009).

The six daughters of Ellen Jane Cavenagh-Mainwaring had a very different experience of marriage and motherhood to that of their mother. Ellen Jane married aged 19 and had ten children. Her daughters were aged between 25 and 37 when they married and had none of them had more than three children.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the mean age of women marrying in the United Kingdom was 25. (Woods, Robert (2000). The demography of Victorian England and Wales. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge ; New York page 82) Recent figures have age at first marriage in the United Kingdom as 28.5 for women in 2005 and in Australia at 27.7 as at 2009. (Age at first marriage. (2014, April 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:56, April 16, 2014, from Historic figures for the United States show that the median age at first marriage for women was about 22 between 1890 and 1910, declining in 1920 and lowest in the 1950s and has climbed higher over the last decades to over 26 years old today. (US Census Bureau graph of Median age at first marriage by sex: 1890 to 2013 ) The earliest figure I have for Australia is that the median marriage age for spinsters in 1921 was 25.2. This figure is not useful to compare to the Cavenagh-Mainwaring women as it is after World War I. (Vamplew, Wray (1987). Australians, historical statistics. Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates, Broadway, N.S.W., Australia page 46)

In composing this blog post I have realised how little I know about young women 100 years ago and my great grandmother and her sisters. I am unable to assess whether they were eager to be married or content to wait until the right person was there. I suspect they were financially able not to marry. Perhaps there was pressure on the youngest daughter not to marry and keep her mother company.

A related post  five of the girls attend a children’s ball in 1887: