Charlotte Yonge's essay society for teenage girls and young women




In 1859 the novelist Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) was encouraged by her cousin Mary Coleridge to start an essay society for a group of young girls who were in need of more mental stimulation than the life of a Victorian daughter at home afforded them. They called her Mother Goose and they became the Goslings. Each girl adopted a fancy pen-name such as 'Hedge Rose' or 'Shamrock'. Each wrote two essays a month for her, and the best essays were circulated among them all. These girls were all being educated at home while their brothers, if they had any, went to schools and universities. Many were the daughters of rural clergymen or landowners and led isolated and monotonous lives.It must have been enormously encouraging for them to have a famous woman novelist criticising their work and taking their intellectual aspirations seriously.

The foundation of the Gosling Society reflects the anxiety felt by many Victorians about the restricted educational opportunities for women.Its existence coincided with the dramatic expansion of schools and universities open to women. It doesn't seem that any of the Goslings benefited personally from these developments, but, as Julia Courtney has argued, they were of the generation who helped to bring such schools and universities into being. Several of them followed Yonge's example and became writers themselves.

Charlotte Yonge herself was not a wholehearted supporter of schools and universities for women, though her attitude mellowed over the years, but her intellectual standards were high. How keen would today's teenage girls be to research and compose two essays a month on such topics as 'The distinguished Christian characters of Milan' or 'What parallel stories does folklore in different countries present to the adventures of Ulysses in the Odyssey?' or 'The citizen of Athens'

The Gosling Society ran in all for about eighteen years, ending by mutual consent in September 1877.

Who were the Goslings?

The earliest known members of the Society were Mary's niece Mildred Coleridge, two other cousins of hers, Paulina Martyn and Christabel Coleridge, two Devon neighbours, Charlotte and Henrietta Fursdon, and Charlotte Yonge's friend and neighbour Emily Moberly. Many of them were related to each other;  all were drawn from a narrow social circle, mainly from clerical and gentry families. They were probably all consciously High Church, and several of them, like Yonge herself, became Associate members of the Wantage sisterhood. Over the years the membership fluctuated as girls grew up, lost interest or married, but it seems to have usually included about ten young women. During the 1860s three other older women, Frances Peard, Florence Wilford, and Emily Synge, were recruited, the first certainly in response to Mary Coleridge's loss of interest as Mildred grew up.

Long after the Gosling Society had ceased to exist, Charlotte Yonge wrote to Florence Wilford (10 October 1890):

Going over our old brood . . .; what a remarkable set they have been, for good, and alas! sometimes for the reverse, but there are a good many that I am proud of.

It would be interesting to know more about the Goslings who had been remarkable for badness. Perhaps she was thinking of Mary Ward, whose bestselling novel Robert Elsmere (1888) had described a clergyman's loss of faith, or of Mildred Coleridge, who had quarrelled publicly with her family about the man she wanted to marry, or of Katie Johns, who had converted to theosophy, parted from her husband and become one of Annie Besant's allies, first in the East End and later at the Central Hindu College at Benares.


The only modern scholarly study is by Julia Courtney,'The Barnacle: A manuscript magazine of the 1860s', in The Girl's Own: Cultural Histories of the Anglo-American Girl 1830-1915 ed. Claudia Nelson and Lynne Vallone.  Arkansas and London, University of Georgia Press: 1994.

The main evidence about the Gosling Society comes from the surviving volumes of its manuscript magazine, The Barnacle (incomplete series, 1863-1867), in the library of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. These have circulation lists at the front, which, in conjunction with two other surviving circulation lists for 1869 and 1876 (private collection), provide most of the information about membership.

There are interesting references to the Society in Christabel Coleridge, Charlotte Mary Yonge: Her Life and Letters (London:  Macmillan, 1903) and Mary J. Y. Harris, Memoirs of Frances Mary Peard. (Torquay: W.H. Smith, 1930).

One of Yonge's stories, The Disturbing Element, or, Chronicles of the Bluebell Society (1878) is about a middle-aged spinster who runs a reading group for a group of girls in a small resort in south Devon. It seems to draw on some of her experiences with the Goslings.

There is some discussion of essay societies in Yonge's regular column pm 'Hints on Reading' in the Monthly Packet 30 (August 1865) 221-2.

There are also a few manuscript letters written by Yonge to some of the Goslings.They are usually dated from Yonge's home at Otterbourne, Winchester, Hampshire; they begin 'My dear Kittiwake' or 'My dear Glow Worm', etc., and are signed 'your affectionate Mother Goose'.

Do you know more about any of the Goslings?

I should very much like to hear from anyone who has more information about these Goslings, or about any other Goslings  (the following list is probably incomplete). 

The Letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge
One of the reasons for putting this list on the web was to attract the attention of people who might have letters from Yonge to the Goslings, or indeed any other letters from Charlotte Yonge. 

The work of compiling the list was part of a larger project to edit Yonge's surviving correspondence, The Letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge, edited by Charlotte Mitchell, Ellen Jordan and Helen Schinske, now available online here.


The Gosling Society began in 1859 and ended in 1877.  The following is a list of identifiable members, with their nicknames and approximate dates of membership. 

ALBATROSS, Joanna Dorothea Dyke Acland Troyte (1843/4-1917) (left Goslings 1863). Daughter of Arthur Henry Dyke Acland Troyte (n é Acland, 1811-1857) and Frances Williams (d.1856), she married (1864) Leonard Harper, son of  the Rev. H. J. C. Harper, first Bishop of Christchurch , New Zealand, and emigrated to New Zealand. She had a double wedding with her sister Mary who married the Rev. Walter Hook.

GRIDIRON, Phoebe Allen, Finchcox. Kilndown, Staplehurst, (CMY to Mary Fursdon, 10 July 1870) and Miss P.A. Allen, Hinton Martel Rectory, Wimborne (Dec 1876 list). Charlotte Yonge met her at Wantage, and said she was lame. Identified as Phoebe Anne Allen (1850-1933), daughter of the Rev. John Collins Allen, Vicar of Hawkley Hants. (1878-86); who contributed to the Monthly Packet and was known to Charlotte Yonge; she  was the author of 45-odd novels, stories for SPCK, books on natural history, and translations.

BOG OAK, (Anne Elizabeth) Mary Anderson Morshead (1845/6-1928),Wiverton, Plympton (c.1866-8).  Daughter of half-pay Captain Pentyre Anderson Morshead, RA, her grandmother was a Yonge. One of the liveliest contributors to The Barnacle, she left the Goslings when she went to South Africa to do missionary and social work in 1868; she later wrote a history of the Universities Mission to Central Africa 1859-1896 (1897) and  A Pioneer and Founder . . . Robert Gray, first Bishop of Cape Town (1905).  She  also edited Eikon Basilike (1887). For many years, from at least 1881, she was a matron at Marlborough St Giles Industrial School for Girls, Andover.  She contributed to the Monthly Packet .and was much involved with the G.F.S. She was first cousin to Iceberg and Sparrow Hawk.

QUEEN BEE, (Helen) Beatrice Anderson Morshead (1853/4-1922) (new in Jan.1871-5?). Sister of Bog Oak, she married (1880) her first cousin John Yonge Anderson Morshead (1846-1923),  barrister, son of Alethea Yonge (d.1863) of Puslinch and the Rev. John Philip Anderson Morshead  (d.1881), Vicar of Salcombe Regis.  They lilved at Salcombe. Her husband was one of CMY's executors.

POLYPODIUM, Maria Georgina Archer Houblon (b.1853), Peasmore Rectory, Newbury (Dec 1876 list). Daughter of the Rev.Thomas Archer Houblon (1808-1874), Rector of Peasmore, and Eleanor Deedes (d.1865).  The father had been one of W. J. Butler's curates; her only brother, the Rev. T.H. Archer Houblon (1849-1933), succeeded Butler as Vicar of Wantage (1881-1907), and Maria kept house for him.  She became an Associate of the Wantage sisterhood in 1870. Of their three sisters Eleanor (d.1917), became an associate in 1866; Sophia (1844-1927) became a professed sister of the community in 1878 and Reverend Mother 1912-1920; and  Louisa Margaret (d.1924), became an associate in 1871, professed sister in 1880, and Reverend Mother of the daughter house of the Holy Rood, Worthing. They were cousins of Elizabeth Forbes and Rachel Deedes.

WINDERMERE, Mary Augusta Arnold (1851-1920), Laleham, Oxford (1868-1870).  Daughter of Thomas Arnold (1823-1900), school inspector and teacher, granddaughter of Dr. Arnold of Rugby. An immensely popular and widely admired novelist, she married (1872) Thomas Humphry Ward (1845-1926), and did social work and anti-suffrage campaigning.

SPARROWHAWK , Annie or Anne Baker (b.1840/1), Upper East Hayes, Bath (new in Sept 1867).  Daughter of Major Thomas Richard Baker (1802-1884), J.P., 7th Fusiliers, Rtd. and Mary Frances Anderson Morshead (d. 1843).  She was first cousin to Bog Oak and Queen Bee.

HOOPOE, Ebba Bayley (b.1845/6), Cotford House, Sidbury, Sidmouth (new c.1866-7). Daughter of William Rutter Bayley (1813/4-1879) JP, of Cotford.

Anne Badcock Buckle (1845-1871), 9 New Ormond St., Queens Square, London (left 1863).  Daughter of Captain Edmund Buckle (1808-1846), Indian army officer and historian, and Anne Nicolls;  his aunt Anne m. Col Stanhope Badcock, and was great-grandmother of Paulina Martyn.

MOCKING BIRD, Maude [?] Budd, The Manor House, Clifton [or Upton?](1869 list).  Perhaps, very interestingly, Alice Maud Budd, daughter of the epidemiologist William Budd (1811-1880), of The Manor House, Clifton, and Caroline Mary Hilton (d.1887).  He has been proposed as a model for Lydgate in Middlemarch and was an important figure in Victorian sanitary reform, a pioneer who recognised that typhus and typhoid were distinct, how cholera and typhoid were transmitted, etc.. 

FROG, (Edith) Emma  Butler (1851-1936), The Vicarage, Wantage (1869 list, Dec 1876 list).  Daughter of the Rev. W. J. Butler (1818-1894), Vicar of Wantage, Dean of Lincoln, and Emma Barnett (1813-1894).  She married (c.1877), as his third wife, Edward Lewis Knight (1817-1882), of Hornacott Manor, Cornwall.  She was an associate of the Wantage sisterhood.  She inherited her aunt Elizabeth Barnett's letters from CMY and lent them to both Yonge's early biographers, Coleridge and Romanes.

MAVIS, Mary  Avice  Butler (1855-1938), The Vicarage, Wantage (Dec 1876 list). Sister of Frog,  she was also an associate of the Wantage sisterhood.

Elinor Champernowne (1846-1876), Dartington Hall, Totnes (left 1863). Daughter of Henry Champernowne (1815-1851), landowner.

JOY, Theodora M. Louisa Lane Clarke (1851-1906), L'Hyvreuse Lodge, Cambridge Park, Guernsey [1869 list].  Only child of the Rev. Thomas Clarke, Rector of Woodeaton, Oxford, and Louisa Lane, author of topographical and historical works on the Channel Islands, she married (1879) Bartholomew (or Bartle) Teeling (1848-1921), Captain in the Rifle Brigade, Secretary (1872) of the Catholic Union of Ireland, Private Chamberlain to the Pope. She published journalism, a story, a play, music, sometimes as 'Norman Stuart' or 'Isola'.

BLUEBELL, The Hon. Alethea Elizabeth Catherine Colborne  (1852/3-1927), Beechwood, Plympton. (1870)  Daughter of James, 2nd Lord Seaton, and the Hon. Charlotte de Burgh (d.1863);  she was granddaughter of Field-Marshal Lord Seaton, Mrs Yonge's stepbrother.

LADYBIRD, Mildred Mary Coleridge (1847-1929), 6 Southwick Crescent Hyde Park, London (1859-c.1866). Daughter of Sir John Duke Coleridge (from 1873 Lord Chief Justice Coleridge) and Jane Seymour (d.1878), she had a public row with him about her marriage (1885) to Charles Warren Adams (1833-1903).

THE OLD SECRETARY, Mary Frances Keble Coleridge (1824-1898), Heath's Court. Aunt of Mildred and life-long friend of CMY.

CHELSEA CHINA, (until 1863 Chelsea Delf) Christabel Rose Coleridge (1843-1921), St Marks College, Chelsea, and Hanwell Rectory, Middlesex (1859-1877).  Granddaughter of S. T. Coleridge, daughter of the Rev. Derwent Coleridge (1800-1883), headmaster of Helston Grammar School (1826-41), Principal of St. Mark's College, Chelsea (1841-1864) and Rector of Hanwell (1864-1880) and his wife Mary Simpson Pridham.  She became a novelist, a close associate of CMY's and eventually co-editor of the Monthly Packet. She was deeply involved with the Girls Friendly Society, an Anglican group for working-class girls;  other Goslings, such as Bog Oak and Magpie, may also have been supporters of the GFS. The longest-serving Gosling, she acted as secretary and many members seem to have been recruited by her.

GURGOYLE, Alice Mary Coleridge (1846-1907), The College, Hurstpierpoint (1863- after 1869). Daughter of Francis Coleridge (1794-1854), her mother sank into depression after her birth and she was brought up by her elder sister Harriet, wife of the Rev. Edward Lowe (1823-1912), one of the moving spirits in the Woodard Schools movement to educate the middle classes.  She became Lady Warden of St. Anne's Abbot's Bromley, the first Woodard girls' school, c. 1874 and spent the rest of her life there.  She was CMY's goddaughter.

KITTEN, K. Danby, Weston-by-Welland, Market Harborough (Dec 1876 list).  Probably the daughter of the Vicar of Weston-by-Welland, the Rev. Samuel Danby.

Rachel Deedes (1851-1942), Bengeo Rectory, Hertford (CMY to Mary Fursdon, 10 July 1870).  Daughter of Rev. Charles Deedes (1808-1875), Rector of Bengeo, and Letitia Pleydell Bouverie, she married 1888 Rev. H. Moody, Rector of Bentley, Hants. 

LADY FERN, Miss M.F. Dundas, Early Vale, Eddlestone (1863-before 1869). Probably Mary Frances Dundas (b.1845) daughter of George Dundas, (1802-1869),  from 1868 styled Lord Manour, Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland, and his wife Elizabeth Mackenzie (d.1858), elder sister of CMY's great friend Anne Mackenzie.  Eddleston is a village 8 miles from West Linton.

THISTLE [2], Elisabeth Jane Forbes, Medwyn, West Linton, N.B. (Dec 1876 list).  Fifth and youngest daughter of William Forbes (1803-1891) of Medwyn and his wife Mary Hume Archer Houblon (d. 1896);  he was brother of the saintly Bishop of Brechin and also a first cousin of CMY's friend Anne Mackenzie.  Thistle [2] was first cousin to Polypodium.

GLOW WORM, Charlotte Sophia Fursdon (1846-1916), Fursdon, Tiverton/ the Vicarage, Dawlish.  Daughter of the Rev. Edward Fursdon (1810-1889), Vicar of Dawlish, and Harriet Rodd.

IRENE, Henrietta Elizabeth Fursdon (1843-1928). Sister of Glow Worm.

PIXIE, Mary Penelope Fursdon (1851-1925) (letters from CMY, 29 Jan, 10 July 1870;  Dec 1876 list).  Sister of Glow Worm and Irene.

COBWEB, Katherine Olive Helmore (1844/5-1923), 6 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea (1861-c. 1865).  Daughter of the Rev. Thomas Helmore (1811-1890), Precentor of St. Mark's College, Chelsea and master of the choristers of the Chapel Royal and his wife Kate W. Pridham (1816/7-1886), sister of Mrs Derwent Coleridge. First cousin of Chelsea China.

HAZEL-NUT, Evelyn Matilda Hildyard (b.1851/2), Ingoldsby Rectory, Grantham (Dec 1876 list). Daughter of Rev. James Hildyard (1809-1887), Rector of Ingoldsby, and Eliza Kinderley.

Associated with Dunnington Hall, she is reported to have been the last member of her family to reside at Winestead Hall - in the Red Hall. After her father died on 27 August 1887, however, she seems to have found herself in reduced circumstances and by 1893 came to rent a 'semi', Primrose Cottage, 26 The Parade, Epsom. Whilst there she sold off paintings and made museum donations. On the demise of her mother Elizabeth Matilda Hildyard, at the Commandery, Worcester, on 18 April 1894, Evelyn was granted administration of her parents' estates - 687 & 1607.

This lady left Epsom after 1907 to reach the age of 90 before she died at Lytton Hall [Hotel/Boarding House], Putney, on 12 July 1943.

KITTIWAKE, Miss A.D. Johns (Christmas 1865) and Miss K. Johns (1864), Winton House, Winchester.  Daughters of the Rev. Charles Alexander Johns (1811-1874) president of Winchester Literary and Scientific Society and author of the bestselling Flowers of the Field (1853), who ran a prep school at Winton House, Andover Road, Winchester and had been second master of Helston Grammar School under Derwent Coleridge.

MAGPIE, (Lucy) Margaret Lonsdale (b.1846), 28 Westbourne Terrace/ The Close Litchfield (June 1864-    ). Daughter of the Rev. Canon John Gylby Lonsdale (1818-1907), canon of Lichfield cathedral, and Sarah Martinson.  Her grandfather had been Bishop of Lichfield.  She might be the Margaret Lonsdale who published 1880 a biography of Sister Dora (Dorothy Pattison, 1832-1878) and The Care and Nursing of Children (1885) which seems to reprint lectures addressed to GFS girls.

POTATO, (Elizabeth) Emily Maconchy  (1848/9-1927), Corrinagh, Torquay (new c.1866/7- after 1869). Third daughter of George Maconchy (1818-1889) of Rathmore, co. Longford, and Corrinagh, Torquay, and his wife  Louisa Richards (d.1864), she married (1880), as his 2nd wife, Richard Mallock (d. 1900), MP for Torquay.

MAYFLY, Julia Elizabeth Marshall (b.1848/9), Sandford Manor House, Steeple Aston, Oxon (Dec 1876 list).  Daughter of the Rev. Edward Marshall ( Marshall-Hacker, 1815-1899), former fellow of Corpus Christi and squire of Sandford, who published extensively on theology and local history.

(Mary Sophia) Paulina Martyn (1843-1887), Harleston, Torre, Torquay (1859-1863).  Only child of the Rev. Thomas Waddon Martyn (1808-1846), Rector of Lifton and Vicar of Thorverton, and his wife Sophia (d. after 1887), daughter of the Rev. Dr. James Coleridge (1789-1857) and his wife Sophia, daughter of Col. Stanhope Badcock.

UGLY DUCKLING, Lilian Mary Mitchell (1847/8-1893), Kings Teignton Vicarage, Milton Abbot, Devon (from c.1865-before 1869).   The vicar of Kingsteignton from 1858 was the Rev. John Hawkins Hext;  his eldest son Rear Admiral Sir John Hext (1842-1924) married (1874) Lilian Mary only child of David William Mitchell.

HUMBLE BEE, (Frances) Emily Moberly (1844-1921), College Street, Winchester (?from 1859-68). Daughter of the Rev. George Moberly (1803-1885) headmaster of Winchester (1835-66) and Bishop of Salisbury (from 1869) and Mary Ann Crokat;  the whole family were early and close friends of CMY. She married (1868) the Rev. William Awdry (1842-1910), Bishop of Osaka (1896-8), and of South Tokyo (1898-1908);  she published biographies.

FERNSEED, Frances Mary Peard (1835-1923), Sparnow, Torquay (from 1865?). Daughter of Captain Peard, R.N, she was a novelist, senior in age to most Goslings, who was enlisted by CMY to revitalize the Goslings, probably in the mid-1860s.

DOUBLE DAISY, Either Frances Margaret Pearson or Mary Anne Pearson and Jane Frances Pearson (1869 list has 'Miss Pearson, Double Daisy, The Vicarage, Market Lavington, Devizes; Dec 1876 list has Miss M and Miss J. Pearson, The Old House, Market Lavington, Devizes.)  Daughters of the  Rev. Thomas Pearson (d.1873), Vicar of Market Lavington.

FIREFLY, Jessie Peters, 4 Belmont, Brighton (1861-).  Probably daughter of Edward Peters who ran a 'Boarding School for young gentlemen' at that address.

SNOWBIRD, Alice Poole, Uffington, Faringdon.  She became an associate of the Wantage sisterhood in 1869. (Dec 1876 list)

HEDGEROSE, Mary R (?or B.) Pridham (b.1849/50),  6 Trevor Terrace, Rutland Gate London W. (from c. 1865).   Stepdaughter of Cornish-born doctor William Martyn (1815-1896), FRCS, of that address, and perhaps a relation of Christabel Coleridge, whose mother was Mary Pridham.

ICEBERG, Mary Eleanora Sunderland (1853/4-1877), Swarthdale, Near Ulverston, Lancashire (1867-1869 list). Daughter of  George Henry Carleton Sunderland (1814-76) Commander, R.N..

HEATHER, Miss A. Swinton, 4 Athol Crescent, Edinburgh or Swinton, by Coldstream, N.B. (1866-before 1869). Probably Anna Lydia Keith Swinton (c. 1844-1875), daughter of Archibald Adam Swinton (1821-1894), ICS;  if so she married the Rev. Robert Home, minister of Swinton.

SHAMROCK, Emily Synge (1835-1905), 3 Cranfield Villas/ 37 Oakley Square Chelsea (New 1866/7). Daughter of the Rev. Edward Synge (1798-1859), perpetual curate of Trinity Church, Matlock, and Emily Steele, and sister of the Rev. Francis Synge (1837-1898), of that address, curate of St. Luke's Chelsea.  The father had been chaplain to Bishop Barker of Sydney c. 1855.

TURKSCAP, Florence Wilford (b.1836), c/o Mrs Chrystall's, St. Cross, Winchester (June 1865-). ?Daughter of Major-General Edmund Neal Wilford (1800-1881) RA. Novelist.

THISTLE [1], Miss T?.S. Wood, 50 Westbourne Park, London.  (1867 Barnacle)

CRICKET, Elizabeth Catherine Yonge (1847/8-1905), Eton College, Windsor (from 1865- after 1869).  Daughter of the Rev. John Eyre Yonge, master at Eton.  Her younger sister Charlotte Fortescue Yonge was close to CMY in old age. 

MIGNONETTE, Miss Younghusband, 23 Maryon Road, Woolwich (new 1866/7- before 1869).  Perhaps Mary Frances Younghusband (1847-1899), dau of Lt. Gen. C. W. Younghusband (1821-1899) Superintendent of Royal Gun Factories, Woolwich, who m. (1871) Lt-Col. George O'Malley.  Mignonette was accused by Chelsea China of carelessly mislaying the Barnacle.

Unidentified Goslings







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