Notes on the Family of Phelps of Madeira by Frances Ann Roper  (née Hubbard)


(The following was sent to Mr Noël Cossart of Funchal in 1956 by Frances Ann Roper (née HUBBARD.)


Joseph Phelps, born 24th 8ept. 1791 died 3rd April 1876, came of an old family which was established for many years at Dursley in Gloucestershire. He was born in Madeira the seventh child of his father, who had emigrated to Madeira in 1784, where he founded the firm of J. and W. Phelps in 1786. Joseph Phelps succeeded his father as head of the firm. He married on 17th Aug 1819, Elizabeth Dickinson, born 16th Nov. 1195 died 14th April 1876, youngest daughter of Captain Thomas Dickinson R.N. (1753-1828) and Frances do Brissac (1760-1854) and sister of John Dickinson (1782-1869) the, founder of the firm of paper manufacturers which still bears his name. Another sister, Anne (1791-1883) married the Rev. Arthur Benoni Evans, and was my great grandmother.


In 1821 Joseph Phelps became the first Treasurer and one of the Founder Members of the Funchal Association, which was formed for the promotion of education in the island. At his own expense he established a school for boys in 1822, which was known as the Escola Lancasteriana.


The Phelps family lived for many years in the Carmo House, Funchal, Madeira, their country house being the Quinta de Praza. During this time they appear to have been the leading English family in Madeira, for it fell to them to house and entertain all the visiting royalties and notabilities, In the last years of her life, Aunt Janey (Jane Phelps, youngest child of Joseph and Elizabeth Phelps) told me that she remembered, as a small child, being brought down to the dining-room after dinner, and sitting upon the knee of the Emperor Napoleon III. and being fed by him with dessert and nuts.


During the early part of the last century Madeira was almost entirely denuded of trees, owing to fire, and the ravages of earlier settlers. Elizabeth Phelps realised that reforestation was essential to the well-being of the islanders, and frequently sent to England for suitable trees, seedlings and seeds, which were planted all over there estates. When she organised their customary enormous picnic parties, each of the guests would be given a seedling tree and required to plant it at the spot before returning home. In after years these clumps of trees grew and flourished, and to within living memory were always known as “Mrs. Phelps’ picnic places.”


Joseph and Elizabeth Phelps had a large family of seven daughters and four sons, the eldest of the family being Elizabeth (1820-1893) the founder of the now famous Madeira Embroidery Industry.


The family owned very large vine growing estates in the island. As the native workers were at that time in a state of great poverty, Elizabeth, (always known in the family as Bella) started in 1854, a little school for the women and girls on their estates in which they wore taught to work embroideries from original designs drawn by Bella Phelps herself. A large folio of these original drawings was in the possession of the youngest member of the family Jane de Brissac Frederica Phelps (1842 - 1926) with whom I went to live immediately on leaving school, and whom I knew intimately during the last years of her life and from whom I leaned most of the information contained in these notes. This folio unfortunately disappeared when her house and possessions were dispersed after her death.


In the early days the embroideries were sold privately among personal friends of the family, and later, on becoming increasingly popular, they were entrusted to an agent in England who handled them on a commercial basis for the benefit of the native workers. A great quantity of the early embroidery was in the possession of members of the family at the time of my birth, and as, by then, most of the older generation had passed away, all this embroidery was sent to my mother by the surviving members, for my use, I being by a long way the youngest female descendant. I well remember being told that the trimmings on my childish frocks and underwear were “real Madeira work”, though at the time it meant little more to me than the discomfort of starched and scratchy frills.


Mrs Phelps’ sister, Anne, married the Rev. Arthur Benoni Evans, and of their surviving children the two eldest died unmarried. The third was Sir John Evans K.C.B. the famous archaeologist and scientist, and father of Sir Arthur Evans, the discoverer of the Minoan civilization at Knossos in Crete. The fourth child, George (1825-1847) became a Medical Student at Guy’s Hospital, but there contracted tuberculosis. In April 1846 he was invited by his aunt, Mrs. Phelps, to come and stay with them in Madeira in the hopes that the climate would prove beneficial, but by October he was so ill that it was decided that Mary Wade, who had been nurse to the whole family, should go out to him. The old lady sailed alone, a great adventure at that period, but George died in her arms on the 25th Jan. 1847. He was buried in the English Cemetery Funchal, where a tablet commemorates his short life. While in Madeira, Mary Wade had the accompanying sketch made on the corner of cemetery, showing the tablet, and brought it home for his sister Emma Evans, who became my grandmother.


When visiting Madeira in the autumn of 1954, I found the tablet in the wall of the English Cemetery, but was puzzled by being unable to recognise the surroundings, which I fully expected to do, I have known this sketch all my life. It hung, framed, in my parents' bedroom, and was a frequent subject of study. I learned later that the English Cemetery had been altered at some

time and this corner cut away to make a roadway, so this sketch is of interest as showing the Cemetery before alteration.


Emma Evans was the fifth child of Anne Dickinson and Arthur Benoni Evans. In 1855 she married Dr. John Waddington Hubbard, and their eldest child, Arthur John Hubbard. M.D. was my father. In 1870 John Waddington Hubbard contracted tuberculosis and was invited by the Phelpses to come and stay with them in Madeira, as in the case of his brother in law George Evans, a quarter of a century earlier. However the same sad story repeated itself, and my grandfather is buried in the English Cemetery, the tablet to his memory standing at the side of that in memory of George Evans. He died on the 15th of June 1871, leaving my grandmother with four small children.


The Phelps’s returned to settle in England towards the end of the last century, and made their home in one of the big house facing Clapham Common which was at that time one of the smartest and most exclusive residential areas. All the members of the family became very stout with advancing years, and it was a family joke that “a ton of Phelpses" went to Church each Sunday in the family coach.


Elizabeth (1820-1893) the eldest child of Joseph and Elizabeth Phelps, died unmarried. Apart from the fact of her being the originator of the Madeira embroidery, the only other thing I know about her is a story which was often told to me with great delight by my father and his brother, George Hubbard. F.R.I.B.A. This story was always known as “Bella and the Bath”, and runs as follows:

After the return of the family to England, Aunt Bella, like the rest of the family, became extremely stout. One evening she retired early to her room, for the purpose of taking a bath. At that time, of course, baths were always taken in the bedroom in the small hip bath of the Victorian period. Shortly after Aunt Bella had gone upstairs, the family below in the drawing room wore alarmed to hear cries for help, accompanied by strange knockings and bumpings. Several of the sisters ran upstairs to see what was the matter, and found Aunt Bella sitting in the bath with her feet on the floor, which was swimming with water The bath was firmly fixed around her like the shell of a snail and she was only liberated by the concerted action of the entire family. The standard sentence descriptive of the painful incident was “When Bella got into the bath the water got OUT”. This story was very popular all round the large circle of cousins, but when once, with youthful temerity, I ventured to mention it to Aunt Janey, I was snubbed with the full weight of the old lady’s forceful personality.


Mary (1822 - 1896) the second child, also died unmarried. All that I have heard about her is the odd fact that she never wore corsets, but supported the voluminous nether garments of the period by means of braces of masculine design. In that much corseted age, this speaks volumes for share of the family characteristic of strong-mindedness and originality.


Anne (1824 - 1895) Married Robert Bayman, and had two children. One of them, Arthur, was surrounded by a mystery which I never penetrated, but he was ostracised by the entire family, with the sole exception of Aunt Janey. She was the only one who showed him any kindness in his later years, and I remember him as a sad silent old man on the occasions of his rare visits to her. He died in dire poverty while I was living with Aunt Janey, and as she was then too old and feeble to go and see him herself, she sent me, as representative of herself and the family, to visit him on his death bed in Leytonstone Workhouse Infirmary. It was a strange experience for a youngster fresh from school as I was.


Frances (1826 - 1890) married her cousin, Sir John Evans, as his second wife. His first wife, another cousin on the Dickinson aid had died, leaving him with five children under seven years of age. To these she became the ideal step-mother devoted to them and beloved by all, though she had no children of her own.


Harriet (1828 - 1925) Married the Rev, J.L. Crompton, and had ten children. They settled in Natal, South Africa and one of her children, a Mrs. Pennefather, also visited Aunt Janey during my time with her.


Joseph Francis (1829 - 1922) the first son, took Orders and later in life became Rector of Iffley, Oxfordshire. He had nine children, one of whom, Frank, became Bishop of Grahamstown, South Africa, and finally Archbishop of South Africa. Frank, whom I met a number of times at Aunt Janey’s, was badly deformed and had spent most of his younger years in irons. He was one of the most charming and saintly men I have ever met.


Clara (1831 - 1897) married the Rev. (later Dean) John Oakley, and had seven children. One of these, Violet, made her permanent home with Aunt Janey whom she adored to such an extent that she could not endure that the old lady should show any kindness or affection towards me, and made my life a perfect misery. In order to keep the peace, Aunt Janey always adopted a stern and almost harsh manner towards me in Violet’s presence, which was more than compensated my the kindness, deep understanding and love which she showed when Violet was out of the way.


Charles (1833 - 1911) married but had no children, and I never heard anything about him.


William (1836 - 1911) married but had no children. He entered the Army as a young man, and ended his life as a General. At the time he entered the Army the sight test consisted merely in describing the view from the window

of the Examiner’s room. Willy like most of the family, was very short sighted and he knew that this test would be far beyond his capacity, and that he would certainly be rejected that on that score. He therefore arranged with a friend who was entering at the same time that the friend should go to the Examiner just ahead of him, and relay to him all the necessary features of the view. When Willy's turn came, he described the view which to him was no more than a blur, with quite remarkable accuracy passed the test triumphantly, and went on to a long and successful career in the Army.


Arthur (B.1837) married and had four children one of whom I vaguely remember as a middle aged man who visited Aunt Janey occasionally but I know nothing of Arthur's profession or career.


Jane de Brissac Fredrica (1842 -1926) the youngest, never married but she was all the mother they ever knew to many hundreds of children. Strong-minded, original, capable autocratic, and extraordinarily loveable to those who found favour in her eight, she was quite the most remarkable character I have ever known. As a young woman in her early twenties, she had left the comfort and luxury of her Madeira home, and had come to England and founded an Orphanage with her own private fortune. The children she had collected in the slums of London, which she visited alone and unattended, an unheard of thing for a young lady in the 1860's At that time no provision was made for children in bad homes, or who had one parent living, and it was upon this type that Aunt Janey concentrated. From small beginnings the Orphanage grew rapidly, till for many years she had over a hundred children, and a big establishment in Kilburn. At about the end of the century, when public opinion was beginning to awaken the numbers began gradually to lessen and she moved from Kilburn to the big house near Peckham Rye where she lived till her death, housing on an average about forty children.


From the beginning, Aunt Janey's staff had always been recruited from gentlewoman who worked on a voluntary basis, and until after the end of the 1914 war she had never had the least difficulty in finding plenty of able assistants of this type.


After the war, however, changing conditions made it more and more difficult for her to get helpers, and then it was that she wrote to my parents asking if I might go and help during a temporary difficulty over Christmas. My parents had always bad the greatest regard and admiration for Aunt Janey and her work, and agreed at once, even though it meant curtailing my schooling. They felt, and rightly, that her influence would be worth more to me than another year at school. Fortunately I satisfied Aunt Janey's critical eye and exacting standards, so I stayed on, teaching and helping: in the care of girls of any ages, many of whom were older than myself. At first I was frankly terrified of the stern old lady, but after a time an affection and mutual understanding developed between us, which was quite remarkable in view of the fact that we were separated by two generations.


An enormous amount of furniture and family relics had devolved on Aunt Janey, as the last survivor of her family and the private rooms at the Orphanage were filled to overflowing with treasures from the Carmo, ranging from huge tables, sideboards etc. of Madeiran timber and workmanship, to an infinitude of family portraits miniatures, and knick-knacks of every description. As I rose in Aunt Janey's esteem, so she manifested it by putting more and more odd jobs upon me, till eventually I was the only person who was allowed to handle her treasures, which honour entailed the daily dusting of the huge drawing-room with all its assimilations. This in addition to my routine work with the children.


Between my intimate knowledge of the family treasure and Aunt Janey's stories of Madeira and life at the Carmo, it is small wonder that I developed a deep interest in the family history, and in the island of Madeira together with a firm determination that, by hook or by crook, I would visit Madeira before I died, and see as much as I could of the places of which I had heard so much. This I have at last achieved after thirty years. It is as a tribute to the memory of Aunt Janey and her family that I have written this brief account of the Phelps’s of Madeira which together with such photographs and sketches as I have been able to collect, I am presenting to Mr. Noel Cossart of Funchal, to be preserved by him together with the other early records in his possession, of the English families of Madeira.