Born in…

The choice of personalities is purely personal. I may be attracted to an odd name, occupation, something in their story… it could be anything. I’m fully aware that many famous names are missing, this is deliberate. These are miniscule biography’s and purposefully so, the intent is that readers can find out more if they are interested.

I hope you enjoy finding out about these people as much as I have.

Mary Brunton (née Balfour)

Mary was born on 1 November 1778 in Burray on the Orkney Islands. Her father was Colonel Thomas Balfour and her mother Francis was sister to the 2nd Earl of Ligonier.

In or around 1798, she met Alexander Brunton who was a minister in the Church of Scotland and tutor to her younger brothers. Her mother disapproved of the match, but Mary was undeterred. On 4 December 1798, Mary and Alexander eloped by rowing boat from Gairsay, and married when they reached the mainland. She was 20 and Alexander was 26. They started married life at his parish in Bolton, East Lothian, then moved to New Greyfriars in 1803, and after that to Tron Kirk (on the Royal Mile) in 1809.

It was here Mary started work on Self Control, her first novel which was published in 1811, and was into a third edition in 1812. The novel was widely read and commented upon by persons such as Jane Austen, who said it was ‘excellently-meant, elegantly-written’ but had reservations, and Charlotte Barrett, the niece of novelists Fanny and Sarah Burney, who admired it, ‘I read Self-Countroul & like it extremely’.  

In 1813, Alexander was made Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at the University of Edinburgh, while Mary was working on another novel, Discipline which was published in 1814. She was working on a third novel Emmeline, and planned a series called Domestic Tales, when the childless couple found that Mary now aged 39, was pregnant with their first child.

Sadly, Mary died on 7 December 1818 after giving birth to a still-born son.

Her novel Emmeline was advanced enough for Alexander to publish it in 1819, along with a memoir of his beloved wife. Both Mary and Alexander (who died in 1854) are buried in Canongate Kirkyard, in Edinburgh.

It is said that Mary Brunton’s novels redefine femininity. Modern novelist Fay Wheldon has praised them as being ‘rich in invention, ripe with incident, shrewd in comment, and erotic in intention and fact.’

Anne Knight

Anne Knight was born on 2 November 1786 in Chelmsford. Both her parents’ families were Quakers, many of her relatives were active in both the anti-slavery and temperance movements.

She herself became an outstanding fighter for the abolition of the slave trade without compensation for the slave owners. She campaigned for women’s rights, supported universal suffrage. Her sympathies lay also with European republican movements.

Anne was a member of the Chelmsford Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society who could speak both French and German, and in 1825 she toured Europe with a Quaker group. They visited good causes and well as spending time seeing the sights.

In 1840, the World Anti-Slavery Convention was held in London in 1840, but it was voted that women be excluded. Outraged, women and their male supporters protested, and women were eventually allowed to attend but forbidden to speak. This action further propelled Knight’s campaigning for women’s rights.

By tortured millions
By the Divine Redeemer
Enfranchise Humanity
Bid the Outraged World

Knight moved to France in 1846, and in 1847 published what is held to be the first leaflet on women’s suffrage. Sadly, she failed to gain support from the leaders of reform such as Richard Cobden, Henry Brougham, or any of the leaders of the Chartist movement.

She took part in the 1848 revolution, and in 1849 attended the international peace conference in Paris. Alongside Jeanne Deroin (a prominent French socialist feminist), she challenged the ban on female membership of political clubs and on publishing feminist material.

The first British organisation to call for female suffrage came from the Sheffield Female Political Association, which in 1851 Knight worked with Anne Kent to found.

She never married, and on 4 November 1862 Knight died at Waldersbach near Strasbourg.

Hannen Swaffer

Frederick Charles Hannen Swaffer was born in Lindfield, Sussex on 1 November 1879. He was a journalist, drama critic, author, a publicist for Spiritualism, and an opponent of capital punishment. As larger than life character, his first published article, a review of George Grossmith’s performance at the local town hall, was so vituperative he was banned. This was just the first of many bans during his career.

Although he was left-wing in his opinions, he worked for right-wing papers owned by Lord Northcliffe. Some of the papers he worked for:

Daily Mail

Daily Mirror (helped develop)

Daily Sketch (initiated Mr Gossip)

Daily Graphic (initiated Mr London)

Sunday Times (Plays and Players)

Daily Express (Drama Critic)

The People

In 1904, Swaffer married Helen Hannah Sitton. They did not have children, and remained married until Helen’s death in 1956. That said, Swaffer left Helen periodically throughout their marriage for various mistresses. He held anit-semitic views which he later claimed to have renounced, and was a racist who tried to have black actors banned from theatres.

As an author his books include Northcliffe’s Return (1925), Really Behind the Scenes (1929), and Inspiration (1929).

Helen died in 1956, and Swaffer followed her in January 1962.

According to The Manchester Guardian, Swaffer ‘raised professional egotism to a fine art’

The Times said he was ‘something of a poseur.’

The British Journalism Review wrote that he was ‘remembered for little more than the mixture of dandruff and cigarette ash on his velvet collar, and for defining freedom of the press as ‘freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices as the advertisers don’t object to‘.’

In 1962, The People and World’s Press News established what are now called The British Press Awards, but were then named the Hannen Swaffer Awards. The first ceremony was held in 1963.

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