LIKE Florence Nightingale, Lady Hope was surrounded by clever men whose talents she harnessed for her own purposes. Born Elizabeth Cotton, she was the gifted daughter of a brilliant father, General Sir Arthur Cotton, whose pioneering work in India as an irrigation engineer and subsequent work in England inspired her own highly practical Christian evangelism.
This focused on the temperance movement and the plight of slum-dwellers in Outcast London. Having established a coffee room in Dorking and supported the missions of Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey, she married Admiral Sir James Hope, owner of Carriden House in Scotland, when she was 34 and he was 69.
Widowed in 1881, she was married again 12 years later, this time to Thomas Anthony Denny, a wealthy businessman and fellow temperance campaigner, who was 25 years her senior. (In this respect she is reminiscent of Grace Hurditch, who was 40 years younger than her famous husband, the evangelist Dr Henry Grattan Guinness.) Denny rescued the Salvation Army from bankruptcy more than once, but was unable to save his wife from the same fate.
After his death, Elizabeth was bamboozled by an unscrupulous con man, Guy Mortimer (alias “Gerald”) Fry, who took control of her large fortune, leaving her with nothing. She fled to the United States in 1913 and decided to stay there, extending her reach to the international temperance movement. She died in Australia in 1922.
Laurence Croft, formerly a research scientist, has published biographies of Charles Darwin and Philip Gosse through Elmwood Books. In Darwin and Lady Hope (Books, 24 August 2012), again published without benefit of editor, he presented us with the “untold story” of Elizabeth’s interview with the great natural philosopher towards the end of his life, during which, she recalled years later, he spoke of his religious beliefs and confessed that he regretted publishing his “doctrine” — an account that Darwin’s family and followers dismissed after its publication in 1915.
Now, in the book under review, Croft’s biography of Lady Hope turns upon this meeting, but tells us much more about her life and work. The author seems to thrive on controversy, and likes to speculate where the evidence is tenuous. He concludes, for example, that Elizabeth must have dressed as a man when she entered the back alleys haunted by Jack the Ripper. And perhaps she was doing covert propaganda work in the States during the First World War?
If the reader is ready, however, to overlook the repetitions, the poor sentence structure, and the shaky grammar, the life of Lady Hope, as she always liked to be called, is almost as interesting as Florence Nightingale’s.
Dr Wheeler is a Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton and Chairman of Gladstone’s Library.
Lady Hope: The life and work of Lady Hope of Carriden
L. R. Croft
Elmwood Books* £14.99
*11 Ambleway, Walton-le-Dale, Preston, Lancashire PR5 4JF; phone 01772 696860.