Anne Lister in Edward O’Ferrall’s prophecy

And why we all are great-grandchildren of Edward O’Ferrall

Italiano | English

Cover image: the letter where Edward O'Ferrall mentions "Miss Lister". Courtesy of Rigsarkivet, photo by Lucia Falzari.

An unprecedented find about Anne Lister which we have made in Denmark. This letter delivers us a description of Anne that sounds like a prophecy, and it shows the evidence that meeting Anne personally must have been an extraordinary experience, just like it is today for us through her words.

Written by Lucia Falzari
With transcripts by Francesca Raia & visuals by Irene Trotta
I
n collaboration with Adeline Lim
Published 12/1
9/2021 • Updated 08/26/2022
20–30 min read

Miss Lister is really a phénomène

Anne Lister used to have opinions about nearly everything, and surely about anyone she’d meet. But how many times have you wondered what those people’s opinions were about her? How her personality and her presence impacted them?

We know for sure she described herself as an oddity, and her manners as gentlemanly, but how much this idea was affected by how she felt, and how objective she would actually be about herself? We couldn’t say, until now.

We started our research investigating Anne Lister’s Italian acquaintances, and just decided to follow some thin threads, thus leaving no stone unturned. This led us far North to Denmark, where we've found these extraordinary words about Anne.

"The old Blüchers were at Ahrensburg. Sophy intended spending a day or two with them Miss Lister was to meet her again at Lübeck – this respectable man-woman would absolutely see Schwerin – she is really a phénomène – one of the curiosities of the present day – our great grandchildren will certainly have the satisfaction of examining her en détail in some musée – only think, she wears a mans’ nightcap – how funny she must look – English people are really very odd they are all half crak’d – we see loads of them here and such caricatures!"

Edward O'Ferrall's letter to his sister Annie (September 27, 1833), transcript by Francesca Raia.

Edward O'Ferrall letter to his sister Annie that reads: "Miss Lister was to meet her again at Lübeck – this respectable man-woman would absolutely see Schwerin – she is really a phénomène – one of the curiosities of the present day – our great grandchildren will certainly have the satisfaction of examining her en détail in some musée – only think, she wears a mans’ nightcap – how funny she must look." (September 27, 1833). Image courtesy of Rigsarkivet.

The extract above belongs to a letter written by Edward O’ Ferrall who later became Count De Bourke to his sister Annie O’Ferrall on September 27, 1833. Should all these names sound familiar to you, it is because both Edward and Annie were Sophie O’Ferrall’s siblings.

Edward was born in 1811 he was about a year older than Sophieand at the time of this letter he was 22: “a quick clever young man”, as Anne Lister herself described him in her journal in 1831. He used to live in Paris at his aunt’s (Madame De Bourke), where Sophie herself had lived for a while before being sent back to Copenhagen in 1833, travelling with Anne Lister.

Annie O’Ferrall was the youngest of the family. The correspondence between Annie and her siblings is quite considerable, and it’s the evidence of how close they were despite the distance, given she was living with their father in Saint Croix (Danish Antilles, at the time) where the family still owned plantations. Many of those letters include accounts of their daily routine, chit-chatting and gossip about family and acquaintances.

Click on the image for higher resolution – Family tree of the O’Ferrall family. Sources: Skeel, Schaffalitzky og Ahlefeldt; Ancestry; Rigsarkivet; the genealogic scheme in “Il pio Asilo Butini Bourke: un istituto per le donne senesi fondato da una nobile popolana” by Barbara Capitoni.

When the letter mentioning "Miss Lister" was written it’s dated September 27, 1833 Anne Lister and Sophie O’Ferrall had already reached Copenhagen (September 18, 1833). Edward was still updating his sister Annie about what likely had been the last news he had received from Sophie when she was in Hamburg – she probably wrote him somewhere around the 12th-13th of September 1833, given what we know from Anne Lister’s journals.

As Edward explains, Anne and Sophie were now in Ahrensburg and the young woman decided to stay a couple of days with her sister Emily and “the old Blüchers”, who were already there. Emily had married Gustav Carl Frederik von Blücher-Altona, thus becoming countess. Unfortunately on this occasion they missed each other, as Edward writes that Emily had already left.

Anyway, Anne and Sophie’s plan was to spend some days apart, then meet again in Lübeck and cross the water, continuing their way to Denmark, which they did. From Anne Lister’s journals it’s quite clear that they both seemed eager to have some time on their own. A more detailed description of the events of those days can be found in Chapter 6 of “In the Footsteps of Anne Lister” by Adeline Lim.

As Anne had written on the 3rd of August:

"Like Mademoiselle Ferrall very well - nice girl enough - her baggage to be sent to Havre and go by sea to Copenhagen"

Anne Lister’s journal (August 3, 1833), transcript by Adeline Lim.

"Like Mademoiselle Ferrall very well - nice girl enough - her baggage to be sent to Havre and go by sea to Copenhagen". Anne Lister's journal (August 3, 1833), [SH:7/ML/E/16/0109]. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive.

Sophie’s aunt managed to send the niece’s luggage directly to Copenhagen by sea, via Le Havre, but at this point there was still no trace of her things. Both Anne Lister and Edward O'Ferrall recorded – each in their own way – that there had been many shipwrecks in those days.

"Her [Sophie’s] sister [Emily] and all the Bluchers gone to Arensburg (Comtesse Schimmelmann’s) old Comte Blucher’s daughter, 3 hours from here on the Lubeck road – Miss Ferrall’s things not arrived from Paris – many shipwrecks – fear they are lost –"

Anne Lister’s journal (September 11, 1833), transcript by Adeline Lim.

"Her [Sophie’s] sister and all the Bluchers gone to Arensburg (Comtesse Schimmelmann’s) old Comte Blucher’s daughter, 3 hours from here on the Lubeck road – Miss Ferrall’s things not arrived from Paris – many shipwrecks – fear they are lost –". Anne Lister's journal (September 11, 1833), [SH:7/ML/E/16/0109]. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive.

"Sophy must now be in Copenhagen – her last letter was dated from Hamburgh [Hamburg]. Emily had left a day or two before her arrival - what a disappointment – the dear girl was very uneasy about her trunks – my aunt sent them by sea and the vessel had not yet been heard of – I hope it has not been lost – that would indeed be more than provoking – how charitable we humane beings are! we deplore the loss of two or three petticoats and don’t care a fig for the poor sailors, our fellow creatures! Amen"

Edward O'Ferrall’s letter to his sister Annie (September 27, 1833), transcript by Francesca Raia.

Edward O'Ferrall letter to his sister Annie that reads: "Sophy must now be in Copenhagen – her last letter was dated from Hamburgh [Hamburg]. Emily had left a day or two before her arrival - what a disappointment – the dear girl was very uneasy about her trunks – my aunt sent them by sea and the vessel had not yet been heard of – I hope it has not been lost – that would indeed be more than provoking – how charitable we humane beings are!" (September 27, 1833). Image courtesy of Rigsarkivet.

As we mentioned, Edward lived in Paris at the same address of his aunt Madame de Bourke, and he and Anne met there two years before, surely in March 1831.

"Madame de B-'s [Bourke] nephew M. Ferral a quick clever young man aetatis 20? his sister [Sophie] tolerably nice girl."

Anne Lister’s journal (March 27, 1831), transcript by Francesca Raia.

"Madame de Bourke’s nephew M. Ferral a quick clever young man aetatis 20? his sister [Sophie] tolerably nice girl.". Anne Lister's journal (March 27, 1831), [SH:7/ML/E/14/0042]. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive.

However, from Edward's letter, it seems like this was the first time he mentioned "Miss Lister" to Annie, since he felt the need to describe her.

Click on the image for higher resolution – Anne's journal and Edward's letter side by side. The image shows what Anne wrote in the days she spent travelling with Sophie O'Ferrall and what Edward wrote about those same days in the letter to his sister Annie.

The letter

"The old Blüchers were at Ahrensburg. Sophy intended spending a day or two with them – Miss Lister was to meet her again at Lübeck – this respectable man-woman would absolutely see Schwerin – she is really a phénomène – one of the curiosities of the present day – our great grandchildren will certainly have the satisfaction of examining her en détail in some musée – only think, she wears a mans’ nightcap – how funny she must look – English people are really very odd they are all half crak’d – we see loads of them here and such caricatures!"

Edward O'Ferrall's letter to his sister Annie (September 27, 1833), transcript by Francesca Raia.

The first adjective Edward O’Ferrall associates with Anne Lister is respectable. Apparently, for him, no word could express an idea of Anne Lister other than man-woman, not “lady” nor just “Sophie’s or Madame’s friend”. To our contemporary readers, this will surely sound like a strong way to describe her, but we must always remember that who wrote these words was a young man, a son of his time, writing a letter to his sister about many things, and certainly not an anthropology dissertation. It expresses the personal point of view of someone who could hardly conceive a woman being like Anne Lister.

By now we have been reading many of Edward’s letters, and we feel quite confident in sharing the opinion that he was surely amused by Anne. However, he wasn’t mocking her – he knew how to be really sarcastic, and this doesn’t sound like that – other than gossiping about her man’s nightcap (only think, she wears a mans’ nightcap – how funny she must look), which by the way we already knew she used to wear: Sophie must have written about it after the 24th of August, when they shared a room for the first time (see Anne’s journal).

It just shows us once more that Anne Lister was larger than life, for Edward felt the need to deepen his description far beyond: she was really a phénomène – one of the curiosities of the present day.

Beyond the description itself, it clearly delivers us the evidence that Anne Lister was as extraordinary for her times just as she is for us now, in the 21st century: Edward and Annie’s great-grandchildren will certainly have the satisfaction to examine her en detail in some musèe. And that’s exactly what we all are doing.

To our eyes, today, this definitely sounds like a prophecy!


The page of Edward's letter where he mentions "Miss Lister". Image courtesy of Rigsarkivet. Photo by Lucia Falzari.

We have also been wondering how the cultural context of that time might have influenced Edward’s description, how the interests Anne nurtured – business, science, etc. – were considered more typical for a gentleman, but it would be more of a speculative exercise rather than an analysis, sticking to what we actually do know. There would be (and there will be) more thoughts to be shared about these words, but for the time being we chose to publish the letter as it is.

Here is the full transcript of Edward O'Ferral's letter mentioning "Miss Lister":

Dearest Annie – I promised Louisa in my last to write regularly and to make up for past idleness – I will keep that promise and you, povera are doom’d to be its first victim – I received Louisas’ letter to Sophy and according to a treaty we concluded before our separation, I read it from beginning to end without a single scruple – Thank god you were all well – I hope dearest Papa has had no return of that nasty fever – Sophy must now be in Copenhagen – her last letter was dated from Hamburgh [Hamburg]. Emily had left a day or two before her arrival – what a disappointment – the dear girl was very uneasy about her trunks – My aunt sent them by sea and the vessel had not yet been heard of – I hope it has not been lost – that would indeed be more than provoking – how charitable we humane beings are! we deplore the loss of two or three petticoats and don’t care a fig for the poor sailors, our fellow creatures! Amen – the old Blüchers were at Ahrensburg. Sophy intended spending a day or two with them – Miss Lister was to meet her again at Lübeck – this respectable man-woman would absolutely see Schwerin – she is really a phénomène – one of the curiosities of the present day – our great grandchildren will certainly have the satisfaction of examining her en détail in some musée – Only think, she wears a mans’ nightcap – how funny she must look – English people are really very odd they are all half crak’d – we see loads of them here and such caricatures! Sophy has taken a mortal hatred to all female science – in that she is perfectly right – nothing can be more insupportable – how many clever women entirely ruin themselves by that unfortunate aim of knowledge – our home is now the dullest of the dull – and I do yawn in such a manner that my mouth which is no diminutive but quite a ferrall mouth will soon stretch from ear to ear – fortunately I have ferrall teeththis reminds me of a certain phrase in L.’s [Louisa, another sister] letter which requires an immediate answer – And so Poor Edward is conceited – those are her very words – Because I now and then arrange my hair before a looking glass, pull my cravate and tighten in my waist, and I to be called conceited – I don’t think so – I have never been an admirer of the absurd rigidity of Spartan principles – A young man must think of himself and pay great attentions to his person – in that respect I am quite of Lord Chesterfields’ opinion – a young man should always be tant soit peu coquet that does no harm – it smarten him – whereas conceit is sickening – there is no English word for coquet Perhaps I am a little coquet but at all events I never let any body perceive it – Frenchmen are conceited but not so much so as Englishmen and also our young Danes – at Copenhagen I recollect having seen some curious échantillon in that way – My aunt gave a large dinner the other day to Thien and the admiral de Rigny – Thien is remarkably clever and certainly one of the most able men of the day – he is just returned from England and is quite enchanted with every thing he has seen – he is an active little man and though I am no partisan of the present ministry, I must own he is useful – he is still young, very ambitious and wishes to attach his name in a brilliant manner to our modern French civilisation – the roads, which are at present in a miserable condition, will be the first object of his attention and he intends to imitate England as much as possible in every thing concerning industry – I am glad of that – No country in the world has more natural advantages than France and whatever may be his ambitious views or interested motives the man, who gives a good push to French activity and brings to light the gigantic resources of this country, deserves encouragement and praise from all Frenchmen of whatever opinion they may be – Princess Belgiojoso look’d remarkably handsome – she was pleased with herself and that conviction made her very aimable Harry Fox the son of Lord Holland likewise dined here – he is clever and looks so – unfortunately he has got one leg much shorter than the other – it makes him limp most dreadfully – his wife Lady Augusta is a pretty little woman about 20 or 21. She has always lived in Italy and does not look at all English – she is extremely short. Sophy would be a giant near her – next Tuesday grâces au ciel, the Italian opera season begins – I have already given you a detailed account of the performers – Julietta Grisi called on my aunt the other morning – she is to be sure a sweet creature – there is something so loving in her eyes how I shall applaud her on Tuesday – Last Sunday, I dined at Baron Louis à Petit Bry– I there most unfortunately met with a little M[ademois]elle Amélie de Rigny – she is six or seven years old – she would absolutely fall desperately in love with me and I could not get rid of her – at table she sat opposite me but made the servants change her place as a basket of flowers placed in the middle of the table prevented her seeing me – It appears that I am always to be persecuted by little girls – do you recollect Julie Bielke? vraiment il y a de quoi briquer – I saw the other evening Cherubinis’ new opera Ali Baba or the 40 thieves – it is the most tiresome thing imaginable – and I never more regretted a loss than that of my 3 f[rancs] 12 s[ous] the price of the Parterre – here one can go to the Parterre at the French and Italian operas so don’t be shock’d – Mrs. Oxholm is here – I have only seen her once – she look’d well – I believe she intends staying here the winter – The Falbes’ are still here – M[a]d[a]me Falbe is in a fury with Koss. he is always begging her to speak to my aunt about him and to try to make them good friends again – Mrs. F. [Falbe] has spoken to my aunt who absolutely refuses – the other day Mrs. F [Falbe] met Koss in coming out from my aunts’ and he told her he never could pass before the door without feeling mal à son aire – I really can’t conceive why he wishes so to get into the house – there must be some matter [?] au fond de tout cela – By the bye write to moster [their aunt Madame De Bourke] and tell Louisa to do so likewise – she told Miss Gassie she found it very odd that you did not write to thank for the magnificent [2500 francs] – mind you write and make fine phrases – she likes them – the weather is detestable since the beginning of this month we are obliged to have fires – is not that horrible – By the bye it was my birthday last week – 22. How old I am getting – I wish you many happy returns dearest – I hope we shall see each other before we are 50 or 60 – doesn’t Louisa take likeness – tell her to try to send me y[ou]r picture – the court has been staying some days at Fontainebleau – the King Leopold is coming here – they say we shall have fine fêtes – there are as yet no new fashions – great simplicity is à l’ordre du jour – Adieu dearest give my best love to dear Papa Louisa, Robert and remember me most affec[tiona]t[e]ly to the Hingsons.
Encore une fois, Adieu
je t’embrasse
Edouard!
ce 27. Septembre.
"

Edward O'Ferrall’s letter to his sister Annie (September 27, 1833), transcript by Francesca Raia.

How to cite this article

Lucia Falzari, Francesca Raia, Irene Trotta, 2021. “Anne Lister in Edward O’Ferrall’s prophecy. And why we all are great-grandchildren of Edward O’Ferrall”, Anne Lister Italia (accessed: month day, year)


Sources:

Anne Lister. (August 3, 1833). [Page from the diary of Anne Lister, 13 Jan 1833-9 Mar 1834]. LISTER FAMILY OF SHIBDEN HALL, FAMILY AND ESTATE RECORDS, INCLUDING RECORDS OF ANNE LISTER, DIARIST, (SH:7/ML/E/16/0091), West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, England, United Kingdom.

Anne Lister. (September 11, 1833). [Page from the diary of Anne Lister, 13 Jan 1833-9 Mar 1834]. LISTER FAMILY OF SHIBDEN HALL, FAMILY AND ESTATE RECORDS, INCLUDING RECORDS OF ANNE LISTER, DIARIST, (SH:7/ML/E/16/0109), West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, England, United Kingdom.

Anne Lister. (March 27, 1831). [Page from the diary of Anne Lister, 1 Jan 1831-31 Dec 1831]. LISTER FAMILY OF SHIBDEN HALL, FAMILY AND ESTATE RECORDS, INCLUDING RECORDS OF ANNE LISTER, DIARIST, (SH:7/ML/E/14/0042), West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, England, United Kingdom.

Castonier family archive: The Danish National Archives, Rigsarkivet, https://www.sa.dk/en/,

A. Lim, In the footsteps of Anne Lister: Travels of a remarkable English gentlewoman in France, Germany and Denmark in 1833, vol. 1, Independently published, February 2021.

B. Capitoni, Il Pio Asilo Butini Bourke. Un istituto per le donne senesi fondato da una nobile popolana, Siena 2000.

Acknowledgments:

The staff at the Rigsarkivet in Copenhagen, and the West Yorkshire Archive Service.

Francesca Raia for the transcripts of Edward O’Ferrall’s letter and for her 1831-1838 transcriptions of Anne Lister’s diaries.

Adeline Lim for sharing with us her knowledge and her transcriptions of Anne Lister’s 1833 journey to Denmark, and for being part of our team in this wonderful discovery as well as for being our patient and precious proofreader.

Thanks to Anne Choma, for being the first to point out Sophie O’Ferrall’s Italian connection in her book “Gentleman Jack: the real Anne Lister”: we started there, and ended finding this extraordinary document following that lead.

Thanks to Packed with Potential, for being a great inspiration in our research.

Roberto Fabbri, for our logistics in Copenhagen.