Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ada J Graves

(I'm reposting this piece - originally run in a Comic Cuts column back on 25 March 2011 - because I managed to muddy the water with a postscript added on 25 September. I'll explain what went wrong after the original post...)

An interesting story appeared in some of the newspapers (Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Guardian) this week regarding the possible plagiarism by E. Nesbit of a novel by Ada J. Graves. Nesbit's famous The Railway Children was serialised in The London Magazine in 1905 and appeared in book form in 1906; shortly before that, author Ada J. Graves was busy writing a serial of her own entitled 'The House by the Railway' for The Child's Own Magazine, the serial collected in the 1904 annual gathering of the monthly magazine. The Child's Own Magazine was a long-running religious monthly for young children which ran from 1852 until 1938, published by the Sunday School Union. The serial was then published in book form by the Sunday School Union in 1906, not 1896, as the newspapers report; the error derives from the British Library Catalogue, which lists the book as part of the The Red Nursery Series, which began in 1896.

Ada Jane Graves was also the author of Four Little People and their Year at Silverhaven (1898) and The Little Brown House (1902), the latter another Red Nursery Series title. Graves died a few years after writing The House by the Railway in India where her husband, Dr. Edward Rainsford Mumford (1876- ), was a missionary. During an earthquake, she returned to her home to rescue her baby daughter, unaware that the child had already been removed from the house by her nanny.

Coincidentally, the daughter has already been the subject of a Bear Alley column as she was Ena Louise Elizabeth Mumford, otherwise known as Betty Mumford, who, in 1942, married David Hugh Arthur Christie-Murray and, as B. Christie-Murray, contributed to Swift Annual. Proving that you're never more than six degrees of separation from something related to comics.


In response to an enquiry, I returned to the question of Ada Mumford's death back in September and found myself following a red herring trail that led me to conclude that Ena Mumford wasn't Ada Mumford's daughter. I argued the case, and pretty convincingly, I thought, that Ena L. Mumford was born in Saffron Waldon in 1915 and birth records note that her mother's maiden name was Byford, not Graves, as it would be were she Ada's daughter.

This is a case where I was caught out by a coincidence. Ena Louis Elizabeth Mumford, died in 1967, her death registered under her married name Christie-Murray. She was aged 52, which means she was born in 1914 or 1915. Now, birth records from 1911 list only initials for middle names, so I was looking for the birth of one Ena L. Murray and found the 1915 record. Couple this with the original newspaper reports that Ada Mumford had died shortly after the publication of her book led me to conclude that Ena's father, Edward, had remarried (to someone named Byford) and Ena was a child of his second marriage.


I've subsequently heard from Anne, Ena's daughter, who instigated this whole line of enquiry when she began looking for a copy of her Aunt's novel, "The House by the Railway". Invited to give a talk about Ada's work by the E. Nesbit Society, Anne has been researching her family history and graciously admitted that she was not surprised at my confusion. So, with thanks to Anne, here's a little solid information on Ada...

She was born on 14 April 1870 at Benares in West Bengal and christened there on 8 May. She was the daughter of James Speed Graves and his wife Charlotte (nee Brand). In 1881, she was living with her grandmother, also named Charlotte Brand, at 55 Grange Road, Edinburgh, along with her older siblings Florence and Douglas. By 1891 her parents, now retired, had returned to Scotland and, with Florence and Ada, were living at 125 Warrender Park, Edinburgh. It was probably during her time in Scotland that she started writing for magazines.

She subsequently married Doctor Edward Rainsford Mumford, born in Thorpe next Norwich, Norfolk, in 1876, the son of George John Mumford (a seed merchant and importer) and his wife Louisa Clarke (nee Borman).

Ena - always known to the family as Betty or Elizabeth - was their third child (two elder siblings were born and died in India), born on 1 December 1914. The family were living in the tea garden Karlighat in Assam along with Ada's sister, Florence. At 3:50 in the afternoon of 8 July 1918, an earthquake centred nearby struck. According to a report by Murray Sturat (to be found here, but I cannot access the whole document):
The shock was felt over eastern Bengal and Assam, throughout most of Burma, and felt over north-east India as far west as Lahore. Srimangal is situated in the tea-garden area, and whole valleys of tea-factories and bungalows were reported to be destroyed...
__The earthquake center seems to have been in the Balisera hills, about 3½ miles south of the railway at Srimangal, and a little to the east of Dr Mumford’s bungalow at Kalighat. At the Kalighat tea-estate most of the bungalows, including the Post office and club buildings, fell towards the east...
__The doctor's bungalow had completely collapsed, and it was here that the only European death occurred. Mrs Mumford, the wife of Dr Mumford, being killed instantaneously and another lady pinned down and crushed by the falling roof and debris. The twisted nad bent steel girders testify to the intensity of the shock.
"In the first moments of the earthquake, Betty's ayah grabbed her and carried her out of the bungalow, and Florence dived under her iron bedstead," says Anne of the incident. "Ada ran out of the bungalow, cried out for her daughter, whom she could not see, and then ran back inside. The bungalow collapsed and Ada died instantly when a falling beam crushed her skull."

(* My thanks to Anne for taking the time to fill in a little of her family history; the photo of The House by the Railway book is from here.)

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