The Butterfly and the Bee

The group met in Peniel Chapel on the evening of 18th January 2024 and our Chair welcomed Dr Helen Papworth, our speaker for the evening. Helen started her career in the education sector then went to Ethiopia in 2004 as a volunteer advisor with the Ministry of Education in Addis Ababa. In 2008 she returned to Addis Ababa to help the ministry produce Civics text books and begin the research for her doctorate on Ethiopian Children’s Literature.

After completing her PhD, she began her research into Henry Morton Stanley’s wife, Dorothy Tennant. She has written a historical novel about their relationship and has given many talks on this subject as well as that of Stanley’s earlier African exploits that started in Ethiopia. She is currently writing a historical novel based on Llewelyn and Dafydd, the last princes of Wales.

The Butterfly and the Bee
Dorothy Tennant was born in 1855, one of four siblings. She was born in Russell Square, London and later the family moved to Richmond Terrace, an affluent area of London. Her father was the MP for St Albans and after his death when Dorothy was in her teens, she began a diary to him which continued for many years.

After her father’s death Dorothy’s mother became a socialite and the house was the scene of visits from important figures from the worlds of art and politics. Dorothy had her portrait painted by several artists such as Watts and Millais During the 1870s she trained as an artist when The Slade opened up to women and she also studied in Paris. She painted neo-classical works but became best known for her “ragamuffin” illustrations. Up to 1886 she focused on painting and illustrating children’s stories.

Dorothy met her future husband Henry Morton Stanley at a dinner party in June 1885 where William Gladstone was also one of the guests. Dorothy appears to have had several admirers during this period of her life and we were shown correspondence from these well-connected men.

Henry Morton Stanley, was born in 1841 in Denbigh, North Wales. He spent much of his childhood in the workhouse in St Asaph and managed to educate himself sufficiently to teach at a nearby school in Brynford. In 1859, at the age of eighteen, he went to America when he took American citizenship and became a journalist. Whilst back in England for a visit he proposed to Dorothy but she refused him. He went back to America and Dorothy embarked on a series of visits to aristocratic friends and relatives but discovered that the life of an aristocrat was not for her. She continued with her work as an artist and our speaker showed us several accomplished examples of her paintings including one which several of us recognised (Street Arabs At Play 1889). This was purchased by Lord Lever and can be seen in the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Stanley had led a series of expeditions to Central Africa, some funded by King Leopold of Belgium. In 1887 he led an expedition to assist Emin Pasha, the governor of Equatoria (part of modern-day South Sudan) who was facing an uprising by the Mahdi. Stanley set out to traverse the continent with a force of nearly 700 men, navigating very difficult terrain up the Congo River and then through the Ituri rainforest to eventually reach what is now Tanzania in East Africa. The arduous journey had caused Stanley to split the expedition into two columns; the advance column reached Emin Pasha in April 1888 after much hardship and loss of life. A series of problems and miscommunications forced Stanley and Emin to withdraw from Equatoria in early 1889 and the expedition ended in 1890 and Stanley returned to Europe. The expedition was regarded as a great success and Stanley became very popular

Meanwhile, back in England Dolly was told by one of her male admirers that she should “find a husband”. On hearing of Stanley’s successful expedition Dolly wrote and congratulated him and Stanley replied. Dolly set her sights on marrying Stanley and she proposed. After an initial refusal Stanley accepted and they were married in Westminster Abbey. Stanleys health was not good and he collapsed outside the abbey leaving Dolly to make her way to the wedding reception accompanied by her friend, John Everet Millais.

The couple moved to Purbright in Hampshire where they eventually adopted a child named Denzil who may have been the son of a relative. Dorothy continued to illustrate and it appears to have been a contented relationship. Dorothy wrote; “There are butterflies and bees in the world: the butterflies like to play amid the flowers, I am content to belong to the bee class

Stanley died from a stroke in 1904 and Dolly remarried. She died in 1926

This was an interesting talk from a very knowledgeable and engaging speaker and the audience was most appreciative.

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