1111242) Leslie Maturin Born in Dublin on 20 May 1848 Leslie was admitted as LRCSI in 1874 and as Licentiate KQCPI on 10 November 1875. Such was his promise as a physician that, even before he obtained his diploma, in 1874 he was selected to fill the responsible post of Assistant-Accoucheur in the Maternity Unit of Dr. Steevens' Hospital in Dublin where he had already held the appointment of Surgical Resident Pupil for a longer-than-normal period (1). He accepted appointments to the wilds of the isles in far western Ireland as "Medical Officer etc" for the Achill Division of the Achill Dispensary District of the Newport Union, Co. Mayo on 1 Mar 1876 and a fortnight later as Medical Attendant to the Royal Irish Constabulary, Achill and Admiralty Surgeon and Agent for the Stations of Keel, Achillbeg, Dugort and Bullsmouth (2). These did not quench his thirst for adventure.
On 26 October 1876 he sailed from the Clyde on emigrant sailing ship "The Marlborough" as Surgeon-Superintendent, arriving in Port Chalmers (the port for Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand) 85 days later on 20 January after an exemplary voyage in a healthy, clean ship (3). He must have returned almost immediately as he is next recorded as volunteering to be a surgeon to the Russian Sick and Wounded Society during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8 (1). After the fall of Plevna in December 1877 thousands of Turkish prisoners were marched to Bucharest under appalling conditions with many dying by the wayside from untreated wounds, rampant typhoid and dysentery. Prince Charles of Rumania personally thanked the Society's surgeons, with "Drs Maturin and Davis" particularly noted for their work (4).
Leslie returned to the comparative peace of temporary Medical Superintendant of Kilmainham Fever Hospital, Dublin on 6 April 1881; the post became permanent and he remained in sole charge until the hospital closed in 1883. Whilst there his work, recorded in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science, was recognised as remarkable. Early in 1883 he became Resident Medical Officer and Registrar to Cork Street Fever Hospital in Dublin (1).
The promotion enabled him to marry a Scots girl he met when she was visiting relations at Blessington. On 3 September 1883, in St Giles Church Edinburgh the wedding took place between Leslie and Leila Scot Skirving (5).
Leslie and Leila
Skirving family records claim that Leslie was Blessington's "handsome debonair doctor". But Blessington is about 15 miles from Dublin (4 hours on a slow horse as the railway did not open until 1888) where Leslie must have been totally occupied managing the Fever Hospital and therefore unlikely to be the local general practitioner. There may have been other connections. Leslie's Scottish great-grandmother, Frances Anne Hay, was brought up at Spott, Lothian, marrying Henry Maturin, Rector of Gartan, Donegal, in July 1832. Spott is about 5 miles from Camptoun and the Hays and Skirvings were both significant landowners. Leila's grandmother's family, the merchant Perrins from Wicklow, were Huguenots as were the Maturins; her mother's family, the Owens, owned several properties around Rathdowney, Queen's County / Co. Laois. Leslie's father John was a Dublin solicitor. Such people moved in similar levels of society.
Tragically the happiness of Leslie and Leila was short-lived. On the 4 November 1884 Leslie and a colleague visited a young child with scarlet fever who had a life-threatening abscess near a tonsil. Following the death of Samuel Rabbeth in London only weeks previously, when the doctor contracted diphtheria from a child he was treating, Leslie would have been fully aware of the dangers of operating so close to contagion. Despite that Leslie opened the abscess but the child immediately coughed in his face. Knowing the likely effect he returned to the Hospital and six days later the attack came. After a further nine days of agony his heart failed on 19 November. He was buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin on 21 November (1).
The Scot Skirving family
Leila Elizabeth was born in Haddington, East Lothian on 29 Dec 1854 where her father, Robert Scot Skirving, had a large farm at Camptown (Camptoun or Campton) by Athelstaneford. At the age of 29, according to the 1851 census, he was farming 700 acres employing 20 labourers and 21 women and boys; by 1861, using the latest mechanical innovations for harvesting, threshing and artificial manuring he had become more efficient with 800 acres and 1 bailiff, 1 shepherd, 14 labourers, 3 boys and 13 women.
It is not clear how the Scots farmer met the Irish girl but Robert married Elisabeth (Leila) Owen on 29 September 1852 at St Peter's Church, Dublin (7); Leila was the daughter of William Owen (and Elisabeth Perrin) a "landed proprietor" of Erkindale, Rathdowney, Co Laois (8). Elisabeth was the daughter of a Huguenot merchant James Perrin, trading in Wicklow and Dublin (7 & 9). Some few years after William Owen's death Elisabeth moved in to Dublin, first to 15 Upper Leeson Street and later to 2 Derby Terrace, Wellington Road. She died on 23 February 1865 and was buried in a vault, inscribed only as "Owen", at Mount Jerome Cemetery, south Dublin.
Leila junior was the only daughter; the sons David (born 1 September 1853 - 1935), Owen (17 June 1856 - 26 March 1946), Robert (18 December 1859 - 15 July 1956), William (9 June 1862 - 14 April 1863), Edward (7 May 1864 - 1953) and Archibald Adam (born 29 June 1868 - 1930) were all born at Haddington.
All the children started their education at the local Camptoun school with the local dominie - that remarkable system of schooling which gave equality of opportunity to Scotland while the rest of the world
was just making plans. As the children grew the family moved to 29 Drummond Place, Edinburgh for the children to be schooled in the city, but returned to Camptoun for the holidays.
29 Drummond Place, Edinburgh New Town is at the second set of steps from the right . © Postcard photo by kind permission of Peter Stubbs at www.edinphoto.org.uk. No 29 is marked in red on the 1872 map
Leila attended school in Edinburgh until she was 17 and then went to Paris, to an establishment at 94 Avenue d'Eylau (off the Place du Trocadero) from October 1871 to November 1872. In August 1872 Robert took her and Midge, an Owen cousin, on a tour of Switzerland and southern Germany, an adventure which was the subject of numerous letters between mother and daughter (9). Leila senior died on 7 September 1874 at Drummond Place after suffering for 18 months with heart disease and finally liver problems as well.
In the way that a wife can often resemble a mother-in-law, given the appropriate added years, it can only be surmise that young Leila would have similar traits to the older Leila and to her grandmother.
While her father and mother, Robert and Leila (senior) were on their wedding tour to Italy, Greece, Lebanon, the Holy Land and Egypt Robert had written back to his mother describing his new wife:
"You tell me to say more of Leila. She is exactly as I expected her to be: cheerful, contented and perfectly good-natured. She is also companionable and intelligent and is a very fond wife — rather more than my nature is made for and at times I tell her "Now. I must be alone". I never thought her good-looking and travelling has not improved her — she knows I think her very plain, but she always says she will look better when she has quiet and gets fat. Still she must have something attractive, probably her manner and conversation. She always meets people ready to devote themselves to her service."
There are many remarks about young Leila's vivacity, attractiveness, charm and duty, but none about her beauty. In the absence of any photographs perhaps the pictures (right) of her mother and grandmother may give some clue.
The Young Scot Skirvings
As was expected at the time, and as the only daughter, on the death of her mother Leila put her own life on hold to bring up her young brothers and look after her father. That is not to say that there were not opportunities for leisure. The New Town in Edinburgh at the time had a Young Set who were invited to dinners for a dozen people of all ages, for example not only Robert Louis Stevenson but also his father, to range over conversation from Balzac to the Scottish Highlands in autumn. Leila enjoyed the amateur dramatics which were organised by Professor Fleeming and Mrs Jenkins at their own homes first in Fettes Row and later Great Stuart Street, which were adapted into intimate theatres, complete with stage, footlights and proscenium curtains with spring opening. The young set were theatrically directed and guided by the Jenkins, though some, like Stevenson, occasionally needed reminding of the boundaries! Stevenson became a family friend, albeit an unconventional one. There is one memory of his accompanying Leila and her brother Owen home after a late rehearsal and waking the household with his high spirits - under the influence of "scones, milk and jam" but blaming small beer when "the Governor" appeared in his night shirt (10). By all accounts Leila deserved her description as "brilliant, charming and irrepressible". From the close relationship between the young Stevenson and the family there is an opinion that RLS would like to have been romantically linked to Leila - but that may be just surmise.
Robert junior was foiled in his determination from the age of 12 for a career at sea by a series of incidents ending in being invalided from his ship at the age of 17 when he contracted beri-beri. He changed course and took the medical training at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1881. Too young to be registered as a doctor he studied for another year in Vienna before returning to be House Physician at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He had a fascinating circle of friends and acquaintances. He was in the same class as Conan Doyle and both worked in the out-patient clinic taken by Dr Joseph Bell who was the model and inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. In 1883 he followed Leslie Maturin's example from 1876 and sailed as the Surgeon on the emigrant ship "Ellora" to Australia, having been recruited to the team building the new Medical School in Sydney, NSW. After service in both the Boer and Great Wars he returned to Sydney where he remained until his death in 1956 (7).
Archibald seems to have been closest to Leila. Though he followed his elder brother Edward to Cheltenham he returned to Edinburgh to study medicine. He was at Drummond Place for the census in 1881, aged 12. For the 1891 census father Robert was alone with the three servants in Edinburgh but Leila and Archibald were at the Hydropathic Company's new spa at Peebles. It is difficult to know who was suffering from what but it unlikely that they would have gone just to drink the waters as pain-relief and treatment were essential parts of such visits. After suffering for 5 years from heart disease Robert senior died on 17 November 1900 - at Drummond Place (11). Leila and her brother were still there with two servants in 1901. Archibald qualified as a physician and was awarded the CMG in 1900 for his service to the Imperial Yeomanry in the Boer War
Robert senior was passionate about wildlife and had campaigned hard for the bill to preserve Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth as a bird sanctuary. After Leila (his wife) died he immersed himself in nature and stayed for about six months each year at Sunderland House on the Isle of Islay in the Inner Hebrides (7 & 12).
Leila and Joseph Merrick
It is likely that the widowed Leila dutifully and regularly accompanied her father to Islay as it was to that address that Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, wrote his only preserved letter.
The mystery remains as to how Leila was known to Dr Frederick Treves who practiced in London. Of her brothers, by 1889, David had long left Scotland for his military career, Owen was coffee planting in India, Robert had departed for Australia and Edward had just graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge before returning to teach at Cheltenham. There may have been a connection through the newly qualified Archibald but he was only 21 and perhaps not on conversational terms with an eminent surgeon commanding £100 a time for appendix operations. It is possible that her father may have been fascinated by Merrick; he was the most likely of the family to have had connections to such a person as Treves.
As Merrick was terrified of women Leila was asked by Dr Treves if he could be introduced to her and shake her hand to help him overcome his fear. Though Treves does not name her in his book, only describing her as an attractive young widow, a subsequent account in The History of the Elephant Man (by Michael Howell and Peter Ford, published by Penguin) identifies her. That book also reproduces an envelope and letter from Merrick to “Miss L Maturin, Sunderland House, Islay, West Coast of Scotland” written on 7 October 1889.
Dear Miss Maturin
Many thanks indeed for the grouse and the book you so kindly sent me, the grouse were splendid. I saw Mr. Treves on Sunday, he said I was to give his best respects to you.
With much gratitude I am Yours Truly
Joseph Merrick London Hospital Whitechapel
Read more about Leila and Joseph Merrick in Graeme Strachan's article in the Press and Journal.
Leila never remarried. She died on 27 February 1917 at 8 Randolph Crescent, Edinburgh aged 62 (13). Archibald informed the authorities after Harvey Littlejohn had certified death from "Influenza and sudden heart syncope". She was taken back to be buried with Leslie in Mount Jerome, Dublin - close to her Owen relations.
1) In Memoriam - Leslie Maturin. Dublin Journal of Medical Science Vol 79, no. 1 / January 1885 -
2) The Kirkpatrick Archive, The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin
3) Report in the Otago Witness, Issue 1313 27 January 1877 Page 11 - available on-line
This sailing compares very well with the voyage taking Charles Jephson and Olivia Kensington with their family to Aukland from July 1862 on the "William Miles". That journey was 106 days, 5 died at sea and the steerage passengers were on the point of insurrection at the filthy conditions and abominable food. Olivia (daughter of Assistant Commissary William Maturin) was a second cousin of Leslie's.
4) Report in The Times 9 January 1878, issue 29147, page 5 col. D
5) Marriage certificate 685/04 0205 witnessed by R Scot Skirving and A H Maturin (Albert Henry - Leslie's brother)
6) Grave at plot 361 Mount Jerome Cemetery, with thanks to Yvonne Russell for making this image available on-line.
7) Owen and Perrin Family History by Hugh Owen - printed for private circulation but available on FamilySearch. This very thorough history includes enormous detail of all the Scot Skirvings and their Owen / Perrin relations.
8) Leila's death certificate 685/02 0507 records that she died on 7 September 1874 aged 49; her exact birth year is therefore a little unclear as Robert did not put a date on her tombstone and there are no surviving Irish records. From the birth dates of the children a likely date is 25 December 1823 but the 1861 census records her as 34.
9) In Memoriam for Robert Scot Skirving 1956 - Robert claimed that the Skirving family was originally from Bordeaux - available on-line.
10) "I can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson" edited by Rosaline Masson, W&R Chambers Ltd 1922. An anthology of memories.
11) Death certificate for Robert Scot Skirving 685/02 0697
12) Abstract from letter from R Scot Skirving at Sunderland House, Islay 18 September 1884 to Nature, vol 30, issue 778 p 512.
I am specially interested in the Duke of Argyll's letter on the above subject (p. 462), being a resident during nearly half the year in the most southern of the Hebrides. His Grace is so competent a naturalist, and so accurate an observer, that I assume at once he had evidence which satisfied himself that an adder swam from Mull to Iona. Still I must be pardoned if I say that your readers have not been supplied with the proofs which have satisfied his Grace. A boy and girl in Iona, who, I presume, had never seen an adder in their lives, killed a creature in the sea there. Might it not have been an eel?
13) Death Certificate for Leila Maturin 685/02 0133
Horn Head from Portnablagh, Donegal
The inscription on plot 361 reads;
In / Loving and grateful memory of / LESLIE MATURIN, F.K.O.C.P.I / Dublin / who died 19th November 1884 / aged 35 / and / LEILA SCOT SKIRVING / his wife / who died 27th February 1917 / aged 62 (6)
Elisabeth Perrin - above
Leila Owen - below
Plates from Owen and Perrin Family History by Hugh Owen (note 7)