Sarah Frances Alleyne

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2 Litfield Place, Clifton.

Sarah Frances “Fanny” Alleyne (1836 – 1884) was a friend of the Symonds family, and advocate of women’s higher education. Margaret Symonds recalled her as “a poet,1 a philosopher, and a woman of rare humanity and intelligence, [who] passed almost unknown to her generation, leaving but a few poems and many friends behind her”.2

“Some of the Clifton ladies in those days were wonderfully advanced for their age and all of them were constantly with my Father and Mother. Much of what is called the feminist movement of to-day was, I believe, largely hatched by the great Victorian ladies who inhabited that old seaport of Bristol down below. There were the two Miss Winkworths – Catherine and Susannah – there were Miss Fanny Alleyne and Miss Mary Clifford; these had been preceded by Miss Marntineau, Miss Carpenter, Miss Cobbe, and various others.”3

Alleyne was born in Barbados, where her family’s wealth was built on sugar and cotton, farmed by enslaved people.  The process of abolition was underway at the time of her birth, and compensation records show that her father, Charles Thomas Alleyne, applied to be compensated for 845 freed slaves on his estates.4 The family’s earnings allowed them a fashionable address in Clifton; Sarah grew up at 2 Litfield place, close to the rocks and gullies where Symonds played as a child.

As an adult, Alleyne was active in the Clifton Association for the Higher Education of Women, for whom Symonds was a prominent lecturer. When Catherine Winkworth became secretary,  Alleyne was soon appointed her co-secretary,5 and 2 Litfield place was co-opted as the venue for Italian classes (Symonds himself taught at St Paul’s hall, Clifton.) Alleyne continued to support the activities of the Association and its successor University College, administrating scholarships and local exams to promote women’s access to Oxford and Cambridge.

Beyond her educational connections, Alleyne was close to the Symonds family, and seems to have been on hand when difficulty descended: In 1874, Charlotte Symonds fell ill with Scarlet Fever in her parents’ absence, and Alleyne brought the family’s other daughters into her home to protect them from exposure;6  later, when Symonds’ own health suffered a crisis, Alleyne joined the family on the long expedition to Switzerland:

“Some weeks later we made the great move abroad : a party of seven people — my Father and my Mother, my eldest sister Janet and myself, Miss Fanny Alleyne, Miss Isabella Gamble, and our English manservant. The doctors had said that my Father should make the then common experiment of a winter in Egypt, but that this journey should be broken (a rather roundabout break) by a stay of some months in a quiet Alpine valley.Mrs. T. H. Green, and her husband were staying that summer at Davos, a little-known village of the Alps, and they suggested that we should join them there.”7

In the years following Symonds’ departure from Bristol, Alleyne produced English translations of much of Eduard Zeller’s writing on Greek philosophy – a task which Symonds himself had attempted but found “intolerably irksome”.8   In 1884, Symonds received news of Alleyne’s death:

“Alas, alas! the news came to-day that Fanny Alleyne died on Saturday afternoon. It is very sad that so blameless and devoted a nature should have been exposed to this dreadful suffering in the close of her good life. The mystery of the world seems brought home cruelly to our ignorance by such a fate.”9

Alleyne was buried at St Pauls, Clifton, on the 21st of August 1884. Katherine Symonds was named as God-daughter in her will.

  1. Other than her numerous translations, Alleyne’s published work appears to be limited to Verses – a posthumously published collection of poetry. []
  2. Margaret Symonds, Out of the Past, (London, Murray, 1925) p.212 []
  3. Out of the Past, p170 []
  4. See further records of Alleyne’s grandfather, John F. Alleyne, and her father Charles Thomas Alleyne at UCL’s Legacies of British Slave-ownership.  []
  5. Margaret Josephine Shaen, Memorials of two sisters, Susanna and Catherine Winkworth, Longmans, Green and co, 1908, p.260 []
  6. John Addington Symonds, The Letters of John Addington Symonds, Vol. 2 : 1869-1884, Ed. Herbert M. Schueller& Robert L. Peters (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1968) p354 []
  7. Out of the Past, p174 []
  8. H. F. Brown, John Addington Symonds: A Biography, Compiled from His Papers and Correspondence, 2nd edn (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1903) p.286 []
  9. Brown, p.395 []