Auctions | March 31, 2023

Tennyson Family Jewels to Auction


 The diamond hair ornament owned by The Hon. Margaret Cicely Tennyson

Poet Laureate during much of Queen Victoria’s reign, Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) inspired numerous artistic interpretations, most notably from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who considered him one of their ‘immortals’. His eldest son Hallam – who also acted as his father’s secretary – went on to become Governor-General of Australia, and Hallam’s wife Audrey – who often helped transcribe the poet’s words – became one of the founders of Australia’s first maternity hospital for women in the outback. 

Offered directly by descendants of the great poet, jewels from the Tennyson family’s collection will be offered as part of Bonhams’ London Jewels sale on April 26 at New Bond Street, London.

Consisting of 18 lots (lots 17-35), the collection is led by a diamond hair ornament owned by The Hon. Margaret Cicely Tennyson, née Drummond (1880-1963), wife of Alfred Browning Stanley Tennyson, grandson of the poet, which has an estimate of £8,000-12,000 ($9,890-$14,840). The Hon. Margaret Cicely Drummond was the 6th child of the 10th Viscount Strathallan. A historic Scottish family, the Drummonds were given lands in Dunbartonshire following the Norman Conquest and were created Viscount Strathallan in 1686. She married Alfred Browning Stanley Tennyson in 1912.
Emily Barber, Bonhams Head of Jewellery, UK, commented: “Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a towering figure of the Victorian era. His descendants also made significant contributions to public life, especially in Australia, and became part of the Tennyson legacy. It is a pleasure to be able to bring items from the family’s personal collection to auction for the first time.”

One of the highlights of the sale will be a Le Roy & Fils gold, enamel and diamond watch bangle, which belonged to Audrey Tennyson, the reverse of the case engraved 'Audrey Tennyson. Freshwater. I. W. Xmas 1894’. The piece has an estimate of £2,000 - 3,000 ($2,470 - $3,710).
Hallam Tennyson met the then Audrey Boyle in 1884, when she was a guest at the painter G.F. Watt's home, The Briary, which was near the Tennyson residence, Freshwater, on the Isle of Wright. The couple married two years later in King Henry VII's chapel at Westminster Abbey, London. One of the guests was the poet Robert Browning, Hallam's godfather. Following their marriage the pair moved into Freshwater, residing with Hallam’s parents, where Hallam acted as his father's secretary, with Audrey often taking dictation notes for Hallam's biography of the poet.
From 1899 until 1903, the couple and their sons lived in Australia (Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney) where Hallam Tennyson was Governor of South Australia and then Australian Governor-General. Lady Tennyson's role in the community in Australia was active, and she was most notably responsible for funding and patronising the building of a maternity hospital for women giving birth in the outback, which she named after Queen Victoria.
The sale will also include a late 19th century pearl necklace and a seed pearl necklace from circa 1900, estimated at £800 - 1,200 ($989 - $1,484). Having initially belonged to Audrey Tennyson, the lot is accompanied by a letter from Hallam Tennyson written in 1922 to The Hon. Margaret Cicely Tennyson, the wife of his nephew, Alfred Browning Stanley Tennyson. It states: “...I give you the necklace of pearls because she [Audrey] always wore them and would like you to have them. As you know, she was very fond of you. The pearls took years to collect and are carefully graded. I should like them to go to your son's wife or to Rachel....”