The Copeland Family

Fanny Copeland as a girl in Edinburgh

Fanny Susan Copeland was a remarkable woman. The information here is drawn from a number of sources, some of it from her autobiography. She had hoped to have this published in her lifetime, but the person she asked to try and arrange this didn't manage to accomplish it. She did however give a copy to the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, where it sits in the archives in a state of limbo, since it's not clear who owns the copyright - at least until it expires in 2020 There is also a copy in the National Archives. Both copies are missing a few pages.

Having seen these memoirs, they tell a fascinating story of her own life as well as giving more information about her father and the rest of her family. It's not clear that all the stories related in them are accurate - some of them I suspect are somewhat embellished or mis-remembered. (For example, in some correspondence in 1957 with the then acting head of the observatory, M.A. Ellison she asked what year her father had discovered Helium in the sun. Her father did not make this discovery - indeed he was still studying at Gottingen when the discovery was made in 1865. He did however discover a helium line in the Orion nebula and perhaps this was what she remembered.)

Fanny was born in Ireland at Birr Castle in Parsonstown, County Offaly in 1872 when her father was assistant to Lord Rosse. She moved with the family to Dunsink and then Dun Echt when he took up employment with Lord Crawford. Amusingly she is recorded as married at the age of 8 in the 1881 census whilst resident at Dun Echt!

She was something of a tomboy - being keen on running and climbing. Her memoirs contain a number of anecdotes and stories of her life as a child, some of them quite amusing! She was sent away to Berlin in Germany to complete her education just as she turned 13 at her mother's behest, despite the strong reservations of her father and other family friends. This seems to have turned her against her mother to some extent, although she hero-worshipped her father. She was also very close to her half brother, Richard.

She was an accomplished linguist, (perhaps a skill inherited from her father.) She learned German, unsurprisingly, and French at a very early age. This was partly because of the number of foreign visitors to the Dun Echt observatory. She later went on to learn Latin and Italian, (having learned and then forgotten some Arabic whilst still at Dun Echt,) Danish and Norwegian and subsequently Slovenian.

Whilst she was at school in Berlin, her father was appointed to the post of Astronomer Royal for Scotland and the family moved to 15 Royal Terrace in Edinburgh.

Fanny Copeland in London
She married John Edmund Barkworth, 14 years her senior, on 15th February 1894 at St George's Chapel in York Place. They are recorded on the marriage certificate as living at 15 Royal Terrace. He was recorded in the marriage register as a schoolmaster - he taught music (organ) at Fettes and he was also a composer. He supposedly proposed marriage after she'd had a falling out with her mother (she had apparently already turned him down once.) She suggests that she accepted while the balance of her mind was disturbed through ill health.

By 1901, according to the census, they had moved to 3 Kimbolton Road in Bedford and had 3 children. The oldest Ralph C. - born in Paris, was 5 at the time and the other twins, Harold and Lilian, born in Chelsea, London were 4. Fanny's profession in the 1901 Census was recorded as "singer". She learned music whilst living in Berlin. Amusingly Agnes turns up in the 1901 census at Fanny's house, along with the Barkworth's 3 servants.

In 1902 the family moved to Ottawa in Canada and then Baltimore in the USA for 2 years - John Barkworth was employed as a visiting professor at the Peabody Institute, part of John Hopkins University, to teach Organ from 1901 through 1905. The 10th letter from her father Ralph to Fred Holloway refers to his periods of 6 months at a time there. It also says that Fanny had a house in Edinburgh close to Blackford hill at 5 Grange Terrace where she lived with her three children.

This was not a happy marriage - and on photographs of her children she wrote their names as Copeland. She refers to him as Mr Barkworth in her autobiography. By 1908 they had separated and she had moved to London. At this point she reverted to using her maiden name. A divorce was granted in 1912 which was reported in The Guardian.

Her father had a strong interest in the Balkan regions and she was herself something of a Slavophile. She worked for the Yugoslav committee during the 1st world war - acting as a translator during the Paris peace conference from 1918 - 1920. She moved to Yugoslavia after the peace conference. After this she became lecturer in English at Ljubljana University from 1921 until the German invasion in 1941. In 1939 she was awarded the OBE for her 12 years acting in an unofficial role as Vice Consul.

She was a keen alpinist - and amongst her exploits she climbed Triglav (9,300 feet) one hogmanay with a couple of other mountaineers, spending the night there before descending again the next day.

In 1941 she was arrested by Gestapo and held for a couple of days until the Italians took over the occupation. She was then moved initially to Trieste and then to Arezzo and finally Bibbiena (in Etruria) where she lived out the war in open confinement.

"On August 27th, King's Dragoon Guards found the right flank to be open, with the Germans retreating into the mountains to the north-east. On the same day a patrol of 25th Brigade reached Bibbiena, the last important centre on the Arno below Florence. Among those liberated was Professor Fanny Copeland, O.B.E., a Scotswoman who had lived for twenty years in Yugo-Slavia. Her joy at liberation was concealed behind the pawky comment that she had expected to hear the pibroch and to see kilts on the leading troops."

Fanny maintained an active interest in the observatory after her father's death. She visited in 1926 with a party of students, in 1934 with two Slovenian mountaineers (who climbed Ben Nevis during the same visit) and finally in 1947 (when she apparently enquired about her father's spectroscope and was told it had been dismantled to allow students to study the various parts.)

In 1953, after finally managing to get a new visa, she moved back to Ljubljana and lived in Hotel "Slon" for the rest of her life. She was interviewed for the Lady Magazine - the article appearing in the 18 Feb 1965 edition.

Fanny Copeland in Croatian National Dress - 1927

She died in 1970 at the age of 98 in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia and is buried at Dovje at the entrance to valley Vrata.

This excerpt is from a web-site that I found that references her and her love of the mountains in that part of the world.

"Many Triglav fans, however who were fortunate enough to die a natural death, expressed a last WISH to be buried here too, within the view of the MOUNTAINS they loved so much and climbed so often! One of those was Miss FANNY COPELAND (1872 - 1970 !). She was British by birth but spent much of her life, to be exact some 60 years, here in Slovenia."

Fanny Copeland's grave in Dovje, photos courtesy of Borut Baglatelj

I also found the following on a web page ( that references Fanny.

"It is interesting to speculate whether the support enjoyed by the proposals of the MDS and the SPD owed anything to the friendship that was struck in Paris in 1918 between Fanny Copeland, the redoubtable British champion of the South Slav cause, and Dr. Drago Marusic, who became Ban (civil governor) of the Dravska banovina (i.e., in effect, Slovenia) in 1930. Fanny Copeland was an active Alpinist and a supporter of the idea of creating protected zones within the Julian Alps. She wrote about these matters in the journal of the PZS, and in 1932 assisted the members of the Le Play Society in a field tour which led to the publication of a symposium, "Slovene Studies," edited by the well-known British geographer L. Dudley Stamp.(15) Mrs Copeland's arrival in Ljubljana, as a lector in English at the University, arose directly from a discussion with Dr. Marusic about mountaineering in Slovenia. Upon her arrival she soon became involved in the affairs of the SPD and was a familiar figure, with her rucksack and boots, on the paths of her "beautiful mountains." (16) She maintained her contacts with leading Slovene politicians like Marusic and campaigned vigorously for the preservation of the unspoiled beauty of the Julian Alps."

From the references to John Edmund Barkworth that I found on the web and elsewhere, he was born in Beverly (near Hull) in England on 20th May 1858 and died in Geneva on 18th November 1929. According to the marriage entry, his parents were Harold Barkworth, a banker and Julia Traill Sandbach (deceased.) There is more on his parent's family on Lucy Nuttall's web-site - although John is missing from the list of children there.

He composed an opera "Romeo and Juliet" - completed in 1916 and there is a record of a performance of same in Middlesbrough on 7 Jan 1916. He also composed operas by the name of "Well of Wishes" (which was performed as part of a benefit concert to raise money for the Ben Nevis meteorological site) and "Fireflies" - dated 1925. There is a letter on a Bergen web-site from him, written from Paris in 1895 in Norwegian to Edvard Grieg (of Peer Gynt fame). From the smattering of Norwegian I taught myself a few years ago I can just about figure out the content! I was initially surprised at the letter being written in Norwegian, but from reading Fanny's memoirs it is plain that she learned Norwegian whilst living in Berlin and I imagine therefore that she did the translation.

This photo was taken by Michael and Mary Smyth in 1969 when they visited Fanny at the hotel (Slon) where she lived.
Fanny Copeland in her hotel in Ljublana

Fanny Copeland's Children

I am indebted to the Barkworth family for some of the following information.

Her first child, Ralph, was born in Paris in 1895 or 6. She moved while pregnant with twins to London, living in Chelsea. Harold and Lilian were born in Q4 1896.

Lilian (Lily) married Crosbie Garstin, a writer. He died in a boating accident about 8 years later. She was in the ATS during the war and then went back to live in Penzance where she was very active in local politics, eventually becoming Mayor and a freeman of the city. She was awarded an MBE. She died in 1973. She had no offspring.

Harold suffered all sorts of problems in infancy - being unable to digest milk (although he later became a milk bacteriologist,) catching scarlet fever and diptheria. He married Phyllis H. L. Taylor in April 1920 in Lexden district, Essex, England. Apparently he always wrote in purple ink. He visited the Royal Observatory in 1957 and gave a key to the now defunct Greg Observatory in Lancaster to Hermann Bruck. This had been presented to Ralph Copeland on the occasion of its opening on July 27th 1892. I believe that Harold lived in Derby. He had two daughters, one of whom, Paula, was killed in a traffic accident in London in 1960. He died in Q1 1965 in Brighton district.

Ralph was taken out of university for WWI. He earned an MC and bar and was shell-shocked. He went back to university, completed his B.A, and then an M.A., taught school for a while but eventually ended up working for the British Council until he retired and moved to Canada with his wife and 4 children. He was married in 1938 (April 2nd) to Elizabeth Margaret Blascheck who had spent much of her life in what was then India - her father being in the Indian Forest Service. He died on the 31st October 1979 in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He had three daughters and a son.

Fanny's Sons
Ralph Copeland Barkworth in March 1920 Harold Copeland Barkworth