Sailor Boy Harold Courtenay Tennyson (27 April 1896-29 January 1916)
For years Hallam acted as his father’s secretary. Following his father’s death and succeeding to the barony on 6 October 1892, he wrote a memoir of his poet father. Once he became the 2nd Baron Tennyson, he was prepared to accept a colonial governorship. He was appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of South Australia in 1899. He took up office on 10 April 1899 serving through and until 17 July 1902.
Now Lord Hallam Tennyson relinquished his position in South Australia in order to take up the appointment of Acting-Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, following the resignation of the 7th Earl of Hopetoun. Lord Tennyson served as Acting-Governor-General from 17 July 1902 to 9 January 1903 and was confirmed in the appointment at a later date. He then continued to serve as Governor-General until 21 January 1904 upon his return to England. It was not until March 1903 that Lord Tennyson spoke of his readiness to serve as the Governor-General of Canada. In November 1905, he was offered the governorship of Madras. While still in South Australia, Lord Tennyson was Deputy Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1901.
Lord Hallam Tennyson married Audrey Georgiana Florence Boyle, daughter of Charles John Boyle and Zacyntha Boyle (Moore) on 25 June 1884 and had three sons:
- Lionel Hallam, born 7 November 1889, died 6 June 1951 (3rd Baron Tennyson)
- Alfred Aubrey, born 2 May 1891, killed in action March 1918.
- Harold Courtenay, born 27 April 1896, killed in action 29 January 1916.
While Hallam served his term as governor of South Australia, it was Audrey who became his secretary and confidante; handling his correspondence always referring to Hallam as ‘H’ in letters to her mother in England, Audrey wrote:
“I have been dreadfully busy, long discussions with H on various subjects, writing draft letters for him, listening to his, etc. which means very little but is all so important and cannot be put on one side…Hallam is greatly guided by me.”
It’s interesting to note that when Hallam was a little boy, his mother Lady Emily Tennyson, would act as secretary to Alfred Tennyson’s affairs as well. I’m sure Hallam was much aware of this by the time he was a grown man, having helped his mother organize and publish Alfred Tennyson’s works soon after his death. However, it may have been the custom of the day for wives of important men.
Lord and Lady Tennyson, Hallam and Audrey, were not only husband wife they were true partners and best friends. In Audrey’s correspondence with her mother she often describes Hallam’s loving and tender nature and how she valued the time they spent alone with each other; especially their walks in the Botanical Gardens. On one occasion, in a letter to her mother again, she describes her birthday gifts,
“I have had a very happy birthday and lots of pretty presents. H gave me Macaulay’s Essays in 5 little green leather volumes, so pretty. Lionel and Aubrey, little silver matchbox and some work of their own, and little Harold, bracelets and ring of beads which rejoices his little heart to see me wear, and a kindergarten paper mat he has plaited himself, and a little card he has stitched and also a little Japanese box he bought.”
I can’t help but see so many parallels within the lifestyle of Hallam and his wife and how he emulated his parent’s loving and caring relationship. It is more than obvious how much Alfred Tennyson and his wife Emily adored their boys Lionel and Hallam Tennyson while growing up on the Isle of Wight at Farringford. Hallam and Audrey obviously took great pains to make sure their boys had all the love in the world. It’s just a shame that only the first born grandson, Lionel, was born during Alfred and Emily’s lifetime. For it would be Hallam’s brother Lionel whose boys were born early enough for Alfred and Emily Tennyson to enjoy becoming grandparents.
It was Audrey who made sure that her family shared an outing together whenever possible and it was usually on a picnic. She revealed her maternal nurturing side in another letter to her mother,
“Today the boys have a holiday and H & I have been playing croquet with them, and after luncheon we are going to take the billy for a picnic tea somewhere, the two boys riding and we driving. I gave them a holiday for Easter from Thursday morning, and that afternoon we went to a lovely spot in the Morialta woods…all of us walking and Harold riding Drummerboy…We sat under the trees near the creek watching them when all of a sudden we heard poor little Harold cry and then say, ‘I’m caught in a trap’. Hallam was near him and shrieked, ‘He has got his hand in a trap.’ You may imagine how I flew and there was the poor little hand caught tight between the large rusty teeth of the trap which fit close into each other when it is closed. It required all H’s strength to press open the spring and I expected to find the fingers all cut off, or at the very best all of them broken but there was only the signs of pinches all about his hand and after I had sucked there really was not a mark to be seen. It was the greatest marvel I ever knew.”
The Tennyson boys were lively lads and Audrey spent time with them whenever possible while the youngest, Harold, was her pride and joy. She disciplined them when necessary. Although, she had a nursemaid for Harold, Audrey enjoyed being with him and feeding him. Again, in a letter to her mother she describes her eagerness to have fun with them,
“Little Harold drove me miles several times this last week in the pony cart turning corners and passing things-tho’ not thro’ the busiest parts of the streets-he often wanted to give me the reins to pass things. I said ‘O no, you can do quite well’ and then he did.”
In January 1904 the Tennyson’s leave Australia and return home to England after being away close to five years. The following is Lord Hallam Tennyson's speech upon leaving Australia for England:
Harold was now eight years old and according to his governess, Miss Lisle who described him as being, ‘a child so loving and so lovable, so responsive to every noble impulse, and so quick at grasping each new thought.’ It was in May 1908 that Harold turned twelve and he attended Evelyns the well-known Preparatory School at Uxbridge. Before he left he gave his mother a poem he wrote:
FROM A CHILD
Can love like a mother,
Be it sister or brother.
Wander north, wander south,
Roam east, or roam west,
Home, home, home is best!
Then it was decided that he should enter the Navy. He went to Osborne in the beginning of 1909, and remained till 1911. In September 1910, he wanted to go to France, because he intended on competing for the French Prize, which he won! He took his father to Paris, arranging everything. Harold says, ‘I often think back with delight of our stay in Paris. I am longing to go again.’
In 1911, at the age of fifteen, he attended Dartmouth where he won the English Literature Prize where according to the examiner Harold had, ‘more mind and knowledge of life than any of the other candidates.’ He left Dartmouth in 1913 at the age of seventeen but his Naval training gave him a remarkable sense of self with strength of character and a very marked dignity, according to friends.
Even the Head of Dartmouth wrote to Harold’s father, Hallam explaining, ‘Harold must not be taken as typical of the average Cadet, being above that average, more alert mentally than most, and more capable and willing to profit by the opportunities given at this College than many.’
It is interesting to note that Harold Tennyson’s motto during his teenaged Navy years was a few lines from his grandfather’s poem Will by Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘O well for him whose will is strong! He suffers, but he will not suffer long; He suffers, but he cannot suffer wrong.’ He may not have met his famous grandfather during his lifetime but all five Tennyson grandchildren definitely knew about their grandfather.
Even during a special service cruise while in the Navy, Harold kept a diary, as did his mother, and wrote letters home to his parents as frequently as he could. I especially loved this one,
‘My darling Mamie-I am writing this on our way to Teneriffe, so that I can post it there. We shall get no mails there, as they have been sent to St. Lucia, so I shall not hear from you for months. I am simply loving every minute of my time on board, although we get no spare time at all. We have just come through, so to speak, the jaws of death. The weather got steadily rougher, and on Monday night from 4 p.m. till 7 p.m. I believe we were in considerable danger. I was hanging on for dear life on the boat dock, the ship simply diving and rolling in the most awful manner, and seas breaking right over her, when suddenly a terrific green sea struck her and carried away a lot of gear. The Captain flew alone up to the bridge, and we altered course at once so as to get head to it. It really was the most appalling time I have ever been through, and you can’t imagine what it feels like to be in a great ship that is rolling gunwale under. A few minutes later a signalman came down from the bridge on his way to the wireless room. It was apparently the most terrific gale he had ever seen. I thought to myself, Lionel complained about being wet on manoeuvres this last time, and here we had water up to our knees for three days in every part of the ship. We got out of the gale about 70 miles from Finisterre due W. at midnight on Monday. On Tuesday it was calm, but with a tremendous swell. Anyhow, we started doing duty after 9 o’clock.
Please give my fondest love to father, and tell him my next letter will be to him. I have lots of episodes, etc., to tell you which I have logged in my diary. Everything is down in it, even when a delightful goat, the ship’s pet, falls down the ash-hoist and a seaman had his trousers pulled right off by a green sea.-Ever your very loving son, Harold.’ HMS Cumberland, Special Services, Tuesday, February 4.
Being in the Navy certainly gave young Harold a golden opportunity to travel the world. According to his extensive diary and letters home, he travelled to Havana to Bermuda, Halifax, Toronto, Quebec, Niagara, and finally docking in Plymouth Sound.
Harold’s next turn in life saw him on board The Queen Mary, in September of 1913, where he left Farringford where he wrote his first letter home from Hotel Portsmouth near Keppel’s Head. He made his way to Portland where he went to visit his great aunt, Miss Matilda Tennyson, ‘Aunt Tilly’ in Bournemouth. She was ninety-six years old and the last surviving Tennyson of ‘grandfather’s large and long-lived family of brothers and sisters.’ Harold writes home to his parents describing something interesting his Aunt Tilly told him, ‘It was she who more than eighty years before, as a child, with her elder sister Mary, had seen the phantasm of Arthur Hallam in the lane at Somersby in that memorable September of 1833. She seemed very happy and told me I was not nearly so dark-skinned as father, who always looked like a thunder-clap when he came into the room.’
Harold Tennyson’s so very young life story really reads more of a sea journey at war story; a young man serving his country, seeking adventure, life experience, seeking knowledge at every turn, yet never knowing what the future holds or where he will be next. He rarely saw his parents and brothers except when re-reading their letters bringing them ever nearer to him in his heart and mind. Young Harold would never know love, or fall in love or marry and have a family of his own. It is a sad tale but it takes great strength and even greater courage to serve the call of your country.
His various letters, written on board ship, shed great light on what it must have been like to live for months and years at sea at such a young age with only other men as company. What happens reading through various letters is that you get the feeling that you are meeting a teenager, a young boy not quite fully a man but a person who loves being at sea, a person who is proud of his choice in life and someone who is exactly where he wants to be. Oh and that Tennysonian spirit, intellect and humour shines through.
Harold Tennyson, aged 18 in 1915 has now been aboard The Queen Mary for most of two years and in a letter home to his mother indicates reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets in his idle hours (again same as his grandfather) and even mentions a girl and his thoughts on marriage, ‘I have had framed on board, L and A’s photos in leather frames, for which I went a bust and paid 10s. each. I am not brokenhearted over _____. She was a particularly nice girl and would make any one a very good wife, but if I get on in the service and go to Whale Island I shan’t have time to think about marrying. In fact, I do not think I shall ever marry if I stay in the service, as it takes up all your time.’
Sadly, Harold Tennyson’s young life would come to a sad end. At the age of 20 Harold Tennyson was killed in action and here is his final letter home:
Lady Tennyson received her son’s letter one week later when it finally reached her. Amazingly, her journal survives detailing her son’s last few minutes on earth on the day of his passing 29 January, 1916. On Friday, February 4, 1916, she writes to her cousin,
‘Just three weeks ago, we arranged to meet him from Wednesday to Saturday, to go down to Dover for all this month, from the 29th January, last Saturday, so that he might have some one to come to when not at sea or on duty. We went down Saturday morning from here. He did not meet us, but we thought nothing of that. His place was put for him at the dinner-table. He did not come. We only thought he was on duty. Next morning (Sunday), just after I had been looking out of our windows with Sophie to try to see if the Viking were in port, a telegram was brought up, but instead of my heart nearly stopping with anxiety as of late, we both thought it was from him to tell us when to expect him. I shall never forget H’s “Harold was killed yesterday.”
They had been patrolling all night. Harold took his usual watch from 12 to 4 a.m., went to bed till 8:30, got up, and after his breakfast went up on the bridge. At 11.15 he gave his orders to the officer of the watch-Harold was the navigating officer. He then walked from the bridge with his Captain, of whom he wrote a few days before that he loved him, down to the Ward-room in the stern, and three minutes after the Viking struck a mine, the one thing I always felt he dreaded, if he dreaded anything, and he and three other officers and three mess-room servants left this world. There were two great explosions. The tongues of flame were seen far down the English Channel. Ward-room, cabins, everything was gone. At first we were told that there was nothing left of our Harold, but later, Sunday afternoon, the Admiral sent up word that they had found the dear body under all the debris, and we were told, though much bruised, the dear face looked peaceful. I should have loved to see his cabin, to see his servant, to have his coat and cap, but all had gone, and Tuesday morning we brought all that remained to the home churchyard. This home was always to him the happiest spot on earth, and he and we were surrounded at the Church by those who loved him, many having grown up with him. “
Of course Lord and Lady Tennyson received letters from various Captains Harold served with and even from his shipmates and college staff mates. This one letter in particular from one of Harold’s shipmates says it all really,
It saddens me greatly to realize that within two years, Audrey and Hallam Tennyson would lose two of their sons to war. Yes, it seems that two years later, on 23rd March, 1918, 26 year old Alfred Aubrey Tennyson was killed in action serving with the 4th Battalion Rifle Brigade in France. He was a Captain.
Eldest born Lionel Hallam Tennyson lived a long life playing cricket for Hampshire and England in his youth before succeeding to the title of 3rd Baron Tennyson. He married and divorced also having three sons. He died in 1951, age 61, at Bexhill-on-Sea, East Essex.
Letters of Audrey, Lady Tennyson, Papers of Audrey, Lady Tennyson, National Library of Australia (MS479/49).
Harold Tennyson, R.N., The Story of a Young Sailor Put Together by a Friend, Macmillan and Co., London, 1919.
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