The Real Lucy Turner

Why Lucy Turner?

Why, you might ask, if I am such a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, would I choose Lucy Turner as my amateur sleuth?

Because, as Gilbert’s wife, Lucy had a ring-side seat when it came to nearly everything that Gilbert and Sullivan did during the twenty-odd years of their working partnership. And because she isn’t as well-known to history as the two men, she might well have had certain adventures that are unknown to history!

What sort of a person was Lucy?

Her direct and piercing gaze

Her direct and piercing gaze

As history tells us, Lucy Agnes Blois Turner was born on November 14, 1847. Her astrological sign was Scorpio.  To paraphrase Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs, Scorpios have a crackling, electric vitality about their presence, iron self-control, and an intense and piercing gaze. Well-aware of their own worth, they are unmoved by either insults or flattery.  Passionate, loyal, secretive, suspicious, and sometimes vengeful, Scorpio natives are, Goodman says, “deeply interested in religion, intensely curious about all phases of life and death, passionately concerned with sex and violently drawn by a desire to reform.”

Such a personality would be perfectly suited to crime-solving! Not even the rigid decorum of the Victorian era would be enough to discourage a woman who felt an overwhelming need to know the truth of what happened to a murder victim and to see justice done.

Goodman adds, “Most Scorpios have darkish hair and eyes, but don’t discount the frosty blonde types, of which Grace Kelly and Billy Graham are excellent examples. Frosty on the outside, that is. The poised surface calm of the Pluto character is carefully designed to hide the boiling inner nature.” To those two frosty blonde examples, I would add Lucy Turner – and William S. Gilbert (born November 18, 1836) as well.


Lucy, according to Gilbert’s biographers

The following selections have been taken from different biographical accounts. They shed a certain amount of light on Lucy’s family history and on other people’s impression of her personality.

  • From Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography by Michael Ainger

“Lucy’s mother and father had married in India. Her mother, Herbertina Compton, was the daughter of Sir Herbert Compton, lord chief justice of Bombay; her father, Thomas Metcalfe Blois Turner, was a captain in the Bombay Engineers in the East India Company Service.  They had two other children, Grace and Samuel Compton Turner, and we expecting their third child when, on 7 July 1847, Captain Thomas Turner died suddenly, at the age of thirty-seven. At that point the Turner family took over. Herbertina’s brother-in-law, Captain Henry Blois Turner, was granted extended leave to take his brother’s family home to England.

“In the house called “The Grove” in the village of Yoxford, (in Suffolk) Lucy Agnes Blois Turner was born on 14 November 1847.”

“By 1852, before Lucy was 5, Mrs. Turner moved back to London… and they settled into 4 Marlborough Villas, in Victoria Road, Kensington.  With little recollection of her Suffolk days, Lucy grew up a true Kensington girl.”

“Gilbert found in marriage a security that he had never known. After his marriage to Lucy, there followed a creative outburst. Only four Bab Ballads had appeared in the first half of the year; twenty more would appear before the end. … Most of the Bab Ballads, and nearly all the famous ones, were written after Gilbert’s marriage, at 28 Eldon Road (their home at the time) and not in his lawyer’s chambers at Clement’s Inn.”


  • From Gilbert: His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson

The daughter of an Indian army officer, she (Lucy) was eleven years younger than Gilbert and his counterpart in temperament. With fair hair, blue eyes, a neat figure and lively manner, she was an attractive girl, and everyone voted Gilbert and lucky man when the two were married at St. Mary Abbot’s church in Kensington on August 6th, 1867.

Gilbert called his wife Kitten and always treated her with affectionate playfulness. They remained a devoted pair, their natures being complementary.

There were times when her acquiescent and conciliatory but alert nature had the effect of calming his anger when exacerbated by the behavior of others and lessening the violence of his explosions when stung by ingratitude or dishonesty…


  • From S Gilbert, A Classic Victorian and his Theatre by Jane W. Stedman

(In his letters to her, Gilbert signed himself) her “old Boy” when writing to her from camp and calling her Kitten, Kitty and (in letters) Dearest Kits.

She drew herself up to look tall

She drew herself up to look tall

She was … small and delicate, ‘dainty’ as contemporaries described her. Even in middle age, her arms and skin would still be lovely and youthful. Depending on who described her nose, it was ‘a little dab’ or a ‘dear little nose’. Her voice was gentle and quiet.

The newly married Kitten looks out at us from a photograph and from her husband’s pencil drawing with a level glance and a prettily determined chin. Elegantly dressed in later pictures, she gives a sense of dignity and erect carriage unusual in small women. “She pulled herself up to look tall,” her gardener’s daughter said of her in middle age.

…Kitty enjoyed riding; she and Willie frequently rode together, and sometimes she kept him on a short rein  … As Gilbert once remarked in Fun (17 June 1865) the soupcon of a will her own “makes fair girls still more adorable, because you had not supposed temper compatible with flaxen hair.”

…The Gilbert’s marriage was happy even if Kitty was not the subdued and submerged little person some biographers have imagined. As time passed, not only did she prove an excellent chatelaine of the ever-larger houses which her husband’s increasing income made possible, but she also became the centre of his happiness, indispensable to him, and the one person he trusted unchangingly. *

(*Stedman notes that these final sentiments were included in a letter from Mary Crawshay to “Dearest Kitty,” written just after Gilbert’s death.  The writer also says Gilbert told her he would kill himself “if anything happened” to his wife. Stedman adds: “Although this is a gushing letter and under the circumstances, likely to be exaggerative, it is undoubtedly sincere.”)


Lucy the sleuth

When I first contemplated writing mystery novels, I read that an amateur sleuth had to have two personal characteristics: A deep understanding of human nature, and a burning passion for justice. With a personality and history as described above, Lucy Turner Gilbert would make a terrific sleuth.

I hope you will agree with me, and join me as I tell of Lucy’s adventures in Victorian London, from respectable drawing-rooms to glittering theatrical performances!




30 Victorian Mystery Novel Series to Read Now!


Just let me finish this chapter

Just let me finish this chapter

The following books are some of the best Victorian-set historical mysteries that I know about. The books named are the first in each series – the sleuth named appears in all the books. Most are set in Victorian England, but a few are set in the USA and some others (particularly the Sherlock Holmes-related ones) spill over into the Edwardian period.

You can read more about them on Goodreads and Amazon. I’ll include links to Goodreads so you can find out more about the ones that interest you.  For even more historical mysteries, you can check out this amazingly comprehensive list (just watch out for the pop-ups):

Enjoy your armchair sleuthing!




Female Sleuths

  1. Elizabeth Peters – Amelia Peabody – Crocodile on the Sandbank
  2. Deanna Raybourn – Lady Julia Gray – Silent in the Grave
  3. Robin Paige – Kathryn Ardleigh – Death at Bishop’s Keep
  4. Nancy Herriman – Celia Davies – No Comfort for the Lost
  5. Tasha Alexander – Lady Emily – And Only To Deceive
  6. Emily Brightwell – Mrs. Jeffries –The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries
  7. Martin Davies – Mrs. Hudson – Mrs. Hudson and the Spirit’s Curse
  8. Carole Nelson Douglas – Irene Adler – Good Night, Mr. Holmes
  9. Anne Perry – Charlotte and Thomas Pitt – The Cater Street Hangman
  10. Kate Parker – Georgia Fenchurch – The Vanishing Thief
  11. Ann Granger – Lizzie Martin – The Companion (aka A Rare Interest in Corpses)
  12. Susan Wittig Albert – Beatrix Potter – The Tale of Hill Top Farm
  13. Carol Carr – Madam India Black – India Black, Madam of Espionage
  14. Lee Jackson – Sarah Tanner – A Most Dangerous Woman
  15. Alanna Knight – Rose Quinn – The Inspector’s Daughter


Male Sleuths

  1. Barbara Hambly – Benjamin January – A Free Man of Color
  2. Gyles Brandreth – Oscar Wilde – Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance
  3. Oakley Hall – Ambrose Bierce – Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades
  4. Anne Perry – William Monk – The Face of a Stranger
  5. Peter Heck – Mark Twain – Death on the Mississippi
  6. Charles Finch – Charles Lenox – A Beautiful Blue Death
  7. David Ashton – Inspector MacLevy – Shadow of the Serpent
  8. Peter Lovesey – Albert Edward, Prince of Wales – Bertie and the Tinman
  9. Peter Lovesey – Inspector Cribb – Wobble to Death
  10. Edward Marston – Inspector Robert Colbeck –The Railway Detective
  11. Amy Myers – Chef Auguste Didier – Murder in Pug’s Parlour
  12. Francis Selwyn – Inspector Verity – Cracksman on Velvet
  13. Ray Harrison – Detective Sergeant Bragg – Why Kill Arthur Potter?
  14. Alanna Knight – Inspector Faro – Enter Second Murderer
  15. Joan Lock – Inspector Best – Dead Image


Have I missed any of your favorites? Please let me know in the comments.

Skittles the Victorian Courtesan

In the first of my upcoming mystery stories featuring Lucy Turner and William Gilbert, Lucy gets to know the Duchess of Sanditon, a young woman with a checkered past – before marrying her older, war-hero Duke, she had worked as a “pretty horsebreaker” just like the famous real-life courtesan, Skittles.


Catherin “Skittles” Walters

Who was Skittles, you ask?
Skittles was the nickname of Catherine Walters, Small and slender with blue gray eyes and chestnut hair, she was exceptionally beautiful and dressed with excellent taste. Her personality has been described as bubbly, outspoken, direct and bawdy, as well as affectionate and sympathetic even toward lovers who had left her. She never wrote any tell-all autobiographies, and seemed to remain on good terms with the men she’d had affairs with.
She was born in a drab and dirty dockside house in Liverpool on June 13, 1839. Her mother died when she was very young and her father, described as a custom employee, was apparently a heavy-drinking man. Her nickname is said to have been gained from the time she worked setting up skittles, a type of bowling pin, in a bowling alley.  At some point in her childhood she became an expert rider.
No one knows for sure where Skittles first learned to ride. Maybe she worked as a bare-back rider in a traveling circus, as one story had it. Or maybe she got a job in a local stable and taught herself to ride while exercising the horses. The fact was that she loved horses and could out-ride and out-hunt most men.
She arrived in London as the 16-year-old mistress of George, Lord Fitzwilliam. He set her up in a pretty London townhome and when the relationship ended, he made her a generous settlement of £ 300 a year and a lump sum payment of £ 2,000.

Marquess of Hartington

At the age of 19, she became the mistress of Spencer Compton Cavendish, Lord Hartington, who was  nicknamed ‘Harty-Tarty.’ Their relationship, which lasted about 4 years, seems to have been very affectionate on both sides. They both loved hunting. He gave her a lovely little house in Mayfair and a life settlement of an annual sum of of £ 500 which the family continued to pay even after Hartington‘s death in 1908.
“A model of a dutiful aristocrat,” as Margot Asquith later eulogized him, Lord Hartington (a courtesy title only) served in the House of Commons before ascending to the title of the 8th Duke of Devonshire. He was a major figure in Liberal politics. While her lover was busy with his duties in Parliament, Catherine improved herself by taking lessons with a governess.
By 1861, she was one of the most notable women of the day, riding in Hyde Park’s Rotten Row between 4 and 7 pm during the Season. It must have been a wonderful scene to behold: The dandies of London gathered at the wooden rails that lined the Row, the ladies in their crinolines strolling accompanied by their footmen, children playing in the park, and maybe even the occasional “wicked old buck,” splendidly attired, angling for a glance under the bonnet of a respectable woman.
Her notoriety only increased when Sir Edwin Landseer painted “The Shrew Tamed,” with a pretty woman reclining against the side of her recumbent horse in a box stall. Even though Skittles didn’t pose for the painting, the model looked so much like her that people were shocked.
A reviewer in The Athenaeum, struck by its scarcely-veiled sexuality, said of the portrait:

“…the mighty agile sweep of the animal’s limbs, his glossy muscle-binding hide, all a-shine with health and horsehood, the powerful hoofs, the eye of subdued fire, the strong, unmastered neck, that turns graceful in its vigour, towards the slender lady reclining fearless among the dreadful feet as if there were no more harm in them than in her own, that peep, daintily brodequinned, beneath the blue riding-robe’s edge.”


The Shrew Tamed by Sir Edwin Landseer

After her relationship with Hartington ended, Catherine decided to move to Paris during the 2nd Empire of Napoleon III. The young diplomat and poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) who was 23 when they met, fell deeply in love with her but couldn’t bring himself to propose. Still, later in life Blunt and Skittles picked up their friendship again, writing letters until her death.
She returned to London after the fall of the 2nd Empire, and spent her time hunting and holding Sunday afternoon tea parties which were attended only by men. She was close to Prime Minister William Gladstone and had a brief affair with Bertie, the Prince of Wales. The prince wrote her 300 love letters, which she returned to him after their liaison had ended. In gratitude, he gave her a lifetime pension.
She met her final beau, Gerald de Saumerez, when he was 16 and she was 40, and when she died in 1920 at age 81, she left her estate to him.
So that is Catherine Walters, the inimitable Skittles. In my story, I’ve borrowed some of Skittles’ life story for the fictional character that Lucy Turner and her mother meet. The mystery that Lucy and her mother – and William Gilbert – will face is, who is trying to murder the young Duchess of Sanditon? Is anyone actually trying to bump her off, or is it all in the Duchess’ mind?

Soon you’ll be able to find out!

An Interview with Lucy Turner

Lucy Turner in 1866

Lucy Turner in 1866. From Gilbert His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson.

Allow me to introduce you to Miss Lucy Agnes Blois Turner of Victoria Road, Kensington. All Lucy really wants is to be the mistress of her own destiny.

Sadly, in the Year of our Lord 1866, young ladies – especially those who are members of the large Turner clan, with sisters, aunts and cousins that are reckoned up by dozens – are distinctly NOT encouraged to become mistresses of anything! The Victorian ideal of womanhood is the Angel in the House, sweet and modest, caring and self-effacing –   although it is likely that, in the Turner family, this ideal is honored more in the breach than in the observance.

Today, The Author sits down to have a little chat with Lucy about her life. Could it be possible that Lucy herself doesn’t know that in the very near future, she will be embarking upon the most unladylike adventure of her life?

If only she had known…


Lucy: How do you take your tea? And please take a piece of gingerbread – it’s a special Turner family recipe.

The Author: Why, thank you! No sugar, just a splash of milk. I’m glad you don’t mind telling me all your secrets.

Lucy: No, not at all. There’s simply not much to say. (holding milk jug poised over the cup) Is it not unusual for an American to take milk in her tea? That is what I have been told.

The Author: Yes, well, I don’t usually … but when in Rome, you know. That is to say, in England people take milk…

Lucy: Oh, but you don’t have to. And if you’d like just a tiny amount of sugar, I certainly won’t tell anyone!

The Author: Okay, as long as it’s just between us.

Lucy: How exciting that you are an American! I’ve never traveled anywhere outside England. Tell me where you are from? Is it near to California?

The Author: No, it’s pretty far actually…wait. Perhaps I should ask you a question or two! What a lovely semi-detached villa this is! And Kensington seems almost like a small village, even though the City of London is only a few miles away. Have you lived here all your life?

Lucy: No, in fact I was born on a farm in Suffolk. My mother, sister and brother were staying with our Turner relatives there after their arrival from India, and I was born a few months later. But Mama bought this house in Kensington when I was only five, so I have grown up here.

Another photo of young Lucy. From Gilbert His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson.

Another photo of young Lucy. From Gilbert His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson.

The Author: I’m surprised your grandfather Turner allowed your mother to set up her own household. He seems like an autocratic old gent who believes women ought always to live under masculine supervision.

Lucy: He could hardly stop her! Mama has her own money, you know, which she inherited from her father, Sir Herbert Compton. He was the former Lord Chief Justice of the Bombay Presidency. In her youth, Mama was known as the Belle of Bombay. We would be living in India still if it hadn’t been for my father’s untimely death, just a few months before I was born.

The Author: I’m so sorry for your loss. You said you had a brother and a sister?

Lucy: Yes. Grace is the oldest. She’s married now. My brother Samuel is in the Army. So at home it’s just Mama and me. And Malli, of course.

The Author: Who is Malli?

Lucy: She is Mama’s closest companion. Malli was Mama’s aya when she was a girl and her lady’s maid after she married. Then she was our aya – Grace’s and Samuel’s and mine – when we were young, too. Now she keeps house for us.

The Author: What activities do you like to do? How does a young woman keep herself busy all day?

Lucy: Oh, any number of things! I love to ride horses. We have a riding stable directly across the street from our home and Hyde Park is just the other side of Kensington Road. I also read a great deal. And naturally Mama and I must pay endless calls on our friends and acquaintances. But they are more Mama’s friends and acquaintances than mine. Mama is also very active in our church. In fact, Mama practically runs the Ladies’ Auxiliary single-handed, no matter what our neighbor Mrs. Gilbert says.

The Author: Who is this Mrs. Gilbert? What is she like?

Lucy: Oh dear. Would you like some more gingerbread?

W.S. Gilbert in 1861 (West Yorkshire Militia) from Gilbert His Life and Strife, by Hesketh Pearson

W.S. Gilbert in 1861 (West Yorkshire Militia) from Gilbert His Life and Strife, by Hesketh Pearson

The Author: No, thanks. Wait, that wouldn’t be the Mrs. Gilbert, whose son is William Schwenk Gilbert? That tall, blonde barrister who writes that funny poetry called the Bab Ballads? I love his drawings, too — some of them are on this very blog. I heard that Lewis Carroll asked him to draw the artwork for Alice in Wonderland, but had to fall back on another artist called Tenniel when Gilbert turned him down.

Lucy: Yes. He has written quite a lot of funny and clever pieces, not just the poems. And he is working on a play, too. Or so I’ve been told. I don’t really know him.

The Author: It sounds as if you know a lot about him.

Lucy: Oh, no! He’s just a gentleman who … who one knows. I daresay he doesn’t even think of me. I’m quite a bit younger than he is. Nearly 11 years. But not quite eleven years – several days short of the total. He was born on 18 November 1836, and I was born 14 November 1847.

The Author: Do you like him?

Lucy: Do have some more gingerbread. It’s a family recipe.

Lucy Turner is the heroine of my new, upcoming historical mystery series, which will debut in 2016! Stay tuned for details.

Victorian Slang!

dancing-savoyardsAs I was browsing over many an Internet page, I came across a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore – Victorian Slang!

Many fans of author Georgette Heyer will recall with fondness her characters’ delightful use of Regency-era slang, but I haven’t found too many resources dedicated to the particular lingo of the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century. So it was with great pleasure that I began to read J. Redding Ware’s “Passing English of the Victorian Era”

Here are some of the cool slang words that this intrepid lexicographer collected:

Adam and Eve’s togs – Naked

Adam’s Ale – Water

Back-hairing – Female fighting, in which a woman had her back hair pulled down out of its bun or chignon. The hair around the face could be arranged in curls or smooth wings, but for much of the Victorian era, the hair on the back of the head had to be tucked up.

Bad Hat – A disreputable person. Said to have originated from a comment by the Duke of Wellington, when he first appeared before the House of Commons: “I never saw so many shocking bad hats in all my life,” meaning that the commoners wore poor-quality headgear. But eventually the phrase lost all political meaning.

Bally – Excessive, great. May be a euphemism for “bloody”

Batty-Fang – To thrash thoroughly. From the french battre a fin (to beat to the end?)

Cat-lap – A London society term for tea and coffee “used scornfully by drinkers of beer and strong waters… in club-life is one of the more ignominious names given to champagne by men who prefer stronger liquors.”

Climb the Mountain of Piety – To pawn something. Related to the Italian phrase Monte de Pieta, where the first Roman pawnshop was opened.

Doing the Bear – Courting that involves hugging

Got the Morbs – Temporary melancholy. Coined from the word “morbid”

Mops and Brooms – Drunk. Probably suggested by the hair getting disorderly and like a mop.

Mother – Water. From the rhyming slang, “mother and daughter.”

Mutton Shunter – The police

Nanty Narking – Great fun

Orf Chump – No appetite. “Orf” meaning “off”. From a stable man’s reference to horses being off their food.

Play camels – To get drunk (Anglo-Indian). Said to be from camel’s ability to store their drink

Popsy wopsy – A smiling, doll-like, attractive girl

Porridge-hole – Mouth

Put a steam on the table – To earn enough money to obtain a hot Sunday dinner. A figure of speech. Refers chiefly to boiled food, the phrase having been invented before domestic ovens.

Shoot into the brown – To fail. According to Forrester, “The phrase takes its rise from rifle practice, where the queer shot misses the black and white target altogether, and shoots into the brown i.e., the earth butt.”

Skilimalink – Secret, shady, doubtful.

Smothering a parrot – Drinking a glass of absinthe neat; named for the green color of the booze.

So if you’ve got the morbs, don’t drink Adam’s ale — go somewhere skilimalink and smother a parrot!