By Elizabeth Gow, Special Collections Manuscript Curator and Archivist. The Rylands Reflects series explores the history of the John Rylands Library, our collections, and our current practice as heritage professionals in the context of racism, colonisation and representation of marginalised groups.
Today marks the birthday of the founder of the John Rylands Library, Enriqueta Augustina Rylands née Tennant. Enriqueta and her twin brother were born on 31 May 1843 in Matanzas, Cuba. They both ended up in Manchester where Enriqueta founded a world-class library in honour of her husband, John Rylands. This blogpost explores the twins’ names – how they changed when the twins came to England and what they reveal about a family background hidden when we talk about ‘Mrs Rylands’.
The index of baptisms at Matanzas Cathedral does not list the twins under their given names, Enriqueta and Esteban. Instead it lists them as Agustina and José Cattley Dalcourt. Dalcourt came from their mother, Juana Camilla Dalcour Forbes, Cattley from their father, Stephen Cattley Tennant. In Spanish naming traditions the father’s name comes before the mother’s, which is perhaps why Cattley was recorded instead of Tennant. While it wasn’t common in England to inherit maternal surnames, Cattley was the maiden name of Stephen’s mother.
Her baptismal name, Agustina, perhaps celebrates the saint’s day on 27th May of Augustine of Canterbury. Augustine was a monk who went from Rome to Britain in 595 to convert King Aethelberht to Christianity. This seems to recognise Stephen’s Britishness, but another saint by the same name was Augustine of Hippo, the most popular saint in Cuba. In a curious coincidence, both sainted namesakes founded important libraries. Augustine of Canterbury took with him from Rome a small number of manuscripts, the origins of the first library in England. The earlier Augustine founded a library in Hippo (North Africa) which was so important that after his death his followers took the whole library to Rome. When she founded the John Rylands Library, Enriqueta commemorated Augustine of Hippo in a stained glass window.
On her marriage to John Rylands, our founder gave her name as Enriqueta Augustina Tennant. This reversal suggests that she was usually known as Enriqueta, the Spanish form of Harriet. In 1854, her grandmother and namesake Harriet Tennant (formerly Cattley) wrote her will, leaving money and belongings to her children and grandchildren. But she left no bequest for Enriqueta and her siblings, not even the set of miniatures of ‘my lamented Stephen, his wife and three children’. Stephen Tennant had died in 1848, but his wife Camilla remarried and took their children to live in Paris. Camilla died in 1855, two years before her mother-in-law. The fourteen-year-old Enriqueta, recently orphaned, inherited nothing from her grandmother except her name.
While Enriqueta and her sisters kept their Spanish forenames, their brother Anglicised his name to Stephen Joseph, perhaps when he started working as a cotton merchant. He was presumably named Esteban (the Spanish form of Stephen) after his father, although his mother’s grandfather, from New Orleans, was called Etienne (the French form of the name). José may just have been a popular saint’s name, but interestingly he shared the name with his mother’s brother, Augustin José Dalcour. For all that the eminent Augustines seem to foretell Enriqueta’s creation of the John Rylands Library; perhaps the twins were just named after their uncle after all.
Find out more
Index of Baptisms at Matanzas Cathedral, Cuban Genealogy Club of Florida.
Elizabeth Gow: ‘Enriqueta Rylands: from Cuba to Manchester’, online discussion from the Instituto Cervantes: