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Blackwood, Helen Selina (1807–1867)

Blackwood, Helen Selina (1807–1867)

British-Irish poet. Name variations: Lady Dufferin, Countess of Dufferin, Countess of Gifford; Helen Selina Dufferin, Helen Selina Sheridan; author under pseudonym Impulsia Gushington. Born Helen Selina Sheridan in 1807; died on June 13, 1867, at Dufferin Lodge, Highgate, Middlesex, England; interred at Friern Barnet, Middlesex; daughter of Thomas Sheridan (a colonial treasurer) and Caroline Henrietta (Callander) Sheridan (a novelist); granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan andElizabeth Linley (1754–1792); sister of Caroline Norton (1808–1877) and Jane Georgina Sheridan (d. 1884); married Price Blackwood (a naval officer), 4th baron Dufferin, in 1825; married on his deathbed George Hay, earl of Gifford, on October 13, 1862; children: (first marriage) Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st marquis of Dufferin and Ava (1826–1902, a British diplomat who marriedHariot Blackwood ).

Helen Selina Blackwood was the oldest of "the beautiful Sheridan sisters," one of three unusually accomplished siblings, the other two being the Jane Georgina Sheridan , duchess of Somerset, and Caroline Norton . Helen was the daughter of Thomas and Caroline Henrietta Callander Sheridan and granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the dramatist and politician. When Helen was six, the family relocated to the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Her father died four years later, and her mother returned with her daughters to England, where they lived at Hampton Court. The 18-year-old Helen's marriage to Price Blackwood in 1825 went against his parents' wishes. The Irish Blackwoods were of old Scottish stock, tracing their descent back to the 14th century. John Blackwood of Bangor, the ancestor of the Irish line, made a fortune and acquired landed property in county Down, and his great-grandson Robert was created a baronet in 1763. Sir Robert's son married the heiress of the Hamiltons, earls of Clanbrassil and viscounts of Clandeboye ("clan of yellow Hugh"), and thus brought into the family a large property in the borough of Killyleagh and barony of Dufferin, County Down.

Because of the enmity caused by the marriage, the couple lived for two years in Florence, Italy, where their son Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, first marquis of Dufferin and Ava, was born on June 21, 1826. Eventually, Lady Dufferin's intelligence, talent, and beauty won over her Blackwood relatives. In 1839, her husband succeeded to the title and estates; the family then lived in Italy, England, and Clandeboye, County Down.

Two years later, in 1841, when Lady Dufferin's husband died of an accidental overdose of morphine, her son came under her influence, and she left a lasting mark on his development. In 1863, they journeyed down the Nile, and her recollections were recorded in her Lispings from Low Latitudes, or Extracts from the Journal of the Honorable Impulsia Gushington, a satire on high life in the 19th century. She wrote in the preface that the work "was intended to serve an earnest purpose in lightening the tedium and depression of long sickness in the person of a beloved friend." A year earlier, she had married George Hay, earl of Gifford, 14 years her junior, on his deathbed; it is believed that the two had been close, but she refused his entreaties for marriage until he suffered lethal injuries in an accident and was brought to her house to be nursed.

Blackwood, Hariot (fl. 1845–1891)

Irish reformer and author. Name variations: Lady Dufferin; Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, Hariot Hamilton. Born Hariot Rowan Hamilton around 1845; died after 1891; daughter of Captain A. Rowan Hamilton, of Killyleagh Castle, Down; married Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st marquis of Dufferin and Ava (1826–1902, a British diplomat); children: three daughters and four sons, including Terence (b. 1866).

Helen Blackwood's son, Lord Dufferin, became one of the most admired public servants of his time. Known for his diplomacy, he held the posts of under-secretary for India (1864–66) and under-secretary for war (1866), successively; he was chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, outside the cabinet (1868–72). In 1862, he married Hariot Hamilton of Killyleagh Castle, Down, and his viceroyalty was also memorable for his wife's work. When he was appointed governor-general, she accompanied him to Canada (1872–79) where his abilities were brilliantly displayed in dealing with the problems of the newly united provinces of the Canadian Dominion. She also accompanied him on his other posts. In 1879, he accepted the appointment of ambassador to Russia and was transferred to Constantinople as ambassador to Turkey in 1881. From October 1882 to May 1883, Lord Dufferin was in Egypt as British commissioner. In 1884, he was appointed viceroy of India; his viceroyalty was a period of substantial progress.

While in India, Lady Dufferin started the Countess of Dufferin's Fund in Support of the National Association for Supplying Female Medical Aid to the Women of India, which provided better medical treatment for native women. Eventually, the Fund would provide Zenana wards and hospitals, such as the Dufferin Maternity Hospital in Agra and the Dufferin Hospital for Women in Agpur. The fund also set money aside for Indian nurse training, as well as for training women doctors. Rudyard Kipling's "The Song of the Women" was dedicated to Lady Dufferin. Interested in photography, Lady Dufferin compiled an album, "My First Efforts in Photography, India, 1886," which is now held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. She also recorded her experiences in her books Our Viceregal Life in India (1889) and My Canadian Journal (1891).

Helen Selina Blackwood lived until 1867 and is commemorated by the "Helen's Tower" put up by her son in her honor at Clandeboye (the Irish seat of the Blackwoods) in 1861, and adorned with epigraphical verses written by Tennyson, Browning and others. Edited by her son, Lady Dufferin's songs and lyrics were collected into one volume (1895). Recited by thousands of Irish school children, "The Bay of Dublin," "Katey's Letter," "Terence's Farewell," and "Irish Emigrant's Lament" were the best known. Her comedy Finesse, or a Busy Day in Messina was played by Buckstone and Wigan at the Haymarket, London, in 1863, but she never attended nor acknowledged authorship.

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