Grange House School and Mrs. Whaley Bouchier Nutt

Dysart Harbour the year after Helen was born. In 1861 her family lived a few hundred yards away, in Quality Street.
Dysart Harbour the year after Helen was born. In 1861 her family lived a few hundred yards away, in Quality Street.

What kind of person would make a good headmistress for a Victorian school for young ladies in a mansion in the suburbs of Edinburgh? Presiding over the one in Grange House from 1883-1895 was Helen Hamilton Black: a strong character, her story suggests.

She was born in Fife in 1853 to a father who was a naval officer descended from naval officers, while her mother came from a family of Indian Army officers with Scottish roots. After a childhood in the small coastal town of Dysart, by 17 Helen was at a small boarding school near Bristol. When she was 20 she married in Frankfurt.

Helen Hamilton Black or Johnson or Nutt or Chamberlain

Helen Hamilton Black was a boarder here at Willsbridge House in April 1871. Photo Paul Townsend
Helen Hamilton Black was a boarder here at Willsbridge House near Bristol in April 1871. Photo Paul Townsend

Her husband,  Robert Helenus Johnson, was the son of a judge in Bombay. The couple went to India and lived in Guntur where Robert worked for the Bank of Madras. Their first son was born a couple of years later, but Robert soon died and Helen gave birth to their second child in London. By the time this little boy was three, Helen was “assistant lady superintendent” for an Edinburgh “Institute for Young Ladies”.[ref]Based in Charlotte Square[/ref] Her responsibilities included a dozen teenage girls boarding in the house where she, her children and three servants lived too.[ref]Her mother may have lived with her too. She is with Helen in both 1871 and 1881 censuses and died at Grange House.[/ref]

Her own school and a second marriage

In 1882 she announced in the press that she would be opening her own establishment in Grange House. A couple of months later came her marriage to Whaley Bouchier Nutt, a lecturer in “vocal physiology and elocution”. Whaley had already arranged to rent the Grange mansion house in Edinburgh. More about his life below.

Advertising the education on offer at Grange House, 1890.
Advertising the education on offer at Grange House, 1890.

It was called an “establishment” for the education of “the daughters of gentlemen” and not a “school”. However conventional this sounds, there are signs that Mr. and Mrs. Nutt had some unconventional and innovative ideas.

A “scientific” botanical garden, designed by Patrick Geddes, replaced the rose garden. Presumably the school taught natural sciences, which Geddes believed offered a “unique combination of educational advantages”.[ref]Transactions of Botanical Society of Edinburgh, Vol. 16[/ref] There was a gymnasium: quite progressive for girls’ education in the 1880s, even if they stuck to “ladylike” exercise. Whaley believed there should not be too much emphasis on cramming facts, and  thought that “fashioning the organs of speech” would help both mind and body.[ref]Lecture reported in Dundee Courier 26 November 1892[/ref]

Grange House in the late 19th century
Grange House in the late 19th century

The Nutts were friends of the pioneering Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, and supported women’s suffrage.[ref]Englishwoman’s Review, December 15, 1886, and April 15, 1890[/ref] Whaley was said to be a “philanthropist”, and they involved the girls at Grange House in fund-raising sales and concerts for an Indian aid mission, with Helen especially supporting their Girls’ Union.[ref]The Indian Female Evangelist. July 1, 1886[/ref]

A new life in South Africa

During her time at Grange House, Helen gave birth to two children: a daughter in 1884 and, ten years later, a son. Whaley died the year after the baby boy was born, in 1895. He left Helen everything he had, but this was just furniture and school equipment and nine hundred pounds of life insurance.[ref]By June, the owners had started eviction proceedings against the Nutts, so there may have been financial difficulties even before Whaley’s death in March.[/ref] Soon she took out a tenancy on a smaller, cheaper house and announced that her school would open there that autumn.[ref]Carrielee in the Colinton Road – Glasgow Herald August 7, 1895[/ref] However, before the end of the year she married again, in London. Her new husband, Harold Goddard Chamberlain, son of a navy Paymaster-General,  was twenty years younger than she was. They moved to South Africa where their son was born in 1898: Helen’s fifth child. She was 44.

Two of her best-known relatives are traveller and publisher John Reddie Black, her step-brother, who had the same name as their father, and war-zone journalist George Steer, her grand-son.

Whaley Bouchier Nutt

Whaley lost his father, Major Justinian Nutt, when he was about twelve. His family were settled in Cheltenham, but he lived in Rugby for two years, and went to school there as a day boy. In his 20s he spent time in Melbourne, with trips back to England. While in Australia he patented an invention for scouring wool. The Rugby School register called him a “Merchant at Manchester”, and there is evidence of a short-lived textile business partnership based there.

Whaley Bouchier Nutt - sketch published after his death in 1895
Whaley Bouchier Nutt – sketch published after his death in 1895

During the 1860s and 1870s, his name crops up in Cheltenham and Leamington newspapers. Mostly these are bland reports on the social pages of him arriving or departing, but a description of a lavish “Bachelors’ Ball” in 1871 says he came in fancy dress “as a Greek”.

After his business partnership was dissolved he started performing “dramatic readings”. Many were near his home in Cheltenham, where he lived with his widowed mother, sister Mary and three servants, but some were further afield. When he was 34 a census gave his profession as “public reader and lecturer”. Reviews described good audiences (not unconnected with his family’s social standing, suggested one reporter) but they were not whole-heartedly enthusiastic.

In 1882 he married Helen in Cheltenham. A local paper called the occasion a fashionable wedding, with an “elegant déjeuner” for family guests including Whaley’s cousin the Rev. J. W. Nutt, who assisted at the ceremony, and Helen’s uncle General Fulton.[ref]Cheltenham Looker-On, 16 Dec. 1882[/ref]

Once in Edinburgh, Whaley’s profession was generally given as “vocal physiologist and elocution” tutor. He called this a “fine art” that brought charm and grace to people’s lives as well as being beneficial to physical health.[ref]Lecture reported in Dundee Courier 26 November 1892[/ref] He taught at Loretto School, the Watt Institute and elsewhere, as well as at Grange House.

In the 1890s he was a visiting tutor at St. Mary’s College in St. Andrews, and at the London-based Chaffee-Noble Training School of Expression. As well as elocution and gesture, the London curriculum included “aesthetic physical and vocal drill”, gymnastics, recitation and criticism.[ref]Advertising in the Morning Post etc.[/ref]

When he died in 1895, a brief obituary called him an “elocutionist of considerable ability”, a man “of a philanthropic disposition” and a “Liberal Unionist in politics”.[ref]Edinburgh Evening News, 6 March 1895[/ref]

More on Helen Hamilton Black’s parents, husbands, children and other genealogy

More on Whaley B. Nutt’s family and ancestors


  • Willsbridge House by Paul Townsend, with Creative Commons license. Added text from  P.O. directory 1863.
  • Dysart Harbour by Samuel Bough, 1854, from Wikimedia.
  • Grange House from McGibbon and Ross, The castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland, Douglas 1887-92
  • W.B.Nutt sketch from Edinburgh Evening News, 6 March 1895


Helen Hamilton Black and her family

Helen Hamilton Black, her husbands, children etc.

Helen Hamilton Black b. 22 August 1853 Dysart, Fife, first child of John Reddie Black and Emma Fulton

Robert Johnson, Helen's first husband, was christened at Bycullah, India - probably in this church
Robert Johnson, Helen’s first husband, was christened at Bycullah, India – probably in this church.

2nd February 1874 in Frankfurt she m. Robert Helenus Johnson (b. 21 Aug 1842, bap. 13 Sep. 1842 at Bycullah, d. 14 June 1877, Guntoor), son of Frances née Jeffreys (m. 1826, d.1843) and John Lewis Johnson (1796-1872), judge in Bombay Court.

  • Lewis (Duncan ?) Johnson b. 2 Feb 1876,  Guntoor, at Loretto School, nr Edinburgh in 1891.
  • Robert Francis Hamilton Johnson b. 3rd Oct 1877, London [Internet sources say he worked for Customs and Railway Dept, Cape Colony, S.A. and married a niece of James Xavier Merriman. No reason to doubt this, but can’t confirm it.]

December 1882 in Cheltenham she m. Whaley Bouchier Nutt (b. 4 August 1846 Cheltenham, d. 4 March 1895 Edinburgh)

Read about Helen and Whaley Nutt and the school they ran – click here.

Their children:

  • Emma Cecilia Armitage Nutt, b. 1884, Grange House, Edinburgh
  • Lindsay Llewellyn Nutt (known as Lindsay Llewellyn Chamberlain by 1915 at  Sandhurst) born 2 July 1894 Grange House, Edinburgh, baptised 18 Aug. in Llanaber, Wales, Sandhurst College, Lieut. with 25th Punjabis in First World War, farmer in Ofcolaco  when he m. Vera Adeline Fotheringham in Pietersburg on 4 March 1924.

1895 Q4 in London Helen m. Harold Goddard Chamberlain (b. Dec. 1872, Dartmouth, son of Edward and Susannah, in South Africa he was an accountant)

  • D’Eyncourt Goddard Chamberlain, b. 24 Feb 1898, Sandhurst College, Major at death on 2 December 1942, buried Tunisia

Helen Hamilton Black’s parents, siblings etc.

Dysart Harbour c1850 - part of the home landscape of the Black family.
Dysart Harbour c1850 – close to home for the Black family.

John Reddie Black, HHB’s father, was born 25 Jan 1787 in Dysart, Fife, and died there 7 Jan 1862.

He was the son of James Black, R.N. and Grizel Reddie/Reddy, who married in 1784 in Dysart. (Grizel was apparently born in 1760 in Dysart to John Reddy and Elspet Spence). He was brother of Lieut. James Black, R.N., (b. 22 July 1785,  died before 1849 while serving in the West Indies.) JRB’s other siblings were Grizel, Jean, Alexander, Andrew and George John Purdue. Nephew of Lieut. John Black, R.N., who died 1814.

m.  22 July 1818 Sophia Kiffiana Juliana Hurdis (bap. 29 July 1784, d. 1842, dau. of Jas. Hurdis, Esq., of Seaford, Sussex, sister of Capt. George Clarke Hurdis, R.N.)

  • Ann Catherine Black 16 Feb 1820, died Dec. 1841
  • James Hurdis Black 20 Sep 1821, dip. Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, Nov. 1844, admitted Society of Apothecaries, 22 Aug 1850
  • Grace Sanderson Black 6 Oct 1823, m. Thomas Henry Tuckett 22 Jun 1852, Fife, d. 1871, 1856 and 1871 at Comely Park, Dunfermline, THT a road surveyor, with children:
    • Thomas Lindsay Burn Tuckett b. 1856
    • Stanley Phipps Kerr Tuckett b.1858
  • John Reddie Black 8 Jan 1826, bap. Episcopal Chapel, Kirkcaldy
  • Henry James Black

Secondly, JRB senior m. Emma Fulton (bap. 29 May 1830 Trichinopoly, India, d. 24 June 1889, Edinburgh)

  • Helen Hamilton Black 22 Aug 1853
  • George Stow Black 5 Aug 1855, in 1890s Lloyd’s Captains Register 
  • Emma Caroline Black 5 Sep 1856
  • Henry Somes Black b. 23 May 1858, Navy Commander 1886, m. Jane Greig Miller 3 Jun 1892, Aden, d. Juniper Green nr. Edinburgh 3 Oct 1919, in 1911 living in Bedford with wife and children:
    • Jean Moray Black, age 17 (in 1911) b. Bombay, Ian Reddie Hamilton Black age 12, born Rangoon, Henry Lindsay Black age 9, born Glasgow, Kenneth Ross Hamilton Black age 6, born North Berwick
  • Ann Spence Black 22 May 1860, at 1871 census with mother and brother Henry in Dunfermline at Grace S. Black or Tuckett’s house, 1881 census at Helen’s house in Edinburgh

All John Reddie Black’s children were born in Dysart.

Emma Fulton’s parents were Caroline (Hurdis, widow) when she was m. in Sep. 1820 at Cannanore to Major John Fulton (b. 30 March 1875 Markinch, d. 21 Jan 1853 Innerleven, Fife). Their other children, Emma’s siblings, were:

  • Graeme Auchmuty Fulton b. 19 Nov 1820, Cannanore, Major General of Madras Infantry d. 1886 St. Helier, Jersey
  • James Robert Fulton b. 31 Oct 1821, Cannanore


  • Johnson Black marriage –  The Standard, February 16, 1874;
  • RH Johnson death “son of the late JL Johnson, Esq, judge, Bombay Court”- Aberdeen Weekly Journal July 21, 1877
  • Birth of son [RFHJohnson] to widow of RHJ in London – Aberdeen Weekly Journal  October 10, 1877
  • Loretto School Register for LDJ and RFHJ
  • Sandhurst records for LLC and d’EGC
  • Naval Biographical Dictionary, 1849
  • Index to Wills and Administrations
  • Frances, wife of John Lewis Johnson, died 31 July 1843 Morning Post (Bombay news) -Oct 25 1843