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Social history and biography of

Zachary Merton (benefactor)

Contents

Overview

Family

Step children

Transcription of obituary

Legacy

Overview

We came across the name of Zachary Merton (1843 - 1915) while researching Victorian art. As far as we know, he had no connection with Malvern, but we thought to write about him because he was both charitable, and had an interesting family.

In 1913, shortly before Zachary's death, a buyer named Merton purchased John William Waterhouse's lovely painting,  ‘Flora and the Zephyrs’, at the sale of the McCulloch Collection of Modern Art  for 1,700 guineas (ref 1). The picture had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1898.

Flora and the Zephyrs

Flora and the Zephyrs, source: wikiart

The painting was numbered 66 in the sale catalogue and described thus:

Flora the Roman goddess of flowers and spring, represented seated in a garden with four attendant maidens, one of whom kneels by her side, is being wooed by the Zephyrs, whose forms are seen in the overhanging foliage. 'Signed and dated JW Waterhouse, 1897.' Canvas 42 by 80 in.

We have not discovered an art dealer named Merton but wonder if this could have been either wealthy metal merchant Emile Ralph Merton of 17 Park Lane, born 1850 Germany, died 1921, or his elder brother Zachary.

Emile Merton married Helen Meates, daughter of an East India Merchant, in 1880 and their son Sir Thomas Ralph Merton KBE, DSc, FRS (1888 - 1969) became a famous physicist and art collector. Thomas's son William Ralph Merton worked on improving bombing and air defence tactics in WWII for the RAF, despite the family having Germanic connections.

Zachary Merton, who was also a metal merchant, of 6 Green Street, Park Lane, London, had married the divorced wife of a German artist in 1899.

The brothers were partners in the metal trading firm Henry R Merton and Company founded about 1860 by their elder brother Henry Ralph Merton (1838 - 1872). The company, which developed world-wide interests, was once a major player in industrial Britain.

Another researcher told us that in 1907 Ernest Brown and Phillips (Leicester Galleries) held a sale of the remaining works of the late James Charles and that three of these pictures (namely: In Lickfold - Sussex; Gathering Bracken - Ambersham Common; and The Hayfield) were sold to Zachary Merton (ref 2); so we think it possible that he could have been the Merton who bought 'Flora and the Zephyrs'.

Family

Zachary Merton, who was of Jewish extraction, was born in Germany in 1843, the son of Raphael Lyon Moses (1817 - 1883), who changed his name to Ralph Merton, and Sara Amelie Cohen (1818 - 1851).

A translation of German Wikipedia relates:

Ralph Merton (until 1856 Raphael Lyon Moses) was a London entrepreneur. In 1834 he emigrated to Frankfurt and completed an apprenticeship in the metal trading house of Philipp Abraham Cohen. In 1837 he married Philipp's daughter, Sara Amelie Cohen, with whom he had nine children. When Cohen retired in 1855, he gave Ralph the metal trading company. Ralph's son Wilhelm Merton became a great entrepreneur, social politician and philanthropist in Frankfurt.

This suggests Zachary learned his trade while working for his father.

The London Gazette reported in 1881 the winding up of the East London Galvanized Iron Company, of whom creditors were iron merchants, Rudolf Zung, Zachary Merton and his youngest brother Emile Ralph Merton, partners in the firm Henry R Merton and Company.

Zachary's younger brother William Ralph Merton, otherwise known as Wilhelm Merton stayed in Germany and prospered, becoming a founder both of a famous metal company Metallgesellschaft AG, and the university of Frankfurt.

In 1881, at Frankfurt, Zachary married Emma Julia Bertha Getz (1860 - 1903), the daughter of a doctor. They had no children and about 1897 he deserted her for another woman.

Following their divorce, Emma married stockbroker Sir Frederick D'Abernon Vincent, later 15th Baronet of Stoke D'Abernon, a small hamlet near Cobham in Surrey, by whom she had a daughter. Her husband had worked for the Indian Forest Department, conducted a survey of forests in Victoria, Australia, and was on the board of several companies.

Frederick was the brother of Edgar Vincent, MP, diplomat, art collector, and author; a person, possibly of questionable judgement, yet who had a successful career and was awarded the title 1st Viscount D'Abernon.

In 1899 Zachary married Rosalie Antonie Schmiechen previously 'Gebhard' whose husband Hermann, an artist, had divorced her in 1898 on the grounds of her adultery with Zachary.

Rosalie Antonie's first husband, German portrait painter Hermann Schmiechen, seems to have been quite well known in his day. We did not find him in the Dictionary of Victorian Painters, but examples of his work on the artuk.org website suggest to us he was a competent painter.

Hermann Schmiechen (artist)

A translation of German Wikipedia relates:

Hermann Schmiechen was born in Silesia and in 1872 went to study in Wroclaw at the Royal Arts and Industry Academy and became a pupil of Albrecht Brauer (1830-1897). A year later, in 1873, he was appointed to the Dusseldorf school and became a student of Karl Müller and Eduard von Gebhardt. He studied at the Dusseldorf Art Academy, followed by study in Paris at the Académie Julian.

Back in Dusseldorf Schmiechen was a sought-after portrait painter and lived in the house of the widow Sophie Hasenclever in Goltsteinstraße.

In 1883 Schmiechen was, at the invitation of Queen Victoria, at Kensington Palace, having been called to London where he made portraits of the English aristocracy.

In the following years 1884-1895 exhibitions followed in Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, in the Royal Academy of Arts London, Liverpool and Manchester.

In April 1883 Hermann Schmiechen had in Dusseldorf married Antonia (Antonie) Gebhard, daughter of a business partner of the silk weaving firm Gebhard & Co. The marriage ended in divorce later (in 1898).

In London Schmiechen painted in summer 1884 Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and, under their guidance, the Ascended Masters of Wisdom Morya (Master M El Morya He) and Koot Hoomi (Master K H, Kuthumi Lal Singh).

Helena Blavatsky, Patience Sinnett (1844-1908), the wife of Alfred Percy Sinnett , Laura Holloway-Langford (1843-1930), Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1858-1936) and other members of the Anglo-Indian Theosophical society had often gathered in his London studio.

Travels took him to Greece and France, where he painted some landscapes. After 1901 Hermann Schmiechen worked in Berlin.

Hermann's wife was said to be interested in spiritualism and the occult, which probably explains his painting of theosophists.

The family became naturalised British subjects in 1892, but it seems artist Hermann Schiemen (1855 - 1923) returned to Germany following his divorce, and died in Berlin.

So it was that Zachary, who had no children of his own, became stepfather to Hermann's four chidren.

Step children

The stepchildren were Herbert Keith Wolfram Schmiechen born 1884; Elsa Emma Lily Antoinette Schmiechen (1886 - 1933); Wilfred Edward Hermann Schmiechen (1888 - 1957); and Gerald Edward Siegfried Schmiechen (1893 - 1983). They adopted Zachary's surname, Merton, probably wisely deciding that German names would hinder their advancement in British society.

Herbert Merton (1884 - 1950)

The 1911 census records that Herbert Merton, aged 27, was then managing director of a motor repair works (engineer), and a military medal card records that during the Great War, despite having a German father, he served in the British army in France as a Lieutenant with the Royal Engineers.

An article in the Motor Magazine relates his business was 'The Herbert Engineering Company', in Wolsey Road, Caversham, near Reading, which had, during the 1914-18 war, employed 500 or so men repairing Clerget and Le Rhone rotary aero-engines, from crashed aircraft.

After the war Herbert Merton, who ran Herbert Engineering, financed by his mother, built the HE open top sports tourer, designed by Roland James Sully. Produced between 1919 and 1931, this was a fast car for the wealthy with a price approaching that of a Bentley, but after 1931 production was not economic.

A notice in the London Gazette records that in 1908, Roland James Sully, James Walter Sully and Lewis Ernest Hopkins had been carrying on business  as Hopkins, Sully and Co, Mechanical and Motor Engineers, Factors, Agents, and Salesmen, at Penarth Road, Cardiff. Hopkins left the business which became Sullys (Cardiff) Ltd and was wound up in 1910 by James Walter Sully, Roland's cousin.

Wilfred Merton (1888 - 1957)

Wilfred Merton pursued a literary career in book publishing. Here is a transcription of his obituary which was published in the Times on Friday November 8th 1957:-

Mr Wilfred Merton

Book production at its best.

Dr Eric Millar writes:-

Mr Wilfred Merton who died in Dublin on Saturday in his 70th year, was educated at Bedford Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge. From his schooldays he had been an ardent book collector, and this remained an absorbing hobby for the rest of his life. While at Cambridge he became acquainted with Sir Sydney Cockerell, who needless to say gave him ready advice and encouragement, and also introduced him to his friend, the late Sir Emery Walker, who was in need of a partner in the firm bearing his name.

As a result Merton joined the firm as his partner on leaving Cambridge and continued as managing director on Sir Emery's death in 1933. He quickly learnt the essentials of his craft from that great master of typography, and himself developed an unerring eye for all that was best in in book production, whether printed page or illustrations. His standard was of the highest, and it is not too much to say that he would always choose to execute a perfect plate at a loss in preference to an even slightly inferior one at a profit,

He would do much to persuade a client to produce only what was best in a publication, and no better memorial of him could exist than the magnificent colour photogravure, and collotype plates executed under his sole supervision for Sir Chester Beatty's sumptuous catalogues and other volumes, not forgetting the great edition by Sir Frederic Kenyon of the now famous Beatty Biblical Papyri, the issue of which at a difficult time owed not a little to Merton's own enthusiasm.

This enthusiasm also extended to the National Collections, and on more than one occasion he was the means, directly or indirectly, of enabling the British Museum to acquire a much needed book or manuscript. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1938.

In 1952 he went to live in Dublin to help Sir Chester Beatty in the establishment of his library there, and rarely returned to England, while he never really recovered from a heart attack in 1954. Merton was a man of of quiet unobtrusive personality, combined with great charm of manner; he was held in esteem by all who knew him and in the greatest affection by his smaller circle of intimate friends, for one of whom at least life has never been the same since he left England now nearly six years ago.

Gerald Merton (1893 - 1983)

Dr Gerald Merton, MC, MA, PhD, FRAS, the youngest brother, pursued an eminent career in astronomy, aviation and aeronautical engineering.

During WWI he acquired a pilot's licence and joined the Royal Flying Corps. His award of the Military Cross was reported in the Times on Monday March 5th 1917:-

Lt Gerald Merton, RFC, Spec Res - Whilst on reconnaissance he attacked and drove down an enemy machine. Later, although his machine was badly damaged, he succeeded in regaining our lines.

A lengthy obituary can be found in the journal of the British Astronomical Association of which he was a member.

Elsa Merton (1886 - 1933)

In 1908, Elsa Merton married wealthy Herbert Sanders-Clark. In 1911 they were living at Lygon Place, Grosvenor Square, with a son and eight servants. Her father in law Alfred Aurelius Clark had been a partner in the firm Wilkinson, Heywood & Clark of London  which manufactured and supplied specialist paints and varnishes worldwide; the company was also a contractor to the Royal Navy.

Some 15 years before, Alfred Aurelius Clark had been involved in a scandal which was reported in the Sunday Herald on  January 8th 1893. The report claimed he had fathered a daughter, Aline, by Alice Marian de Hoghton, the daughter of Sir Henry de Hoghton, 9th Baronet. He was in no position to marry her, as he was already married, but paid for their daughter to be brought up in another house and acted as guardian.

The more serious allegation was that Alfred Aurelius Clark had married, in 1891, his own 17 year old illegitimate daughter, Aline Aurelia de Hoghton, and had a child by her, after his first wife's death, and that of her parents. On finding out he was her father, Aline petitioned for a divorce, which was granted, but he denied being her father and, there being no paper trail, we think he avoided prison.

In 1899, Alfred Aurelius Clark, then an old man, married, third, Maude Therese Davies Parry the 16 year old daughter of an Excise Officer. She predeceased him in 1906 aged only 23 years.

Transcription of Zachary's obituary

Zachary Merton latterly lived at Folly Farm, Sulhampstead, near Reading. The property had been bought in 1905 by Harry Herbert Cochrane, a civil engineer and partner in the firm John Cochrance and Sons, who commissioned the famous architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens to convert it into a small country house. In 1911, Folly Farm was bought by Zachary Merton, who asked Lutyens to extend it further. In 1912, Lutyens added a dining room, master bedroom, and further domestic services. He also added another wing, incorporating a two-sided cloistered court, which separated the new design, visually, from the earlier building. Lutyens later designed the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Click to read more about Folly Farm on Wikipedia.

Zachary Merton died at Cadogan Gardens, in London, on 29th November 1915 and an obituary appeared in The Times (London, England) on Saturday December 4th 1915.

Here is a transcription:

Death of Mr Zachary Merton

Benefactor of London children

By the death of Mr Zachary Merton, which occurred recently in Cadogan Gardens, a number of London charities lose a great benefactor, whose modesty was equal to his munificence.

English people should not hesitate to do honour to his memory, in spite of the fact that the firm to which he once belonged - he retired from it many years ago - has lately been unpleasantly prominent in the Law Courts. His two stepsons have for months past been fighting in our ranks.

Mr Merton, who was of Jewish race, was born in England in 1843, the son of a father of German descent, who had become a naturalized British subject. In or about 1887 his attention was called to the many thousands of underfed London children, and to the lamentable lack of proper training for poor boys as soon as they left the elementary schools. He consulted Mr H Gardner, master of what was known as the Hornsey-Road Ragged School and by his advice he founded and entirely supported a trade school, or institute, first located in George's road, Holloway, and afterwards in larger premises in Holloway road. This institution has flourished for 28 years, and on it from first to last Mr Merton spent £11,000. With a similar regard for the health, the rational amusement, and the elementary training in handicrafts of the London children, Mr Merton for several years subscribed some £750 per year to the Evening Play Centres, which now provide for about 25,000 boys and girls. This sum practically pays the cost of three Play Centres.

Of various hospitals Mr Merton was a most generous supporter, and of the Charity Organization Society also. To the latter he contributed, since the war began, £40 a week to meet the causes of poverty indirectly caused by the war. He helped other sufferers in other ways, and was specially on the look out for other causes of distress caused by the pressure of the 'improvements' which so constantly benefit the many and ruin the few. An instance of this was his care for drivers of horse omnibuses and hansom cabs, forced out of work by motors and taxis. Whenever he could he took a hansom, got into conversation with the driver, and if he found him losing his work he arranged to pay for his being taught to drive a taxi cab. This meant at least £15 per man; and he did it over and over again.

In all cases he kept his own name in the background and preferred to remain wholly anonymous.

A correction to the obituary was published in the Times on Wednesday December 8th 1915. This read:-

Mr Zachary Merton, a biography of whom appeared in the Times on Saturday, was the son of a natural born British Subject, not a naturalized subject. Mr Zachary Merton did not retire from the firm of Henry R Merton and Co; as long as the firm was a private concern, Mr Merton was a partner and when it was converted into a limited company he became a director and one of the largest shareholders. He retained his seat on the board and his shares till the date of his death, although he did not take any active part in the management.

The obituary relates that Zachary was a charitable man, who attempted to help the poor children of London and others. We have not discovered what the reference to 'a firm to which he once belonged appearing in the Law Courts' was about, but possibly it related to Henry R Merton and Company having links with German companies and investors, which must have been an inconvenience following the outbreak of war.

Legacy

Zachary Merton had no children of his own, but provided for the education of his step children, who led useful and productive lives. He also attempted to improve the education of the poor children of London.

He left a considerable sum, in trust, to be used for charitable purposes after his death, as evidence by the Zachary Merton Charity for Convalescents, and many small hospitals bearing his name.

The Lost Hospitals of London website relates:

Zachary Merton had been admitted to the Middlesex Hospital for an operation. He, with a fellow patient, vowed that if they survived their operations they would establish six hospitals. Zachary Merton would build them and the other patient would furnish them. The operations on both patients were successful but the other patient reneged on his promise. On his death in 1915, Zachary Merton left some £350,000 in his will for the building of convalescent homes. A Trust Fund was established in his name.

Metal trader and benefactor Zachary Merton (1843 - 1915) was survived by his second wife; four step children, the children of his wife by her first husband, the artist Hermann Schmiechen; and nephews.


If you can either add to this story, or can tell us about other owners of the painting 'Flora and the Zephyrs' and where it is now do please get in touch.


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References

  1. The Times Digital Archive
  2. Communication from Peter Wood, October 2015
  3. Census of England and Wales
  4. Wikipedia