Social history and biography of
Zachary Merton (benefactor)
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, source: wikiart
The painting was numbered 66 in the sale catalogue and described thus:
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'.
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:
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'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.
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:-
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:-
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.
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:
A correction to the obituary was published in the Times on Wednesday December 8th 1915. This read:-
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.
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:
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.
Last updated 15th November 2016