The Blackwells at Klones - an Anglo-Norse
Romantic Story

Versjon 30.08.2011

[Heggelund pensjonat]


This is the story of a young Englishman who fell in love with a girl from the Norwegian countryside. In the mid-1850s he had graduated from Cambridge and like so many others he was a keen hunter. His love of travelling to mountainous places eventually took him to Norway where he soon settled with his young bride. But that was not, as the story goes, before his future father-in law in person had travelled to the suitor's home in Gloucestershire. He insisted on seeing for himself what kind of person the young adventurer was.

First we shall meet Eardley John Blackwell in the letters a friend and countryman wrote to his own father from the Norwegian wilderness. Ten years later when Norway was revisited, his friend's wife wrote a scrupulously kept diary which has been preserved. Fifty years later an elderly parson's daughter and a writer published her recollections of the charming Englishman in an autobiography.

Eardley John Blackwell's happy days in Norway lasted for ten years. He was born at Ampney Park near the village Ampney Crucis At his death in 1866 he left wife and two small daughters. His earthly remains rest outside the Vågå Church, in Ampney Crucis a memorial tablet was donated by his mother to the local church.


  • Young Theodore Rathbone's Letters to His Father 1851-58
  • The Recollections of a Parson's Daughter
  • The Rural Scene
  • The Ampneys and Ampney Park
  • A Prospective Country Gentleman surrounded by Freeholders
  • Mrs Rathbone's Diary August-October 1865
  • The Less Romantic Matter of Fact Context
  • The Successor W. Duppa Crotch

Lake Vågåvatnet with the Klones farm in the background
to the left. Water colour by W. Duppa Crotch

Young Theodore Rathbone's Letters to His Father 1851-58

Theodore Rathbone (1832-90) was born in Allerton, Liverpool as the son of one of the early directors of the London and North-Western Railway, and died at Backwood in Cheshire. He first met his future friend Eardley John Blackwell at Trinity College Cambridge in 1850. Blackwell, the son of a country gentleman living at Ampney Park, Gloucestershire, had already travelled to Norway, and had practised mountain climbing in Switzerland. In Cambridge Rathbone took a Barchelor's degree in Arts, and went on to the Agricultural College in Cirencester to study botany. This also gave him an opportuniy to keep in contact with Blackwell and his family, who had their mansion not far from town. Throughout the 1850s Rathbone visited Norway several times, the longest stay being 1856-58, then again in 1865, and a final trip in 1871.

After his return to England in 1858 Theodore Rathbone enlisted in The 6. Iniskilling Dragons company as a subaltern, and went to India, where he stayed for two years. In the early 1860s we find Rathbone as a farmer in Canada where he remained until he and his young wife could take over his father's properties in England.

While staying in Norway in the 1850s Theodore Rathbone wrote long letters to his father in England. During his second stay in 1865 the writing was left to his wife, who kept a diary. Both the letters and the diary were later typewritten by their daughter, and a copy was handed over to Vågå historielag, the local history society in the Vågå community where the Blackwells lived. In due time the material found its way into the local historical archive, Opplandsarkivet in Vågå.

Of altogether 16 remaining letters written by Theodore Rathbone to his father in England in connection with his stays in Norway, two are dated in the summer of 1851. After a visit in 1855 the next stay started in October 1856, and lasted for about two years apart from a brief stay in England in the spring of 1857. On Rathbone's first visit, his friend Blackwell seems to have followed him onwards to Germany, but while staying there is said to have a strong urge for returning to Norway. Both men already seem to have taken a special interest in hunting reindeer in the vicinity of Lake Gjende in the Jotunheimen mountains, today a national park.

  • The map shows the area surrounding Lake Gjende. Source: Francis M. Wyndham 1861
  • Fish, game, and the scenery attracted not a few English people to Lake Gjende at the heart of mountainous Norway. The lithography is made by Francis M. Wyndham 1861.
  • See also: Besseggen for a photo view

The Recollections of a Parson's Daughter

In 1855 Elise Aubert was 18 years old. In 1902 she published a collection of autobiographical recollections from her childhood as a parson's daughter. A large part of the book Fra de gamle Præstegaarde is a description of life in the parsonage in Lom, Vågå's neighbouring parish, where her parents received guests during the summer, walkers, trekkers, intellectuals, writers, even a prince and the king, on their way across the mountains to the Fjords. Some were students of the ways of the local people in this isolated faraway region. For company during the winter the parson and his family would befriend their peers in Vagå, and participate in their social events. There is where Elise Aubert met Eardley John Blackwell and his friends Theodore Rathbone and the Swiss mountaineer Balmat from Chamonie.

Eardley John Blackwell, born at Ampney Park, Gloucestershire 1832, died in Vågå, Norway 1866.

In the second part of 1855 Blackwell, Rathbone, and Balmat stayed at Lake Gjende several months returning to Vågå shortly before Christmas. Aubert describes Blackwell as an handsome, well built man, who proved to be both lively and interesting as soon as he entered on his favourite interests, which were travels and descriptions of natural conditions. Since age 13 he had spent a lot of time in Switzerland and Italy, and from there his attention had turned to Norway. After a short time in Vågå he commanded a colourful, masculine variety of the local accent.

The Rural Scene

Vågå in the 1850s was a farming community based on subsistence except for the growing of barley, which gave a good surplus for sale. There were the old farms with agelong roots around each were clustered a great many crofters and tenants who depended on the owning class of farmers for their livelihood. After a long period of population growth and with the traditional farming techniques employed, the resources were approaching exhaustion. This was in the decade before the massive wave of emigration to America started from those parts. In the mountain area, which today hosts some of the largest national parks in Norway, Vågå was one of three large parishes. And with its central location in the region the comunity had an elite of well-to-do citizens. There was the church with its minister and the chaplain, the district magistrate, the sheriff, one or two solicitors, some military officers, and a doctor responsible for two of the parishes. They all had their own farms where they would arrange parties and balls and invite their peers and the notables among the farmers. A savings bank had recently been established. There were inns for the travellers, quite a few of whom were English.

Nystugu (The new house)was a small tenant farm belonging to Klones. Water colour by W. Duppa Crotch.

The local trader, until then a licenced position in the district, was in charge of whatever people could afford to buy, from gunpowder to a coil of rope, as Rathbone explains in a letter to his father. And Thor Svee had indeed married into one of the prestigious farming families in the community. On his daughter young Blackwell cast his eyes, and they were married in the Vågå church. He was then 24 years old, the bride was 18. Theodore Rathbone was not present at the wedding party in May 1856. He had returned to England after Christmas 1855 whereas Blackwell had remained nourishing his dreams of matrimony. On Rathbone's return in October 1856 to Christiania, the then name of the Norwegian Capital, the rumour circulated that Eardley John Blackwell had married a peasant girl in the interior of the country. In Norwegian as well as in English terms that would be a step or two down the social ladder. But the British Consul General could affirm that the bride was the daughter of the local trader, a man of importance.

Local legend in Vågå has it that Blackwell, Rathbone, and their followers lived like savages during their hunting trips to the Norwegian mountains. Rumours of the kind seemed confirmed as they befriended local hunters renowned for their skills, but also for religious disbelief and scepticism. For such reasons Blackwell's prospective father-in-law is said to have travelled all the way to Ampney Park in Gloucestershire in the spring 1656 to see for himself of what standing the foreign suitor was. After his marriage Blackwell, in the eyes of his friend, prepared to settle in Vågå as a country gentleman. However his friendship with the local hunters continued. A local chronicle writer, Ivar Kleiven, was born in 1854, and his father was one of those. Kleiven describes how Blackwell and his local friends would arrange shooting competitions on the ice of Lake Vågåvatnet in winter in order to be fit for the hunting trips in the mountains throughout the year.

The Ampneys and Ampney Park

The Ampneys are three villages which have taken their names from the stream Ampney Brook some few miles east of the small town Cirencester in Gloucestershire. The uppermost of the villages is Ampney Crucis. In Roman times the town and the settlement was named Corinium. In the Middle Ages the land giving a livelihood to the villagers of Ampney Crucis was owned by Tewkesbury Abbey, shortly after the Reformation in 1528 and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the estate was bought by a private family in 1562, and a mansion was erected. Of the Manor House David Verey and Alan Brooks write in the Cotswolds volume of The Buildings of England:

"Ampney Park is situated immediately west of the Ampney Crucis parish church. The house, probably pre-16. century, belonged to the Pleydell family from 1562 to 1724. They built a new tall gabled block, possibly in 1624, which is the core of the present house; two gables to the west with mullioned and transomed windows, one to the south. The main south-west room has a sumptuous early 17. century interior, ornate Jacobean plaster ceiling, with pendant bosses, fine panelling with a frieze of distinctive mythical beasts, and a well-carved stone fireplace surmounted with an elaborated overmantel with allegorical figures of c. 1625-30, plus the arms of Pleydell. A pedimented external doorway shown in its end wall must have been a late 17. century addition. The long north range probably dates from 1820-30. At the end of the 19. century a billiard room was added on the east, and the pedimented doorway on the south was replaced by a bay window."

Ampney Park. The original building was erected by the Pleydell family in the late 1600 century. The Blackwell family were the owners until 1891.

In 1766 the estate, which in the post-Reformation period until 1788 comprised both Ampney Crucis and Ampney St. Mary, was sold to Samuel Blackwell of Williamstrip who was then amassing extensive estates in south-east Gloucestershire. Samuel Blackwell was Eardley John Blackwell's grandfather. He was a citizen of Cirencester and married into a wealthy landowning family with a considerable number of properties in England and Ireland, his father-in-law being James Lenox Dutton of Sherborne. Shortly after the takeover of the Ampney estates enclosure of the commons was initiated. From 1777 until his death in 1785 Samuel Blackwell represented the Borough of Cirencester in Parliament.

The Blackwell family resided in Ampney Park until 1891. After the death of Eardley John in 1866 his brother James served as trustee of his legacy in Britain for his two daughters in Norway. Eventually Ampney Park was sold to the Cripps, another longstanding family in the area.

A Prospective Country Gentleman surrounded by Freeholders

Whereas in Ampney Crucis the village would be surrounded by farmland the main part of which belonged to the owner of Ampney Park, in Vågå the cultivated area was owned by the individual families who lived on separate farms spread out on either side of the river running through the valley. After their marriage the young Blackwell couple installed themselves on a farm where the district magistrate had previously resided. Three years later they were able to secure for themselves the farm Klones where they soon started the building of a mansion. Their first daughter Elizabeth Emma, named after her grandmother in England, was born in 1857. Two years later the second child was expected who became Kari, a name similarly representing the mother's side.

During the winter 1856-57 Theodore Rathbone made his Grand Tour of Scandinavia. In November he travelled from Christiania across Dovre to Trondheim, and from there by steamboat to Alta in Finnmark: Back again he returned by reindeer and sledge to Tornio in Finland and further on to Sundsvall in Sweden. Reaching Trondheim he wrote a letter to his father on 17. January. On 27. February he writes again, this time from a hut at Lake Gjende, 25 miles from the nearest habitation, where he is staying with a Norwegian hunter. For three weeks he has been a guest in the house of Blackwell's father-in-law, a home he finds too luxurious for his own slightly romantic taste, prizing as he does a primitive lifestyle. Blackwell, he reports, is happily adjusting to his married life with his bright little wife, and their newly received daughter. Next summer they intend to visit friends in England, and in June Blackwell's mother and brother, who is a lieutenant in the army, are going to visit them in Norway.

Enclosed in a letter from 8. September 1857 Rathbone sends an article to The Times, apparently not accepted, in which he answers to some critical remarks in the same paper about Blackwell made by an English lady, Emmy Lowe, travelling with her mother. She had just written a book, Unprotected Females through Norway, in which she passed remarks about Blackwell leaving his friend in a rage. Rathbone defends his compatriot vigorously against the ladies, who should be given a good birching like little boys. As for Blackwell himself, after settling in Vågå he has rented Lake Russvatn for two tears at 7 pound per annum, which they think is too much. Another fishing lake closer to home in Vågå could be bought for 100 pound, Rathbone thinks. After a couple of days with Rathbone at Lake Nedre Leirungen Blackwell has got a violent attack of krysipelas on his way back into the valley.

Mrs Rathbone's Diary August-October 1865

In august 1865, after travelling from Bergen vis the Fjords to Romsdal, across Dovrefjell to Trondheim, and back again across the mountains, the Rathbone couple reached Vågå on 1. September where they were heartily received by Mari Blackwell's family. In the home of Blackwell's parents-in-law they were entertained with music by the youngest daughter and her husband, and by the niece of the German composer Carl Maria von Weber.

On 2. September the Rathbones and the Svee family move across the valley to Klones in Mrs Blackwell's carriage:

"Klognes is a very nice place, situated just above the lake, with a beautiful view over it. [It] combines English comfort with Norwegian. After travelling for so long and staying at hotels, it is quite a luxury to come to a place which seems like home, where every imaginable want is provided for. There is a large fireplace in the drawingroom besides a stove, and for the first time for several days we really grew thoroughly warm. We had intended writing letters in the evening, but having established ourselves in two easy-chairs by the fire, we could not make up our minds to leave them until bedtime when, instead of going freezing up to bed, we found a warm jolly-looking room, having had a fire in the stove all evening and an English iron bedstead, a great improvement upon the coffin-like wooden bedsteads of the country."

Klones. The livingrooms

On 4. September the Rathbones have made ready for going the forty miles to Lake Gjende with a local hunter and two servants, one male and one female. Reaching the summer abode belonging to Klones, called a saeter in Norwegian, they halt for a half hour:

"The saeters in Gulbrandsdal are the best in Norway, and both this one and Herr Svee's (Mrs Blackwell's father) are particularly good. It is a pleasant sight - a really good saeter - everything is so clean, the floor strewn with juniper and the wooden milk bowls, or rather pails and the cheeses are arranged in such order."

After a ride of two days guests and servants reached Lake Gjende and the Rathbones settled in the hut belonging to theodore's friend from the 1850s:

"Old Jo's [hut] is far more comfortable than I ever expected, smooth walls, boarded floor, glass window and a good open hearth or skor-stein, as it is called, plenty of shelves and pegs, two benches and two stools. The […] table […] has been nailed up against the wall. At night we have a bed made up on the floor, and altogether we may be very jolly here I think. Theodore says that when Jo is here the place is as neat and clean as a palace. Mr. and Mrs. Blackwell's names are written on the wall, with the date September the 8th, 1862 the last time they were here; also the elder Mrs. Blackwell's in 1857."

Jo Gjende, a legendary local hunter with some of his friends. Jo was a a close friend of Rathbone and Blackwell

At Lake Gjende the company stayed until the end of the month, the men going hunting and Mrs. Rathbone getting bored as walking outside roads was not her favourite pastime. As reindeer and fish were plentiful they were comfortably off for food, and once during the stay they had new provisions sent from Klones. At the end of September the first snow arrived. From the summer abodes the cattle were driven back to the farms in the valley. Mrs Rathbone observed no less than eleven flocks in one day.

Back at Klones the Blackwells have left for England. Rathbone immediately prepares for another trip to the mountains. His wife is left in the company of the trader's wife, the solicitor's wife, the sheriff's wife, and a Mrs Atme, who stays with the trader's family. She is German and the niece of the composer Carl Maria von Weber. Time is spent leisurely reading, walking, playing the piano and attending each other's dinner parties. In the absence of her husband, and feeling at a loss for not being in command of the language, the English lady feels even more bored than she was in the mountains.

The journey from Vågå to Christiania in 1865 took five days by carriage, by the paddlesteamer Skibladner across Lake Mjøsa, and onwards by train from Eidsvoll. In the following year, under the attendance and care of another English friend, William Duppa Crotch, Eardley John Blackwell died at Klones 13. December, and was buried outside the Vågå Church 22. December.

The photo is taken in 1865. From left Ole Walle the sheriff, Thor Svee, Blackwell's father-in-law, Earley John Blackwell, the solicitor H. A. H. Olsen, Mrs Svee, two unknown persons, Mrs Mari Blackwell, Mrs Kari Walle, Blackwell's daughters Kari and Elizabeth Emma.

The End of a Story

The Blackwell story is certainly one of adventure and love, but there is more to it than that. Eardley John Blackwell's life reflects a pattern that was not uncommon. At age 24 he had been on what was known as the Grand Tour of Europe, in the first place heading for Switzerland, later he took an interest in Norway. English and Scottish trading interests were already strongly felt in the 17. and 18. centuries. The first Norwegian railway from Oslo to Eidsvoll opened in 1854, was backed by English capital and with English technology. English travellers had appeared in the interior of Norway in the 18. century, at the mid-19. century they were a common feature at the inns in Gudbrandsdalen.

Britain was an industrial power and governed a global Empire. Theodore Rathbone is an example of the mobility of individuals. After the obligatory Grand Tour, in the winter of 1856 he travels Norway lengthwise from Finnmark to Gudbrandsdalen. From 1858 he serves as a subaltern in India. In 1861-65 he runs a farm in Canada returning to England on a short trip in order to marry. Some Britons settled in the Norwegian countryside for a shorter or longer period of time for the purpose of fishing or hunting. In the Norwegian language the equivalent of "salmon lord" was coined. Legendary among them is the Scottish woman Barbara Arbuthnott, who after her third marriage had collapsed, settled in Sunndalen, a small community on one of the fjords. Based on incomes extracted from landed properties and industrial investments this author of a henwife's handbook was soon able to gain the status of an uncrowned queen among the local peasantry. Her engagement even earned her their help and compassion the day when she came down in the world literally .

Young Eardley John Blackwell's ten years in Vågå 1856-66 saw the establishment of an English country gentleman in a pre-industrial Scandinavian community. In the spacious Norwegian surroundings he made friends with hunters and the local bourgeoisie there was. He hired a fishing lake of his own, and soon started the building of a mansion on his newly bought farm. With the well-bred trader's daughter for a wife and a pecuniary base in sterling the foundation was laid for realizing the dream of an Old England kingdom of his own.

Interior of the Ampney Crucis parish church with the Blackwell memorial tablets in the chancel

The Successor William Duppa Crotch

The English biologist and painter William Duppa Crotch (1831-1903) has remained in the shadows in the traditions surrounding the farm Klones. In 1874 he became the second husband of Mari Svee Blackwell. In Norway Crotch wrote articles on reindeer and lemmings in the Jotunheimen mountains. Representing his wife and two stepdaughters as the owners of Klones and the mountain lake Nedre Heimdalen, Crotch entered into legal disputes which did little to raise his esteem among the local farmers. After his wife's death in 1895 William Duppa Crotch returned to England to live in Richmond Park, bringing with him his Norwegian household.

Klones. In 1919 the farm with its buildings was turned into an agricultural school which was run until 2009.

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