Lady Galway (1876-1963)

She was the daughter of Sir Rowland Blennerhasset and Countess Charlotte de Leyden (from Bavaria) who in the mid-19th century were prominent on the liberal and intellectual wing of English Catholicism. In 1894 she had married Baron D’Erlanger, a French biologist who worked at the University of Heidelberg, but he died only three years later, leaving her with a son and a daughter. In 1913 she married Sir Henry Galway, from an Irish Protestant background, who shortly afterwards was appointed governor of South Australia. As he was 53, one wonders if the marriage was the necessary prerequisite for this post for until then he had held only small and unimportant governorships.

Lady Galway was quite unlike her noisy and militantly conservative husband. She was fluent in six European languages and had wide intellectual interests. She was also a gifted public speaker, willing to give lectures to bodies such as the Victoria League on literary and historical topics. She seemed to be able to discourse on almost any serious subject with a light touch – a rare gift. She was deeply involved in encouraging charitable work and in supporting bodies such as the YWCA, and she gave a great boost to the newly formed Catholic Women’s League. Despite her half-German background, she seems to have escaped the public suspicion that in many places led to hostility against South Australians of German descent. In 1914 she founded the South Australian division of the British Red Cross Society. She directed the Belgian Relief Fund, for which she produced the Lady Galway Belgium Book (1916), and was founding president of the League of Loyal Women, a body that supplied comforts for servicemen. For patriotic causes she addressed hundreds of meetings and helped to raise 1.2 million pounds – several hundred million dollars in today’s equivalent. In recognition of her charitable work she was awarded medals by Belgium and France; later she was appointed a Dame of Grace of the Order of St John and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Lady Galway was a parishioner of this cathedral and her daughter Marie attended the Convent of Mercy. When she left South Australia in 1919, 15 months ahead of her husband, she was widely praised in newspaper editorials for her achievements and for raising the status of women in public life. Back in England she continued her charitable and public work. Sir Henry died in 1949; her son had been killed in Libya in 1941. She herself died in London in 1963 and her requiem was held at the Jesuit church in Farm Street, Mayfair.

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