Friday, 19 February 2021

Sylvia Colenso (1887 - ) – musician and poet

Found for us by Great War researcher, member of the Great War Group, ex-primary school teacher, museum volunteer Judith Jones. Judith contacted me to ask if Sylvia Colenso was on the List of Female Poets - well she wasn't so I must add her.  Thank you Judith.

Sophie, Irma and Sylvia Colenso 
Sylvia was the Granddaughter of Bishop John Colenso, Bishop of Natal in Africa. 

An article written by author Nick Gammage gives us some important clues to Sylvia’s identity: Sylvia Colenso was born in 1887 in Marylebone, London, UK.   Her parents were Francis Ernest Colenso, a barrister and actuary (who was the elder son of Bishop John Colenso), and his wife, Sophie J. Colenso, nee Frankland. Sophie’s father was Sir Edward Frankland - an emminent scientist;  her mother, Sophie Fick, sister of the physician and physiologist Adolf Eugen Fick, was German - from Kassel in Germany. As a consequence, Sylvia spoke German and frequently visited her Grandmother’s family in Germany.  Incidentally, Sophie and Adolf Fick's nephew, Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick, invented the contact lens and was the author of Fick Principle. It is used in Intensive Care Units worldwide to help save lives daily.*

Sylvia’s siblings were: Esmond (who died as a baby), Eothan, Irma and Nigel. 

The Colenso family had a house in London and, from the Autumn of 1901, a house in the Buckinghamshire countryside in Amersham.  The house was called “Elangeni”, which is a Zulu word (and also the name of a Zulu tribe) meaning “where the sun shines through“, reflecting Sylvia’s Father’s childhood in Africa.  The 1911 Census lists the family as living in “Elangeni” with Sylvia’s occupation as musician.

Sylvia had a poem entitled “Man’s Lot” – translated from German - published in an anthology of anti-war poems edited by Bertram Lloyd and published by G. Allen & Unwin Ltd., London in 1918 -  “Poems written during the Great War, 1914-1918”.

Sylvia became an accomplished pianist, and accompanied the first recording of Nkosi Sikelel I Afrika (now the South African national anthem) in 1923.  

In 1938, she married Ernest Bertram Lloyd (14 May 1881 – 9 June 1944)   in Cardigan, Wales. Bertram, who was a naturalist, humanitarian, vegetarian and campaigner for animal rights and founder of the National Society for the Abolition of Cruel Sports, was also a fluent German speaker.  In 1939 Sylvia and Bertram lived at 53 Parkhill Road, Belsize Park, Camden, Hampstead, London, UK.

“Man’s Lot” – Sylvia Colenso

The earth is soaked in blood, and underneath

Lie burried shattered limbs of young men dead;

These – peasants, teachers, flock and those who led –

One volley swept into the arms of death.

The thought that victory, peace and joy 

Might spring from out their sacrifice of blood,

This was the last fond hope which seemed good,

And comfort brought to many a dying boy.

But some there were to whom in their last hour

Were granted vision clear to see and know 

That out of slaughter death anew would spring,

And dreams of vengeance, fairest lands laid low;

That vain each off’ring to war’s evil power –

These felt death hard and knew it’s sharpest sting.

Translated from the German 

From “Poems written during the Great War, 1914-1918”, Edited by Bertram Lloyd (G. Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1918) p. 24.

Judith makes a very good point about that poem: “It sends shivers down my spine to read 'Man's Lot' and know it was written in 1918, or earlier, by someone who was half-German and would live to see it all happen again. Her vision was certainly clear.”   (with thanks to Linda.@SE25A for spotting the typo which I have corrected.)


Copy of the poem “Man’s Lot” kindly supplied by Judith Jones  

Find my Past

Photograph of Sophie, Irma and Sylvia Colenso found for us by Judith Jones.


* With thanks for additional information re Adolf Eugen Fick to