Georgiana Houghton Biography
Georgiana Houghton (1814-84) was born to British parents on April 20th 1814 in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. She was the seventh of twelve children (two died in infancy) of Mary Warrand and George Houghton who was a foreign merchant. The family lived in Kentish Town, North London and spent frequent periods of time overseas in the Canary Islands and Madeira.
Of her nine siblings Marianne Houghton (married name Hyde) was the eldest. She was born on the 26th June 1806 in London and died on the 6th March 1879 in Somerset. She was baptised on 19th April 1810 in London with brothers Houghton and Warrand. Marianne married Charles Hyde, a solicitor, in 1828 and together they had ten children between 1829 and 1850: James, Charles, Mary, George, Anne, Helen, Frederick, Sydney, Matilda and Zilla. James and Charles became solicitors, while Sydney was a Medical Officer. The family lived at 1 Highgate Rise, Kentish Town. The younger boys were educated at Highgate while Anne and Helen were taught at home.
Georgiana’s three elder brothers were Houghton Roberto Houghton who was born on April 18th 1808 and died in 1885 in the Canary Islands. He lived in the Canary Islands and married a woman called Emilia Gourie. Warrand Houghton was born on the 7th March 1810 and died on the 19th March 1841 near Africa. Cecil Angelo Houghton was born on January 17th 1813 and died on the 8th May 1826 while Georgiana was at school in France which is the only indication of the education she received. Cecil was buried near Brighton.
After Georgiana’s birth in 1814 three more brothers were born. George Clarence Houghton was born in 1816 in Gran Canaria and died on 31st August 1869 in London. He was a merchant and lived in Streatham with his wife Isabel and family. He was close to Georgiana and often helped her out financially. Charles James Houghton was born in 1818 in London and died on October 22nd 1878 in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. He was an East India merchant and married to Catherine Mary Watt (1831-1860) They had four children George, Bertha, Rosina and Charles. Sadly, Catherine was admitted to an asylum in February 1860 and died there four weeks later. Charles then married Eliza Boxer from Ireland in 1863 and had five more children: twins Bernard and Sidney, Millicent, May and Ethel. Sidney Alexander Houghton was born on 1st January 1820 and baptised in London in October. He died on 8th Feb 1845 in Australia. An inquest stated he had shot himself due to insanity.
The dominant male presence in the household was more equally balanced when Helen Houghton (married name Watt) was born on March 7th 1822 in London. She married a Roman Catholic causing upset amongst some members of the family. Helen emigrated with her family to Australia in 1868 paid for by her brother George Clarence. She died in New South Wales in 1889. Helen is one possibility why so many of Georgiana’s artworks were found in Australia at the Victoria Spiritualist Association.
The last member of the large Houghton family was Georgiana’s beloved Zilla Rosalia Houghton (married name Warren). She was born on 2nd May 1825 and died on February 3rd 1851 days after giving birth to her fourth child. She married John Neville Warren in 1844. Zilla was an accomplished artist and her death devastated Georgiana prompting her to give up painting. Georgiana was close to Zilla’s children: Charlie, Arthur, Frances and Philip. When Georgiana discovered spiritualism it was Zilla that she most wanted to contact.
There is not much known about Georgiana’s childhood or training as an artist except that she spent time in the Canary Islands and Madeira. We know that some or possibly all of her education took place in France.
1830 – the family moved to Upper Craven Place in Kentish Town
1841 – According to the 1841 census Georgiana is not living in the family home. It lists only her father and mother living in the family home with the two youngest children Helen and Zilla and two servants.
1851 – Georgiana was living in the family home with her parents, brother Charles and his family and two servants. She attended the local church regularly and belonged to the choir.
1861 – Living at home with her parents and two servants. Georgiana didn’t marry and lived with her parents until they died in their 80s.
Christian Spiritualist and Mediumistic Artist
Georgiana first heard of Spiritualism in the summer of 1859 when her cousin, Mrs Pearson told her about a medium called Mrs Marshall. Georgiana thought it ‘far too glorious to be true’ that communication with departed loved ones was possible and wanted to accompany her cousin on her next visit in order to judge the evidence for herself.
They visited Mrs Mary Marshall, a widow who lived with her son Emmanuel and his wife and cousin, Mary Brodie. They sat at a round table. Raps were heard and Georgiana was astonished at the ability to communicate with her youngest sister, Zilla whose death in 1851 had left her devastated. Georgiana asked her many questions about her happiness and whether she had any concerns. The name Helen was given which for Georgiana proved to her beyond doubt that Spiritualism was real. Later a planchette was used and she asked how long it had been since the first brother she had lost had passed to spirit life. The answer was 33, also correct as her beloved Cecil Angelo had died in 1826. From that moment Georgiana’s belief in Spiritualism did not waver firmly believing it was a blessing from God.
Spiritualism in England was not solely a religious movement and attracted large numbers atheists, secularists and free thinkers, but for Georgiana religious belief was important and she wholeheartedly maintained that Christianity and Spiritualism were compatible. She stated: “What I have striven to prove is that Spiritualism does not come in place of Christianity; for where would have been the gain in casting off that great joy and happiness, only to receive something else in exchange. What I maintain is that it is bestowed as the Crown to all previous knowledge.” Georgiana believed that spiritualism embraced the whole of the Scriptural teachings (Holy Spirit, Father and Son), with yet further revelations as spirit could reveal “the hereafter results of the life pursued upon earth”.
With the understanding that mediumship could be achieved by perseverance Georgiana’s cousins started their own seances which resulted in table tipping and more messages from Zilla. Georgiana continued her development with other friends before deciding to become a medium herself. With her mother she sat every evening at dusk for half an hour with hands on a small table, in quiet talk on spiritual matters. After three months on Dec 31 1859 the table gently tipped followed by messages. They were advised to meet only once a week on Sunday and continued to do so for over a year.
On January 17th 1861 Georgiana was advised at a seance at Mrs Marshall’s house to obtain her own planchette. The only maker at that time was Mr Welton of 13 Grafton Street who made the small wooden mechanism from the finest Acacia wood. It became the tool for Georgiana’s next phase of mediumship in which she was delighted by visits from her brother, Cecil. By May Shakespeare also became a frequent visitor.
On July 20th 1861 – Georgiana continued to develop her mediumship and a visit by her cousins brought news of a new wonder – Elizabeth Wilkinson’s beautiful drawings, executed through her hand by her son in spirit. Georgiana immediately used the planchette to ask if Zilla, who had been an artist, could aid her in a similar work. She was unable to do so, but through Cecil Georgiana was brought the help of an artist called Angelo, known as Lenny.
Sheets of paper were covered with all sorts of curves, and it amazed Georgiana how “such intricacies could be produced with such an awkward instrument as the planchette”. The next evening Lenny came again, and did another sheet of curious curves, and then, at Georgiana’s request, a flower called Ceciliana. The next evening he drew a fruit, after which he wrote “It is Ceciliana ; fruit of your brother’s flower; every spirit has their flower and fruit; I will do Zilla’s next”.” On the following evening he began the flower with the red pencil, shading it with the blue one, which we did not much like; so he did her flower again with a lead pencil, finally deciding that he liked the blue one best ; and with that he did Zilla’s fruit, which was very elaborate, and on the evening it was finished, my cousins were with us. We wanted some explanation of the drawings, which he could not give, but when we urged him, he wrote “It consists of three fruits, because Zilla was married, and it refers to her as a daughter, wife, and mother; but I cannot explain any more about them. I may tell you that Zilla Warren is very great in her power as a spirit, but Cecil has more power to bring other spirits, because he is farther advanced in the sphere.” In wonder of her new discovery, Georgiana embraced the adventure ahead of her that would last for the rest of her life.
On July 29th 1861, under Lenny’s instructions, Georgiana commenced drawing without the planchette and a week later she was impressed to introduce colour to her work. She approached with trepidation, but found it came to her naturally and described her first attempt as “a beautiful flower that was started in colours without any preliminary sketch, and was worked in a method completely different from any I had ever seen, producing a transparency of effect that is quite marvellous, the petals being seen through one another, while at the same time possessing a richness and brilliancy which filled me with more delight as each drawing was done ; for in this new power I had found my life’s work, and went on untiringly from day to day, and week to week.
For more information on Georgiana’s art see our Drawings page.
Georgiana Houghton Biography – © Vivienne Roberts 2016-2020