Ethel Lomax (nee Pickering) 1866-1947

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Ethel Pickering married Montagu Lomax in 1888. She was born and raised  in Port Elizabeth, Cape Colony (now South Africa), the youngest daughter of the Reverend Edward Pickering.

Ethel’s family is fascinating. Her father, Edward Pickering was a colonial chaplain in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Colonial chaplains were effectively parish priests sent out by the Church of England to minister to the colonial settlers. Cape Colony was held by the British Empire as a staging post for ships rounding the Horn en route for India. Once the Suez Canal opened in 1869, Cape Colony was becoming  expensive to maintain and the British Government was considering withdrawing support. Then diamonds were discovered at Kimberley in 1871, changing the course of history. The Pickering family were involved in the seismic events of the Kimberly diamond rush.

The  Reverend Edward Pickering met and married Frances Lisle whilst he was working as a parish priest in Shropshire. They had three sons, Edward (1854 ) William ( born in London in 1856), Neville (1857) and , and two daughters Mina (born in Cape Colony 1861) and Ethel (Born in Cape Colony 1866). The Reverend Pickering was vicar of St Mary’s church in Port Elizabeth, Cape Colony from 1858 until ill health forced him to resign in 1874 when he was only 52. The family returned to England to live with Edward’s spinster sister in Cheltenham, leaving their adult sons behind in Africa. Edward Pickering died in Cheltenham in 1885.

Ethel’s brother, Neville  Pickering was apprenticed to merchants in Port Elizabeth, Cape Colony as a young man. He met Cecil Rhodes in the early 1880s and was awarded his diamond broker’s licence in 1881. Rhodes described him as ‘one of the best brokers for the company’s diamonds at Kimberley’. Neville was soon appointed as secretary to the emerging DeBeers Mining corporation. Cecil Rhodes liked to surround himself with good looking young men of athletic build, and Neville became one of his favourites. Rhodes was infatuated, and changed his will leaving everything to Neville for his 25th birthday. They lived in a ‘lover-like friendship’ in a cottage close to Kimberley until Neville’s death from septicaemia following a riding accident in 1886. Rhodes was said to be utterly devastated by the death of his friend. 

nerville Ernest Pickering Neville Pickering  

Rhodes then appointed Ethel and Neville’s brother, William as  secretary to the DeBeers Mining Corporation. William progressed to  became a director of the company, and a subsequently, a very wealthy man. His home ‘The Lodge’ in Kimberley was  a large estate with peacocks, ostriches and game running free and its own croquet court. William Pickering was a front rank amateur billiard player and achieved some success at golf. He was awarded the DSO for his role as Divisional commander during the siege of Kimberly. There is a Pickering street in Port Elizabeth, and it would be nice to think that this honoured William Pickering.

It would be so interesting to know whether the Pickering family with their church background were aware of the scandalous state of affairs between Rhodes and their son Neville.  Neville was engaged to Maud Elizabeth Christian at the time of his death, so it is possible that his parents  believed  that his relationship with Rhodes was purely professional.

(More on Neville and William Pickering at:

https://www.kimberley.org.za/today-in-kimberleys-history-16-october/,

https://www.kimberley.org.za/today-kimberleys-history-28-february/,

https://www.kimberley.org.za/today-in-kimberleys-history-24-march/)

The Pickering family seems to have made frequent trips back to England where they stayed with Edward’s unmarried, older sister at 25 Park Place, Cheltenham. Montagu Lomax’s  first job took him to Cheltenham in 1883 where he lived at 26 Park Road, opposite the Pickering family. He met Ethel at some point in 1887, perhaps through the local church. They had much in common, both sporty, both the younger children of vicars. They were married in the spring of 1888 by Montagu’s brother, Percival, vicar of St Paul’s Church, Cheltenham..

Ethel’s first child was born in the summer of  1889, and she christened him Guy Neville, presumably Neville was in honour of  her dead brother.

I suspect that Ethel, having been brought up in the warmth of South Africa, would have hated Victorian England. Montagu was young, and would have heard stories from his older brothers who travelled as doctors with the navy. The young couple set off for New Zealand early in 1890 with a nurse for their six month old baby, settling in Christchurch where Montagu became a general practitioner. The New Zealand newspaper archive, Papers Past, has provided a fascinating picture of the young Mrs Lomax-Smith. She was a successful golfer, and tennis player, winning many tournaments. She took part in amateur dramatics as a lead actress in several productions. She captained the Christchurch ladies rowing team. The Lomax-Smiths were invited to many of the high society balls and the papers reported her outfits in great detail. She had two further children during her stay in New Zealand – Armine Montagu (1891) and Mary Cecil (1895).

Once the couple returned to England in 1896, there is some mention of her prowess at golf when they were living in Leamington, but she becomes less visible in the media. Montagu moved the family continually. Guy and Mary were both placed in boarding school at age 11, Guy in Norfolk, Mary in Bedford. Armine  went into long term care probably from age seven, and died in the Earlswood asylum aged 18. I suspect that the fun of New Zealand went out of  Ethel’s life and she became a long suffering wife. The privileges of wealth gradually fell away over the course of their marriage, so that by the time of Montagu’s death, they were living in a small bungalow in Hove with no servants. 

Montagu died in 1933, and Ethel went to live with her married daughter Mary Cecil in Winchester College, where her husband was the headmaster. She died in Winchester in 1947 of senile dementia.

There is an odd addendum placed on her death certificate by her daughter and son in law to the effect that  her name was ‘otherwise Smith’ and had married Montagu Lomax ‘otherwise Smith’. I am intrigued and would love to know why her daughter went to the effort, and presumably to the expense of making this addendum. Did Ethel resent the fact that her married name had been changed?

ethel death cert

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