The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Sister Charlotte Mary

Sister Charlotte Mary

The Community of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded by the Rev Arthur Douglas Wagner in 1855, and formally constituted in 1858. It was originally based at 3-4 Queen Square, Brighton, and initially its functions were to care for the fabric of St Paul's, to help with the Sunday school, and carry out district visiting. Wagner took over the house for female penitents (prostitutes) run by his cousin George Wagner in Lewes Road, Brighton after the latter's death in 1857, and moved it to houses in Wykeham Terrace, adjoining Queen Square; the sisters thus became involved in rescue work. The institution eventually comprised an orphanage, a girls’ school, an infirmary for aged females, a dispensary for the poor of St Paul’s parish, a relief room, a nursery and an embroidery school. Coal and clothing clubs were organised, and 600 blankets were available for loan during the winter; there was also a needlework society and a bible class. In 1912 the community moved to a new, purpose-built house in Ovingdean.

Sister Charlotte Mary was born Charlotte Coleman Selby in 1843, the daughter of George Selby, an attorney of Serjeant’s Inn, Holborn. With six sisters and four brothers, she came from a large family. By 1851 the Selbys were living at Southwick in Sussex and her father was in business as an iron enameller and manufacturer of brass tubes. However, he went bankrupt in 1855 and by 1861 the family were living at 3 Uxbridge Road, West London. It is unclear exactly when Charlotte entered the convent. This portrait is dated 1868 but according to the registers of St Mary’s Home (now in East Sussex Record Office) Charlotte only became a novice in 1872, professing her vows on 5 April 1875. However, this information comes from a volume that appears to have been compiled much later, perhaps in the 1930s, and the entries for the earlier sisters are sketchy at best. Another possible explanation is that Charlotte was still only a postulant when this portrait was taken and had yet to begin her novitiate. It is certain, however, that Sister Charlotte Mary died in Brighton on 3 February 1878, aged only 34.

Photographed by Hennah and Kent of Brighton.

Code: 125838
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