Arisaig House, Beasdale, Arisaig PH39 4NR, UK
Constance Charlotte Astley (January 1851 – November 19, 1935) was a traveller and diarist, whose diary of a journey to New Zealand in 1897-98 has been published.
Constance travelled extensively through New Zealand with her friend Margaret Shaen (1852/1854 – 1936). Through letters she sent back to Scotland she assembled an album of her trip, with her watercolours and Shaen's photographs. This has been edited and published for the first time in 1997.
Frances Hodgkins spent her adult life in England and Europe as an “expatriate”. Her lover Dorothy "Dolla" Richmond lived overseas for periods and was part of a complex triangular relationship with the wealthy Constance Astley, lover of Margaret Shaen, before returning to Wellington with Frances Hodgkins. Richmond supported herself as a teacher and seems to have been part of discreet friendship circles in Wellington city and on the eastern side of Wellington Harbour, where the gift of a York Bay cottage from Margaret Shaen had provided her with a roof of her own.
In England, Dorothy stayed with the Shaens, unitarians and family friends, and with Constance “Connie” Charlotte Astley at Arisaig in Scotland. The relationship between Richmond and Constance Astley, who was ten years older, seems to have begun in January 1898 in Wellington, when Astley was touring New Zealand with her lover Margaret Josephine Shaen (1854−1936).
Astley's family were prosperous English gentry, with many socialist, utopian, humanitarian and unitarian friends, including artist and socialist William Morris and his group, and Astley was educated in the classics, mathematics, literature, languages and basic science. The family lived at Arisaig House on Arisaig Island, Scotland; when Astley was twelve her mother died (of a bronchial ailment), and her father when she was eighteen. He left his estate equally to his ch ldren, including the daughters. Constance and her sister Gertrude moved to London, continued their education, including art classes, and supported women's suffrage and women’s rights. They returned to Arisaig House in the 1880s, where they lived until Gertrude’s marriage, and after this Constance lived there alone.
Constance Astley’s father, Francis Astley, was a friend of fellow unitarian William Shaen. William’s eldest daughter, Margaret Shaen, was a strong temperance supporter as also a unitarian. Constance and Margaret became close friends, travelling together first to Europe and then making an extensive journey to New Zealand in 1897 − 1898. Here, they spent time with the Richmond and Atkinson families, and though Shaen and Astley were lovers, the strong attraction between Richmond and Astley is evident from Astley's journal. During their visit Richmond's father died but, despite this sad event, the women were able to spend time together, all three taking a return cruise on the Isis from Nelson to Tonga.
Shaen and Astley planned to live together at Arisaig after their return from New Zealand, but this did not eventuate. The following year, in 1899, Richmond travelled to Scotland to stay with Astley and Shaen. By 1901 letters to Richmond from her married sister Alla reveal that a complex love triangle had developed, between Richmond and Astley, Richmond and Hodgkins, and Astley and Shaen.
Astley remained at Arisaig for the rest of her life. Though she had kept journals for over thirty years, these ceased in 1902, a last page containing a postcard from Richmond to Astley from Land's End. Though Shaen spent several months each year with Astley, she never made Arisaig her home. A portrait of Richmond remained in the sitting-room for some years after Astley’s death in 1935, but after Richmond returned to New Zealand in 1903, she and Astley did not meet again. However, Margaret Shaen and her sister Lily visited New Zealand in 1910 and perhaps it was Astley who made Richmond the gift of a cottage through Shaen at that time.
Richmond died at the home of a niece in North Terrace, Wellington on 16 April 1935, aged seventy-four, the same year as Astley.
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