Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sheridan, Helen Selina

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601446Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 52 — Sheridan, Helen Selina1897William Fraser Rae

SHERIDAN, HELEN SELINA, afterwards successively Mrs. Blackwood, Lady Dufferin, and Countess of Gifford (1807–1867), song-writer, was the eldest daughter of Tom Sheridan (younger son of Richard Brinsley Sheridan) and his wife, Caroline Henrietta, born Callander [see Sheridan, Caroline Henrietta]. She was taken by her father and mother in 1813 to the Cape of Good Hope, whence, after her father's death on 12 Sept. 1817, she returned home with her mother in the Albion transport. The vessel called at St. Helena, and Miss Sheridan saw Bonaparte walking in the garden at Longwood. The remainder of her girlish days were spent in the apartments in Hampton Court Palace which the prince regent permitted her mother to occupy. She was only seventeen when Commander Price Blackwood met her at a ball, fell in love with her, proposed, and was accepted. He was the youngest of three sons of Hans, lord Dufferin, by his marriage with Mehetabel Temple; and, owing to the death of his two brothers, he was heir to the title and estate in Ireland of Baron Dufferin and Clandeboye. His parents were opposed to the match, as Blackwood had nothing but his pay, and his bride nothing but her charms of person and mind. Hence, when the marriage service was ended at St. George's, Hanover Square, on 4 July 1825, the young couple started for Italy, and took up their abode in Florence, where their only child, the present Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, was born on 21 June 1826.

After two years' residence in Italy, Commander Blackwood and his wife returned with their son to England, and lived in a small cottage at Thames Ditton. When visiting her sisters in London, Mrs. Blackwood was introduced to the world of wit and fashion in which her sisters moved, and there she made the acquaintance of the Miss Berrys, Samuel Rogers, Henry Taylor, Brougham, Lockhart, Sydney Smith, and Benjamin Disraeli, the last of whom told Lord Ronald Gower in later years that she was ‘his chief admiration.’ Mrs. Blackwood desired to make the elder Disraeli's acquaintance. One day Benjamin brought his father to Mrs. Norton's drawing-room, and said to Mrs. Blackwood, in his somewhat pompous voice, ‘I have brought you my father. I have become reconciled to my father on two conditions: the first was that he should come to see you; the second that he should pay my debts’ (Memoir of Lady Dufferin, p. 59).

Her husband succeeded his father as Baron Dufferin and Clandeboye in the peerage of Ireland in November 1839, and he died on 21 July 1841, on board ship, off Belfast, aged 47, owing to an overdose of morphia, taken inadvertently. His widow dedicated herself to supervising her son's education till he came of age, and afterwards she accompanied him on his travels. A trip up the Nile in his company led to the publication, from her pen, in 1863, of ‘Lispings from Low Latitudes; or Extracts from the Journal of the Hon. Impulsia Gushington.’ Lady Dufferin also wrote a play called ‘Finesse; or a Busy Day in Messina,’ which was first performed at the Haymarket Theatre in 1863. The acting of Buckstone and Alfred Wigan contributed to a highly successful run. She neither acknowledged the authorship, nor was she present at a single representation. Her songs and verses were published anonymously, the first dating from her girlhood. Both her sister (Mrs. Norton) and she were under twenty-one when a publisher paid them 100l. for a collection of their songs. Some of her sweetest verses were addressed to her son on his birthdays; and these were published in 1894, along with other things from her pen, of which the chief are ‘The Charming Woman,’ written in 1835; ‘The Irish Emigrant,’ 1845; ‘The Fine Young English Gentleman,’ and an essay on ‘Keys.’

When George Hay, styled Earl of Gifford (son and heir of the Marquis of Tweeddale), was on his deathbed, Lady Dufferin went through the ceremony of marriage with him at his earnest request; she had refused to become his wife when he was full of health. This ceremony took place on 13 Oct. 1862, and he died on 22 Dec. Her own death took place at Dufferin Lodge, Highgate, on 13 June 1867.

[Memoir of Lady Dufferin written by the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, and prefixed to the collected edition of her Songs, Poems, and Verses, 1894.]

F. R.