Sheila – the Australian Ingenue Who Bewitched British Society
24th February 2014
6:00pm to 8:00pm
(This event is now fully-subscribed)
The Britain-Australia Society is pleased to be arranging an evening to celebrate the life of a little-known Australian who had a huge impact in her time …
A reception to launch Robert Wainwright’s book, “Sheila” will be held in the Downer Room of Australia House with superb wines from The Lane winery generously donated by George Vestey and the event sponsored by Allen & Unwin.
Margaret Sheila Mackellar Chisholm (1895-1969), high society beauty, was born on 9 September 1895 at Woollahra, Sydney, youngest of three children of native-born parents Harry Chisholm, grazier of Wollogorang, Breadalbane, and his wife Margaret, née Mackellar. Sheila was educated at home. Overseas when World War I broke out, she went with her mother to Egypt in 1915, planning to nurse soldiers and to see her brother John who was serving with the Australian Imperial Force. Sheila was described by an old friend Captain F. C. Aarons as being a good dancer and possessing a sense of humour, ‘rather tall [5 ft 6 ins (168 cm)] with excellent deportment . . . not prone to cosmetics as she had a beautiful complexion’.
She met Francis Edward Scudamore St Clair-Erskine, Lord Loughborough (d.1929), son of the 5th Earl of Rosslyn; ‘Luffy’ was convalescing from wounds received at Gallipoli as a first lieutenant, Royal Naval Armoured Cars. Sheila married him at the British Consulate, Cairo, on 27 December 1915. They went to England in 1916 and were to have two sons. The marriage suffered financial hardship from Loughborough’s inveterate gambling, inherited from his father who was the subject of the popular song, The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo. The Loughboroughs lived in Sydney in the early 1920s and were divorced in Edinburgh in 1926.
In London in the 1920s Sheila frequented the Embassy Club and was a member of the Prince of Wales’s set, also known as ‘The Darlings’: she explained, ‘we called everybody Darling and once my husband heard me calling the taxi driver Darling’. At the register office, Paddington, on 14 November 1928 she married 26-year-old Sir John Charles Peniston (‘Buffles’) Milbanke, 11th baronet, of Halnaby, Yorkshire. Sheila Milbanke appeared in the diaries of (Sir) Henry (‘Chips’) Channon, a leader of London society, who in January 1935 declared her to be ‘calm, lovely, gentle, restful and perfect’. With a classic, oval face, dark brown eyes and auburn hair, she had a ‘smile like a Lely court beauty’.
A friend of Evelyn Waugh, in 1947 Sheila told him about a beautiful graveyard at Los Angeles, United States of America, in which she thought that religion and art had been brought to their highest association. Waugh was intrigued and went with her to see Forest Lawn cemetery which was to inspire his novel, The Loved One. After Sir John died that year, Sheila ran Milbanke Travel Ltd from Fortnum & Mason Ltd, Piccadilly, London. On 29 October 1954 at the register office, St Marylebone, she married Dimitri Alexandrovitch Romanoff, a Russian prince and a descendant of Tsar Nicholas I. They lived modestly at Belgravia. In 1967 they came to Australia, her first visit home since flying to Sydney in 1937 to see her mother. Interviewed by the press on the coincidence of all her husbands being titled, Sheila said: ‘I married them all for love. None of them ever had any money’.
Princess Dimitri died on 13 October 1969 at Westminster, London; she was buried with Episcopal rites in Roslin chapel, near Edinburgh, where there is a memorial window to her younger son who had been killed on active service with the Royal Air Force in 1939. Her elder son, who succeeded as 6th Earl of Rosslyn, survived her A woman of style and fashion, Sheila was an outstanding figure of the London social scene for half a century. A portrait by Simon Elwes and a sketch by (Sir) Cecil Beaton are held by the 7th Earl of Rosslyn.
This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993
This is a free event to members but please register so that we can cater for numbers.
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