Bartolo Leopold D’Aubigné

Listed in the Downing Bible as a Godfather to William Noel Downing, is the name ‘B L D’Aubigné’. There are a few named photos of ‘D’Aubigné’, taken on shooting or fishing parties accompanying the Downings. He is also self-evidently present at the wedding of May Downing in 1906.

Mr D'Aubigné, Thrapston, 1903

Mr D’Aubigné, Thrapston, 1903

The full name of this godfather would appear to be Bartolo Leopold D’Aubigné, whose career and life is both enigmatic and remarkable. It gives rise to speculation as to how and why he became friends of William Edmund Downing, to the extent that he was invited to be godfather to his only son, Noel Downing, christened on 28 Mar 1889 in Holy Trinity, Smethwick.

Bartolo Leopold D’Aubigné was born in Cuba in 1848, moved to the United States and became a US citizen, He served in the 7th Michigan Cavalry in the US Civil war. He died in Vienna in 1908, but was buried in Duntisbourne Abbotts, Gloucestershire. In the 1891 and 1901 UK census he is listed as living in hotels in London with his wife Susan Sheldon D’Aubigné. Susan, an American citizen, died in Newhaven, Connecticut in 1933. The couple do not appear to have had any children.

The speculative link between D’Aubigné and the Downing family would appear to revolve around the Presbyterian roots of the Downings. His character and wide ranging interests probably appealed to William Edmund Downing’s more unconventional side. From the photographic evidence both shared a strong sense of humour.

The loose photos of D’Aubigne prone on the ground is tentatively grouped with others taken at a fishing party in the late 1890’s at Parkhill House in Scotland, where Walter Showell, William Edmund Downing’s father-in-law was fishing. There could therefore also be a link somehow between Bartolo and James Crombie, son-in-law to Walter Showell and owner of Parkhill House in Aberdeenshire.

"D'Aubigné done up", c. 1898

“D’Aubigné done up”, c. 1898

Sources and Notes

  • Uncle Walle is Walter Showell (Junior), uncle of the bride.
  • Noel Downing’s other godfather was his uncle, George Downing.
  • US records show that Susan D’Aubigné was in receipt of Bartolo’s Civil War Veteran’s pension until her death in 1933 (Ancestry). Her husband must have joined the regiment aged 16 – despite not being a US citizen at the time – presumably strongly motivated by the cause.
  • One key writer on Protestant thought at the time of William Edmund Downing’s education was a Swiss historian and minister Jean Henri Merle D’Aubigné. It is quite possible that Bartolo was in some way distantly related to Merle D’Aubigné. There was a large French diaspora in Cuba and some non-conformist element within that. In a treatise, co-authored by Merle D’Aubigné and Baptist Wriothesley Noel, published in 1849, the authors write down Twelve Articles (in the manner of Martin Luther and his followers) of what was wrong with the current state of religious authority at the time. Amongst the accusations, most fascinatingly, they castigate the church in Cuba for its involvement in trading land with slaves. Perhaps tenuously, we can also speculate that William Edmund Downing found some inspiration here to name his son Noel after Baptist Noel and his writings. Who better to cement this connection in the Christening ceremony, than his new-found friend Bartolo D’Aubigné and make him Godfather. Unfortunately no books by Baptist Noel or Merle D’Aubigné survive from William Edmund Downing’s collection. Only one book, awarded at his confirmation, in Oct 1866 does exist. This is the conventional Bishop Wilson’s Last Supper, given to him by ‘his friend and well-wisher WH’.
Last updated on 22 October 2021 by JJ Morgan