Queen Anne Cabinet With Tale To Tell
Gift Of Sir Henry Irving To The Surgeon Sent To Save His Son’s Life
The Queen Anne bureau cabinet is expected to sell for around £5,000 in a Surrey antiques auction later this month, but an inscription on a brass plaque it bears recalls a little known historical twist linking the legendary Victorian actor Sir Henry Irving and a pioneer surgeon sent to save his son’s life.
When tragic Lawrence Irving, younger son of the Lyceum Theatre thespian, shot himself in an attempted suicide, the call went out to find the finest doctor in the land to save the young man’s life.
Enter Scot Robert Lawson Tait (1845-1899) one of the most famous pioneering surgeons of his day, who was dispatched from his practice in Birmingham to the stricken Lawrence Irving’s bedside in Dublin.
The incident, which took place in 1892, is recorded in the book “Lawson Tait The Rebellious Surgeon”, by John Shepherd. Tait inspected the young man’s chest wound, found it not to be life-threatening and complimented the Irish doctors on the speed and efficacy of their treatment of the patient. More importantly, though, was his being able to reassure the distraught Sir Henry that his son would live.
Sir Henry had met Tait after inviting him to one of his many society dinner parties and the two became firm friends. Fearing the worst after his son’s suicide attempt, Sir Henry was relieved to have the surgeon to call on and in gratitude, presented him with the bureau cabinet.
Made from English walnut with herringbone crossbanding, the cabinet has a double domed top with a pair of panelled doors, behind which are bookshelves, pigeonholes and a small central cupboard with drawers and secret drawers, while the writing desk has a fall-flap with further pigeonholes and drawers. The engraved brass plaque is attached to the front of the flap. It reads simply: “From Henry Irving Lyceum Theatre London to Lawson Tait Birmingham Jany 9-92.
The cabinet has remained in the same family since it was presented to Lawson Tait in 1892, passing by descent to the present owner. It will be sold together with a copy of John Shepherd’s book by premier Surrey fine art auctioneer Ewbank Clarke Gammon Wellers on Wednesday June 30. It is expected to sell for £3,000-5,000.
Lawson Tait was born in Edinburgh and became a pioneer in pelvic and abdominal surgery, later specialising in gynaecology. He was instrumental in the opening of the Birmingham Hospital for Women where he worked for 20 years.
Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905) was known as “The Governor” to those under his supervision at the Lyceum. He was the first actor to be awarded a knighthood and is thought to have been the inspiration for the title character in Lyceum manager Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula.
Tragic Lawrence Irving (1871–1914), became a dramatist but later drowned with his wife in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland following a collision with another vessel in 1914.
For further information, please contact Chris Ewbank FRICS ASFAV, telephone 01483 223101.