A Knight’s Tale (9: Before The Coming Revolution)

Mabel Knight, the most widely travelled of the siblings, followed the early career pattern of her elder sister, Ethel. Aged sixteen she attended a boarding school as a pupil/teacher in return for board and lodging. As usual there was no salary. This would come the next year as a teacher in a small school in Cornwall. For an annual salary of £10 per annum she was required to teach from 9 a.m. to 12 and from 2 p.m. to 4; to take boarders for daily walks from 4 to 5; to dust the drawing-room and schoolroom; and to make her own bed.

Further teaching posts in England were to follow before moving to Germany in 1905, and taking up positions of varying periods and satisfaction as nursery governesses. Her happiest engagement included charge of the three younger children of the Blumenthals who had made their fortune at Hopetown during the South African War.

A brief summer assignment in Pomerania, on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea was followed by a nursery post in Davos, Switzerland. This came to an end when her skating charge ran off and and fell on the ice – a minor accident for which Mabel was dismissed. Discipline of an employed domestic staff member in those days was harsh. She returned to England and spent two years on various teaching posts.

Between 1904 and 1907 my great aunt enjoyed a mostly long distance relationship with Dutch engineer, André Schmidt who was working in Tokyo. She was apparently devastated by his death in a tragic accident while showing a group of Japanese students round an electrical works in Hamburg.

The following year, having recovered enough from her loss, Mabel took a position teaching English in Batoum, Georgia. Initially, four children were her pupils. This expanded to include students from the school run by her employers; the son of the Commandant of the town; its chief chemist; the Governor’s only son, and others, such as the manager of

tea plantations in Chakra.

There, she was befriended by The Consul, Mr Stevens, and his family. For several years she enjoyed a very active social life – a “great life”.

After four more years Mabel moved to St Petersburg as governess to the children of the Professor Ott, Court Doctor there. Shortly before Christmas 1912, because the family were moving to Nice, she took rooms in the centre of the city, teaching many private students. Ethel was teaching and living elsewhere in the Tsarist capital. Before the coming revolution the two sisters met frequently, going to dances and parties together. “St Petersburg was a wonderful city to live in before WW1. At night the streets were filled with almost as much traffic as in the day and it was quite safe to come home late at night after a dance (2 and 3 in the morning).”


  1. The tea plantation manager is proudly wearing a St George Cross, a medal awarded to soldiers for extreme bravery. Judging by his facial features, he is a buryat or kalmyk, rather than a Georgian. Batoum remained a lovely city even after the revolution; I’ve been there quite a few times on business.
    Your great-aunt had an eventful and exciting life, Derrick.

  2. Intruiging tale. I’d love to see that diary. There is an entire book in there. And thanks to koolkosherkitchen for the extra information. Now, I wonder what were the circumstances of Mabel and Ethel’s parents?

    1. Thanks very much, Gwen. Chris has produced pages on them, but I have decided they are beyond my scope. We’ve always been amused that her parents were John (the name runs through the generations – even to me and my son Michael) Knight and Harriet, née Noble. Tutoring and education was in the blood – John being a strict disciplinarian.

      1. I wonder though, why the women weren’t necessarily steered towards marriage and family. The loss of so many young men to WW1 does not quite explain it away. Did John senior raise his daughters to be educators? Or did they want freedom from him (and subsequent men?), with teaching being one of the few careers available to women then. Such a story could be weaved with this material.

  3. What an exciting life. I agree with Merril, what a great television series this would make. And with your title A Knight’s Tale, though I think there is already a book of the same name. So, How about Governed by a Knight?

  4. Oh! Mabel…what an amazing, adventurous, wonderful woman! What a full life she lived. I feel honored to read about her! She’s a great role model for young women of all generations. I can see Ella having some Mabel in her and Ella will have a great life, too.
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  5. This is so interesting! How wonderful to have these details of family history. Your great Aunt Mabel worked hard and still enjoyed life. I have a feeling she enjoyed her work, too. She reminds me of my aunts, Ruth and Margaret who never married (their boyfriends were both killed in war) but they worked hard and lived rich, full lives.

  6. Mabel was a fascinating person, working and traveling her way around the world. Any idea what sort of accident took the life of her dear André Schmidt? Accidental electrocution?

        1. When Jackie was 20, with three children including Michael in tow she received a visit from canvassers who wanted to know whether she would vote for their party. Her reply sent them scurrying. (she still had to be 21 in those days)

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