Sheila Chisholm - Muses & The Beau Monde
Margaret Sheila Mackellar Chisholm born 9 September 1895, was an Australian socialite and "it girl" in British high society during and after World War I.
She was raised on her family's property "Wollogorang", near Breadalbane, New South Wales, with her two older brothers, John and Roy. As the only girl in a rough, male-dominated world, she often attempted to match and outdo the working men at tasks on the station. She recalled how she liked to "go out further than the furthest man" when swimming at Bondi Beach, until she witnessed a man lose his leg in a shark attack.
In her unpublished memoir, Waltzing Matilda, she described her adolescent self as "a queer mix of romanticism and boyishness ... I was quite unconscious of my looks".
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, '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'.
Pictured Left: Sheila with by the then princes, Bertie on the left, and Edward.
On 14 November 1928 she married 26-year-old Sir John Charles Peniston ('Buffles') Milbanke. 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'.
Shelia was also attracted to the arts and had a deep appreciation for Australia's flora and fauna.
A friend of Evelyn Waugh, in 1947 Sheila told him about a beautiful graveyard in 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 ( a travel agency) in Fortnum & Mason.
Chisholm dated Italian-American actor Rudolph Valentino, who gifted to her his "lucky bracelet". He died six months later and Chisholm regretted it was because she had taken his luck.
On 29 October 1954 in St Marylebone, she married Dmitri Alexandrovich Romanov, a Russian prince and a descendant of Tsar Nicholas I. They lived modestly in 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 Dmitri 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 Cecil Beaton are held by the 7th Earl of Rosslyn.
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