Contact the Author |

Famous Borthwicks

Peter Borthwick was born in the Parish of Borthwick, Midlothian in 1804. He graduated from Edinburgh University and then Cambridge where he developed a reputation as a brilliant public speaker. He had gone to Cambridge with the intention of entering the English church and had produced several learned works on theological subjects. Then he considered a political career. In 1834 he was “voted as Conservative MP for Evesham, Worcestershire“. (I presume a national representative). In 1847 he decided not to apply for re-election and became the editor of The Morning Post, a London newspaper. A few years later his health began to deteriorate and he died in 1852, aged just 48. He was succeeded as Editor by his son Algernon.

Algernon Borthwick began his career in journalism as the paper‘s Paris correspondent. In 1876 Algernon bought the paper and began to focus on foreign affairs, literature and the arts. In another respect it was way ahead of its time – highlighting the lifestyles of the powerful and wealthy in the same way much of today’s media is obsessed with celebrity.

In 1885 Algernon was elected “Conservative MP for Kensington South”. In the House of Commons he was an ally of Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of Sir Winston. In 1890 he was knighted and five years later he became Baron Glenesk, a title which passed when he died in 1908. Sir Algernon’s son Oliver was editor of the The Morning Post, but he died in 1905 when he was only in his early 30’s. When Sir Algernon died control of the paper passed to his daughter Lillias, who was married to the 7th Earl Bathurst. Under their ownership The Morning Post became notorious by its offensive articles. The paper floundered and was eventually sold to another newspaper in 1937.

Martha “Mamah” Borthwick (June 1869 -August 15, 1914) is primarily noted for her relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright, which ended when she was murdered.

Martha was born in Boone, Iowa. She earned her BA at the University of Michigan in 1892. She later worked as a librarian in Port Huron Michigan. In 1899, Borthwick married Edwin Cheney, an electrical engineer from Oak Park Illinois. They had two children: John (1902) and Martha (1905).

Mamah met Wright’s wife, Kitty, through a social club. In 1903 Edwin commissioned Wright to design a home for them, now known as the Edwin H Cheney House, and, as of 2005, housing a bed and breakfast.

Local gossips noticed Wright’s flirtations, and he soon developed an unfavorable reputation in Oak Park. It’s believed that Mamah and Wright began having an affair about 1905, likely after her daughter Martha was born. Mamah Cheney was a modern woman with interests outside the home. She was an early feminist and Wright viewed her as his intellectual equal. The two fell in love, even though Wright had been married for almost 20 years. Often the two could be seen taking rides in Wright’s automobile through Oak Park, and they became the talk of the town. Wright’s wife, Kitty, sure that this attachment would fade as the others had, refused to grant him a divorce. Neither would Edwin Cheney grant a divorce to Mamah. In 1909 Wright and Mamah Cheney eloped to Europe; leaving their own spouses and children behind. The scandal that erupted virtually destroyed Wright’s ability to practice architecture in the United States.

Wright remained in Europe for one year (though Mamah Cheney returned to the United States a few times) and set up home in Italy. During this time, Edwin Cheney granted her a divorce, though Kitty still refused to grant one to her husband. After Wright’s return to the United States in late 1910, he began to build himself a new home, which he called Talisen, located in Spring Green, Wisconsin about 200 miles from Chicago.

On August 15, 1914, while Wright was in Chicago completing a large project, Julian Carlton, a male servant whom he had hired several months earlier, set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin and attacked people with an ax as they fled from the fire. Carlton was involved in a dispute with Wright, in this rampage he murdered seven people. The dead included Mamah; her two children, John and Martha; a gardener; a draftsman; a workman; and the workman’s son. Two people survived the mayhem, one of whom helped to put out the fire that almost completely consumed the residential wing of the house.

A detailed nonfiction account of the tragedy at Taliesin is provided in Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan.

Mamah’s time with Frank Lloyd Wright is the basis of Loving Frank, a novel by Nancy Horan. She is also a subject of T.C. Boyle‘s 2009 twelfth novel, The Women.[1]

An opera, Shining Brow, covers the story of the Cheneys and the Wrights, from when they meet in Wright’s office, through the aftermath of Mamah’s death.

A contemporary Peter Borthwick is a singer. In London England, he performs new arrangements of classic jazz standards from swing to bossa nova with some of the capital’s top jazz musicians and is a regular artist at London’s leading music venues from Pizza on the Park to the Pigalle Club, Picadilly. His band consists of a sax, bass, drums and keys.

A contemporary John Borthwick is a travel writer and photographer living in Sydney Australia. His main newspaper outlets are the Weekend Australian, the Sun-Herald (Sydney) and the Sunday Herald-Sun (Melbourne). In color magazines his stories appear regularly in Luxury Travel, Vacations, Holidays For Couples and Qantas Australian He has received awards for Australian Travel Writer of the Year and for the Travel Photograph of the Year. He has put together numerous travel guides and books, including two collections of his own journey writings, The Circumference of the Knowable World (1994) and Chasing Gauguin’s Ghost (2002). His photographs also appear in many Lonely Planet publications.