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Lily Pettigrew (born Lilian Pettigrew, on 25 Feb 1870, in Portsmouth in the UK) was a famous artist's model in turn-of-the-century London, alongside her equally famous sisters Hetty and Rose. She is the woman depicted in numerous illustrious works by J A M Whistler and J W Godward, amongst others.

According to her Wikipedia page (the only one available is in Spanish) she took her own life in São Paulo, Brazil, on 26 Feb 1920. However:

  • This doesn't fit with what little I know of her life. Why on earth would she be in Brazil?
  • I can't back this claim up with any source outside of Wikipedia and its sister projects.

What I'd like is either a refutation or a confirmation of this Brazilian story.


Some useful stuff I've found so far:

  • A search through British birth, marriage and death records (using Free BMD) faithfully corroborates the date of birth given on Wikipedia, but none of the death (or marriage) records match our particular Lilian Pettigrew.
  • According to this article, '[n]othing is known about Lily after 1911'.
  • The aforementioned Wikipedia page gives Miss Pettigrew's cause of death as 'Suicidio por salto al vacío'. A Spanish speaker has confirmed that this means that she died by jumping from a great height.

A bit of context: the Spanish Wikipedia page for Lily's sister, Harriet Pettigrew, states that Harriet died following a fall on 30 Oct 1953, at 86, in Buenos Aires. Perhaps this adds some credibility to her sister dying in Brazil? However:

  • This page says that the death of one Harriet S Pettigrew - our Harriet Pettigrew's middle name was Selina - was registered in March (or January or February) 1953, with the age given as 83.
  • The above record states that the death was registered in Croydon (a London borough). But I presume that, even in the 1950s, if a British national died abroad, the death would still be registered in the UK? But then why wasn't Lily's death registered?
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    Tough question. Concerning Brazil, her sister Harriet apparently died in Argentina in 1953 so one possible line of research might be if Harriet was previously in Brazil with her sister. – Lars Bosteen May 26 at 8:58
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    I'd translate "Suicidio por salto al vacío" as "suicide by jumping into the void", so yes, "Suicide by jumping from a height" sounds reasonable. – sempaiscuba May 26 at 11:09
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    @sempaiscuba Thank you. I presume from your username that you're a native Spanish speaker? The word vacío suggested either outer space or a vacuum, which was confusing me. While I've got a Spanish speaker, the cause of Harriet's death is given as 'Caída'. I've interpreted that as meaning that she died after having fallen over, as old ladies are wont to do. Is that correct? (Obviously, I'll be putting the answers to these questions into an edit of the question, and not leaving them in the comments!) – chancellorofpaphos May 26 at 11:24
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    Sorry, but I'm just a Brit with some limited Spanish skills. However, I do wonder if 'Caída' in that context might not be the equivalent of 'Syncope', which used to appear not infrequently as a cause of death on death certificates here. – sempaiscuba May 26 at 11:30
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    @chancellorofpaphos I'm a native Spanish speaker and I can confirm "suicidio por salto al vacío" means she jumped from a high height. Although this cause could be applied to jumping from a cliff, it's very usual for jumping through a window or from a balcony. – Carlos Martin May 26 at 11:49
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According to this article in the British Art Journal from 2014:

[Lily] married John Boyden Barrett in 1898 and, probably because her husband did not approve, her modelling career ended. For two decades she appears to have lived a comfortable, married life, living in rented houses in various parts of London with her husband. Thereafter, her situation seems to have gone downhill. By 1930, Lily and John were no longer able to afford to rent a whole house, and they moved into a shared flat with Hetty. Frustratingly, what happened to Lily after this is not known and no details of her death have been traced. We do know that her husband died in 1952, living, like Hetty, in a state-run old people’s home that had original­ly been a Victorian workhouse. His death certificate lists him as ‘street singer’.

This directly contradicts the 1920 death date, and it seems very unlikely that she wound up in South America.

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