Frances (Fanny) Jarman, the daughter of John Jarman and and his second wife, Martha Maria Mottershed was born above a shop in Elephant and Castle Yard in Hull on 8th February 1802. Her father, a lawyer turned actor, was involved in the Yorkshire touring company of Tate Wilkinson. Her mother was also an actress.
Fanny became a child actress and appeared with leading performers such as Sarah Siddons and Dorothy Jordan. In 1814 Fanny and her mother joined the Bath Theatre Company. Eventually she progressed to principal parts, appearing as Juliet in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. By 1822 she was appearing at the Crow Street Theatre in Dublin. Two years later she appeared with William Macready , who was considered the country's leading actor. It has been claimed that this "was the beginning of a long professional collaboration and personal friendship." In 1824 her mother retired and so she became the breadwinner of the family.
In 1827 Fanny Jarman appeared at Covent Garden as Ophelia along side Charles Kemble in Hamlet. This was followed by a production of Merchant of Venice where she took the role of Portia whereas Edmund Kean played Shylock. One critic commented: "She does all correctly - elegantly - well - but there is still something wanting. It is a performance - a picture - not the thing itself... we rather deem her an actress of study than of impulse." The drama critic of The Morning Chronicle suggested that one of her problems was that her legs were not as pretty as some actresses.
An Irish critic argued: "Is it that Miss Jarman's name has never been uttered by the lips of scandal that she has been thought less interesting by the Cockneys? Or is it that she would not condescend to those fantastic tricks and meretricious graces which have always a charm for the gross minds of a metropolitan mob?" Blackwood Magazine also supported Jarman by claiming that she had "grace, elegance and beauty". The writer added that along with Fanny Kemble and Frances Kelly they "are as much respected for their viryues in private life, as they are admired for their genius on the stage."
In 1829, Fanny Jarman moved to Scotland, where, in 1831, she met Thomas Lawless Ternan. They married on 21st September 1834. They immediately travelled to America where they toured for the next three years. On 26th February, 1835, he wrote to a friend: "Our success has been brilliant - indeed far more so than our most sanguine and best friends could possibly have anticipated. We played a short engagement at Boston lately, and the receipts of the theatre, for two nights, were much greater than even the Kembles had drawn, within the same period. We cleared there, in that time, upwards of $2,200, say £500 sterling. We are equally fortunate here, and the same in every town we have appeared in. we return to Boston on 11th March, to perform fifteen nights more, and I have no doubt a second engagement will be even more productive than the first. So great was the excitement on the last night we played there that the boxes were sold by auction, and double prices obtained in almost every instance."
A daughter, Thomas Lawless Ternan was born in 1835. This was followed by Maria Ternan (1837) and Ellen Lawless Ternan (1839). After the birth of the third child the family moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, where Ternan became manager of the Theatre Royal, his wife was the principal actress. The three daughters also appeared in productions.
In 1844 Fanny's husband had a mental breakdown and entered the asylum at Bethnal Green. As Claire Tomalin , the author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has pointed out: "It was a grim place, and treatment of those with General Paralysis of the Insane - this was the diagnosis of Ternan's condition - was necessarily dreadful and humiliating. Since there was no cure, restraint was the only course available; some patients were kept chained in the early stages, when they might be violent or suicidal, though as the disease took its course this became unnecessary. In the last stage they became emaciated, incontinent, unable to feed themselves, with contracted limbs and bedsores; and so died, either of a fit, pneumonia, diarrhoea or exhaustion." Ternan died in 1846.
Fanny Ternan and her three daughters continued to tour. In the early 1850s she worked with Samuel Phelps at Sadler's Wells and in 1853 took part in a royal command performance at Windsor. By 1855 the family settled in London and worked for Charles Kean at the Princess's Theatre.
1857 Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens wrote The Frozen Deep. The inspiration for the play came from the expedition led by Rear-Admiral John Franklin in 1845 to find the North-West Passage. Dickens offered to arrange its first production in his own home, Tavistock House. Dickens also wanted to play the part of the hero, Richard Wardour, who after struggling against jealousy and murderous impulses, sacrifices his life to rescue his rival in love.
Dickens, who grew a beard for the role, also gave parts to three of his children, Charles Culliford Dickens, Kate Dickens, Mamie Dickens and his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth. Dickens later recalled that taking part in the play was "like writing a book in company... a satisfaction of a most singular kind, which had no exact parallel in my life". Dickens invited the theatre critic from The Times to attend the first production on 6th January, 1857 in the converted schoolroom. He was very impressed and praised Kate for her "fascinating simplicity", Mamie for her "dramatic instinct" and Georgina for her "refined vivacity".
The temporary theatre held a maximum audience of twenty-five, four performances were given. A private command performance, with the same cast, was also given for Queen Victoria and her family on 4th July and three public benefit performances were given in London in order to raise money for the widow of Dickens's friend, Douglas Jerrold.
Charles Dickens approached his friend, the actor and playwright, Alfred Wigan, about putting on a production of The Frozen Deep in Manchester. This time Dickens wanted the women to be played by professional actresses. Wigan suggested the names of Frances Jarman and her three daughters. The play was given three performances in the Free Trade Hall with Ellen playing the part that was originally performed by Kate Dickens. During the production Dickens fell in love with the eighteen-year-old Ellen Ternan.
The author of The Invisible Woman (1990) has argued: "A bright, penniless girl of eighteen who found herself admired by a rich older man had good reason to be excited. The role laid down by her society were suddenly reversed: having been always powerless, she now began to be in command. In Nelly's case the man she might command was also brilliant and famous, a charming and entertaining companion, and in a position to transform her life, which in any case held few counter-attractions." Dickens wrote to Wilkie Collins claiming that "there never was a man so seized and rended by one spirit".
Two months later Dickens moved out of the master bedroom and now slept alone in a single bed. At the same time he wrote to Emile De La Rue in Genoa, saying that Catherine was insanely jealous of his friendships and that she was unable to get on with her children. He wrote to other friends complaining of Catherine's "weaknesses and jealousies" and that she was suffering from a "confused mind".
Dickens provided considerable financial assistance to the family and was able to travel to Italy with her daughter, Frances Eleanor Ternan, who wanted to become an opera singer. He also provided a house at 2 Houghton Place, Ampthill Square. This was transferred to Ellen Ternan when she reached the age of twenty-one. Kate Dickens later told her friend, Gladys Storey: "She (Ellen) had brains, which she used to educate herself, to bring her mind more on a level with his own. Who could blame her... He had the world at his feet. She was a young girl of eighteen, elated and proud to be noticed by him."
It has been suggested by Edmund Wilson that Estella in Great Expectations is based on Ellen and that Fanny Jarman is Miss Havisham. Claire Tomalin disagrees, arguing: "Mrs Ternan makes an unconvincing Miss Havisham, but that's not the only reason for questioning this version. From what we know of the Ternans, of Nelly herself and the whole situation, it is at least as likely that she was nervous, confused and uncertain as that she was indifferent or frigid."
Between 1862 and 1865 there is no evidence that Ellen Ternan lived in England. She did not even attend her sister's wedding. We do know that Charles Dickens spent a lot of time during this period travelling between London and Paris. His son, Henry Fielding Dickens, claimed that Ellen was taken to France when she became pregnant and had "a boy but it died". This is supported by Kate Dickens who said that Ellen had a son "who died in infancy". It is impossible to check this story as the birth records for the 1860s were destroyed during the Paris Commune in 1871.
Ellen Ternan next appears in the official record on 9th June 1865, when she was with her mother and on a train that crashed at Staplehurst. Fanny and Ellen were in the front coach, which was the only one that did not leave the tracks. The rest of the coaches rolled down the bank and ten people were killed and 40 injured.
The following day Dickens wrote to the station master at Charing Cross: "A lady who was in the carriage with me in the terrible accident on Friday, lost, in the struggle of being got out of the carriage, a gold watch-chain with a smaller gold watch-chain attached, a bundle of charms, a gold watch-key, and a gold seal engraved Ellen. I promised the lady to make her loss known at headquarters, in case these trinkets should be found."
In 1866 Fanny returned to the stage in The Master of Ravenswood and The Corsican Brothers . Her last years were spent in Oxford, at The Lawn, St Giles's Road East, the home of her daughter Maria.
Frances Jarman died of acute bronchitis on 30th October 1873.
(1) Thomas Lawless Ternan , letter to a friend (26th February, 1835)
Our success has been brilliant - indeed far more so than our most sanguine and best friends could possibly have anticipated. We played a short engagement at Boston lately, and the receipts of the theatre, for two nights, were much greater than eve n the Kembles had drawn, within the same period. We cleared there, in that time, upwards of $2,200, say £500 sterling. We are equally fortunate here, and the same in every town we have appeared in. we return to Boston on 11th March, to perform fifteen nights more, and I have no doubt a second engagement will be even more productive than the first. So great was the excitement on the last night we played there that the boxes were sold by auction, and double prices obtained in almost every instance.