Barbara Elrington Douglas

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Hon. Mrs. Barbara Elrington Douglas Arbuthnott was born Sept.12th 1822 into a wealthy Scottish family. Her father, Sir Neil Douglas, was a Scottish officer and Lieutenant General in the British Army. Her mother, Barbara Robertson, was the daughter of a wealthy banker in Edinburgh.

In her youth, Barbara studied Greek, Latin and German in Brussels and also learnt Hindi on her travels to the East with her father. She met Queen Victoria in 1842.

She married James Allen (1846) and gave birth to her only child, James Douglas Vaughan Allen (1847). Her husband died of cholera (1853). After her father died (1853), she married Captain Neil James Fergusson Blair of the Queen’s Life Guards . He died in 1862 and Barbara married her third husband, Hon. William Arbuthnott (1865). He was son of 8th Viscount of Arbuthnott.

The first journey to Sunndal, was on their honeymoon the summer of 1866 after William had been recommended the river Driva for salmon-fishing. They also came back in 1867 and 1868. Barbara loved the valley, with it’s spectacular mountains and scenery. She also became fond of the people and helped the most needy with food and money, for instance when they lost their belongings due to avalanches, floods or the crops failed. She taught them hygiene and her medical knowledge came in use. She brought poultry and swine over from Britain and wrote 2 books on poultry farming. She learnt to speak Norwegian with help from her dear friend, guide and translator, Oluf Endresen and also learnt the language by reading books written by famous Norwegian authors.

Barbara and William quarrelled more and more, often because of James who had epilepsy and used it for what it was worth. It is said that William thought he should join the army like his father and grandfather, but the weakly James just wanted to compose music and play the piano.

In September 1868 James died after a serious epileptic fit which the rumours said Barbara accused William to have caused. She buried James here at the “Löken” (Löykja) graveyard and sent William back to Scotland. She would never leave her son or the valley she had fallen in love with!

She bought half of the building “Löken” (Leikvin) where she, her lady-companion Mary Chalmers, Oluf Endresen, and her other servants lived. Mr Endresen died young and Lars Hoaas, a young teacher took over his job. Karen Lönset replaced Mary Chalmers who was now getting old and later died (1876).

Barbara started building their permanent home “Elverhöy” close to “Löken”. She also built “Alfheim” (1876), a mountain lodge high up in the valley Grödalen.
Her British bank went bankrupt in 1886. She sold some of her properties, but bankruptcy and forced sales was not to be avoided. She lived her last 8 years at “Einabu”, a much smaller house than she had been used to, built from left-over timber by Lars Hoaas, friends and neighbours. The people she had helped for so many years, now paid her back by giving her food and other gifts. They never forgot what their “Lady” had done for them.

Hon. Mrs. Barbara Elrington Douglas Arbuthnott died in poverty on Aug 28th 1904, surrounded by her two loyal servants, Lars Hoaas and Karen Lönset. She was buried here, beside her loyal servant, Mary Chalmers and her beloved son, James.

Every year, since 1996, the community have performed a historical musical about her life in Sunndalsöra.

Mary & Barbara

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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024