Ernest Thesiger’s

Family of Choice


While at the Slade School of Art, Ernest began a relationship with fellow student William Bruce Ellis Ranken which would last the rest of Ranken’s life.

“To the Touraine I went one year with Willie Ranken. Besides being an accomplished painter, he was an amateur of ‘petit point’ and ‘gros point,’ and used to buy old pieces which he himself restored.  I, too, wielded the needle, and was at that time attempting lace-making; in fact, I was making a christening veil for my niece!  On our long journeys from one town to another we delighted to get a compartment to ourselves where we could work undisturbed.  One day, however, just as we were congratulating ourselves on being alone and the train was on the point of starting, a woman, obviously very recently widowed, got into our carriage; she lifted up a number of crape veils and sobbed into a deeply bordered handkerchief.  So immersed was she in her grief that she took no notice of us at all.  So, thinking ourselves unobserved, we stealthily produced our needlework.  I thought I saw the widow cast a sidelong glance in our direction, but bravely continued to sew.  Then I noticed that the sobs had subsided, and I looked up at her.  Her handkerchief had been removed from her eyes and was crammed into her mouth. The sight of two grown men deep in embroidery had overcome her grief.  She was in fits of laughter.”

William Ranken c. 1907.  Photo by Baron Adolph de Meyer

Ernest Thesiger, Practically True

Ernest with the Ranken family c. 1903

In 1908 Ernest performed in a charity production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” with William’s eldest sister, Janette Mary Fernie (b.1877 - d.1970), who pursued a brief stage career under the name Juliet Hardinge. 

"The wedding of Mr. Ernest Thesiger, youngest son of Sir Edward Thesiger, K.C.B, and a kinsman of the Viceroy of India, with Miss Janette Ranken, daughter of the late Mr. R.B. Ranken, of Edinburgh, was arranged to take place on May 29.  Mr. Thesiger is a well-known and clever actor."

The Sketch, May 30, 1917

The Sketch, June 6, 1917

To commemorate his sister’s marriage, William painted this portrait of Janette, which unfortunately is now known only from this photograph.

“Mr. Ernest Thesiger, son of the Hon. Sir Edward Thesiger, and cousin of Lord Chelmsford, was married yesterday afternoon at Holy Trinity, Sloane Street, to Miss Janette Ranken, daughter of the late Mr. W.B. Ranken, of Edinburgh.  The bridegroom has made a great name for himself for his splendid acting in ‘A Little Bit of Fluff,’ now past its 700th performance.  Miss Ranken, who was given away by her brother, Major Ranken, wore pale putty-colored crepe de chine with fine dull silver lace, and carried a sheaf of multi-colored roses.  The Hon. Stephen Powys was best man, and there were no attendants.  As both bride and bridegroom belong to the artistic circle in London, there was a gathering of interesting people at the ceremony, including Miss Eva Moore, Miss Hilda Moore,  Mrs John Beith (wife of ‘Ian Hay’), Lady Strachie, Lady Dunedin, Lady Wodehouse, Lady Charnwood, Lady Mary Shelley, the Dowager Lady Henley, Sir Edward Thesiger, and Mrs. Paris Singer.”

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, May 30, 1917

Though Ernest doesn’t mention Janette in his published memoir, Practically True, they did share a public life together, attending exhibitions of William’s paintings, friends’ weddings, and some parties.  In 1925 they both participated in the production of the Peach Ball at Claridge’s, November 17, in aid of the Ellen Terry Homes for Blind Children.

William died unexpectedly from a brain hemorrhage in the Spring of 1941. To learn more about his life and work, please visit

William Ranken, 1927

The Thesiger residence at No. 6 Montpelier Terrace was decorated by Ernest.  Here he painted a sky on the ceiling of Janette’s bedroom.

House and Garden, December, 1920


After William’s death, Janette spent a great amount of effort in disbursing his many paintings to various galleries and museums.

During the 1920s, Janette was President of the West London Branch of the Theosophical Society and also acted as Editor of the magazine Theosophy in the British Isles.  In 1920 she gave lectures at the Hall of the Theosophical Society at 153 Brompton Road on the topics of “The Web of Life” and “Some Problems of the Present.” She was an active member of the Psychical Research Society.  The following is Janette’s account of her own hypnogogic experiences, from the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, December 1925:

Janette became blind some time during the 1950s. The Thesigers’ last residence was at 8 St George’s Court, Gloucester Road, Kensington, London, where Ernest died in his sleep on the eve of his 82nd birthday.

“Between the ages of 4 and 7 I used to see ‘grotesques,’ horrid little figures with leering faces and indeterminate outlines.  From time to time another vision was of a round whirling thing again of ill-defined shape, but with a sort of face, which appeared at the cornice of the room at the corner furthest from my bed and rolled towards me; when it reached the middle point of the ceiling, it vanished there, reappearing simultaneously in the corner again.  It went very fast and always vanished at the centre.  The last time was before I was twelve.  After-images, such as worms after a day’s hoeing sweet-peas, after cutting many hours, have occurred, though I am a very bad visualiser.”

On November 26, 1931, Ernest and William both sailed for New York on the Aquitania, Ernest to appear on Broadway in “The Devil Passes” and then on to Hollywood to film “The Old Dark House,”  William possibly for a gallery show.  Ernest gives a joke age of 37 on the ship’s passenger list.

Ernest and Janette, c. 1935.  From the photograph collections of Robert RF Bruce DFC, nephew of JMFT. 

Ernest and Janette were married on May 29, 1917.

Janette Ranken, 1912.  Photo by Baron Adolph de Meyer