Mary Renault


Eileen Challans

John Newsome Baxter, my third cousin, thrice removed and son of Richard Newsome Baxter and Sarah Ann Tyzack, was born in 1852 in Sheffield. John grew up on his grandfather’s farm at Sandhill, Rawmarsh, near Rotherham before training to become a Dental Surgeon and Chemist. John initially trained/practised at 31 High Street, Wath upon Dearne, Rotherham before setting up his own dental practice in Hammersmith Road, Fulham. John married Clementine Turner in 1875 and together issued four children, one of them being Clementine Mary Newsome Baxter. Clementine married Frank Challans in 1904 in Saint Paul’s Church, Hammersmith, London.


Wath High Street

Eileen Mary Challans is my fifth cousin, once removed and daughter of the above Clementine and Frank. Eileen was born in 1905 in Dacre Lodge, 49 Plashet Road, Plaistow, Kent and was educated at St Hugh’s College of Oxford University, receiving an undergraduate degree in English in 1928.

In 1933, Eileen began training as a Nurse at Oxford’s Radcliffe Infirmary. During World War Two, she helped treat Dunkirk evacuees at the Winford Emergency Hospital in Bristol as well as working in Radcliffe Infirmary’s brain surgery ward until 1945.


Tyzack grave in Rawmarsh

Whilst working as a Nurse, Eileen decided to try her luck at writing books. It was probably around this time that she changed her name to Mary Renault. Her first novel, ‘Purposes of Love,’ was published in 1939. In 1948, her novel, ‘Return to Night,’ won a MGM prize worth $150,000 after which she emigrated to South Africa where she remained for the rest of her life, dying in Cape Town in December 1983.

Many of Eileen’s novels were historical, set in ancient Greece, and she was admired in her day for her recreations of the Greek world.

Eileen’s bibliography includes:-

Purposes of Love (US title: Promise of Love) (1939)
Kind Are Her Answers (1940)
The Friendly Young Ladies (US title: The Middle Mist) (1943)
Return to Night (1947)
The North Face (1948)
The Charioteer (1953)
The Last of the Wine (1956)
The King Must Die (1958)
Lion in the Gateway: The Heroic Battles of the Greeks and Persians at Marathon, Salamis, and Thermopylae (1964)
The Mask of Apollo (1966)
Fire from Heaven (1969)
The Persian Boy (1972)
The Nature of Alexander (1975)
The Praise Singer (1978)
Funeral Games (1981)

Eileen’s second great grandparents, John Tyzack and Eliza A. Stevenson (parents of the aforementioned Sarah Ann Tyzack) died in Rawmarsh and their headstone still stands today in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Rawmarsh.