Most recently updated April 10, 2009

Mary Taylor (1889 – 1982)

The main source of information about “Mary Linley Taylor” is her autobiography, published by her son after her death, Chain of Amber (Guildford, UK: The Book Guild. 1992). The main problem with this book is the almost complete absence of dates, it is impossible to know when most of the events she relates took place. What is certain is that the stories she tells about events leading to her marriage and also about their house in Seoul, Dilkusha, are very different from the version Faith Norris gives with such confidence in Dreamer in Five Lands. Her life was much more full of adventures than Joan Grigsby’s, in part no doubt because of her very different personality, and the relative wealth of her husband. Her attitude toward Korea and the Korean people, developed over many years, is remarkably accepting and generous; she explains how her husband helped her in the early days and it is sure that the Koreans around them reciprocated the affection and respect they showed.

Photos of Mary Taylor

Her immediate family

"Mary Linley" was the stage name taken by Hilda Mouat Biggs at the start of her acting career in about 1912, and after her marriage she seems always to have called herself Mary (Linley) Taylor. She was born on September 14, 1889, at her parents' home in Abbey Row, Westport, Malmesbury. Her birth was belatedly registered in Malmesbury in June 1890, and that of her younger brother Ronald was registered in December the same year. The birth of Ethel, the sister she calls “Betty” in Chain of Amber (p49) was registered there in June 1888, while those of her younger brother Eric and her younger sister Una (who later lived with her in Korea and California) were registered in Cheltenham in September 1896 and March 1898, while the family were living at 2, Fauconberg Villas, Cheltenham. On the headstone in Hillcrest Cemetery, Mendocino, Mendocino County, California, where Mary Linley Taylor and Una Mouat Biggs share a grave, their birth dates are given as 1889 and 1897. Their parents were Dr. Charles Edward Forbes Mouat-Biggs and Mary Louisa Tickell, who were married in Cheltenham on July 5, 1887. The Tickell family line is a complex one, needing to be developed on a separate page.

            Regarding Mary's paternal grandfather, there is a record online that John Peter Mouat Biggs joined the army in India in 1836 and on 8 Oct 1839 was promoted lieutenant in the Thirty-Eighth Regiment Native Infantry (Rifle Company). Captain John Peter Mouat Biggs of the Madras Infantry was appointed Major on April 17, 1857. Much later, the April 7, 1861, census of Guernsey (Channel Islands) shows this same John Biggs (there is not enough room on the printed form for the full names) living with his family at 1 Paxton Place, St. Peter Port. He himself (Major Retired, HMEIS, aged 41) was born in Agra (?) East Indies but his wife Sarah (only 26) had been born in Ireland (1881 census says Dublin). Her unmarried sister Margaret Forbes (34) was living with them, and she was born in Calcutta.  (The 'Forbes' in Hilda's father's name is therefore his mother's maiden name.) They had 4 children at the time, the eldest a son, John W. (12, born in Nursingpore, India), Mary (9, born in Hampstre?, India) and Jane (2, born in Guernsey), as well as a son Charles E. aged 8 months, Hilda's future father, born therefore in 1860. The 1891 census of England confirms that Hilda's father was indeed born in Guernsey (Channel Islands). 

            In 1863, we find a report that "Major John Peter Mouat Biggs of Chemainus” was briefly appointed "justice of the peace for Chemainus and Salt Spring Island," where a series of violent murders had occurred. Chemainus is on Vancouver Island, Canada. It is very hard not to think he was Mary’s grandfather, Charles’s father, but equally hard to understand such a radical move away from retirement in Guernsey. A recent book, The Terror of the Coast: land alienation and colonial war on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, 1849-1863, by Chris Arnett (Talonbooks, 1999), a detailed reconstruction of the war between the First Nations and the colonial government of Vancouver Island, says that a local commander, named Douglas, "appointed as Justice of the Peace Major John Peter Mouat Biggs, a retired East India Company officer who had recently preempted land on the Chemainus Prairie." He had presumably found life in Guernsey too restricted and begun a new adventure in Canada. By the time of  the 1881 census he had died and his widow was living at 50 Cambridge Gardens, Kensington, London with May (a daughter born 1852 in Madras from John Peter's first marriage), Jane and Charles (already a 'student of medicine'), and  her sister  Margaret (noted as 'daughter of  Major General,' suggesting he was Major-General William Forbes, 1796-1855, of the Bengal Engineers, designer of St. Paul's Cathedral, Calcutta).

When he was 11, Hilda's father entered Wellington College, at least for the year 1873-4. In 1884 he was living at 62, Westbourne Park, Paddington, when he became a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. On the day of the 1891 census, the family was living in a house named Milverton, 17 Abbey Row, Westport, in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, where Hilda's father was working as a 'general practitioner' (family doctor). He was then 30. Soon after that they moved to Cheltenham.  In 1899, he became a member of the Clinical Society of London. Mary’s father’s name is on a monument in Cheltenham listing all who served in South Africa as volunteers during the Boer War (1899-1902), "2nd. Volunteer Brigade Gloucestershire Regiment Capt. C.E.F. Mouat-Biggs," and he is recorded as having sailed from Southampton on February 17, 1900, on board the Guelph. Mary Taylor’s book includes a photo of the imposing house, Milverton, where the family lived in Cheltenham. It later became a hotel and then the headquarters of a food company. The 1901 census shows that on that day, Hilda and Ethel were both boarding with Louisa E. Tickell (aged 70, 'living on own means,' their maternal grandmother) in a large boarding house known as Ashburnham House, Clarence Parade, Portsmouth, (then part of the county of Southampton) that was run by 3 sisters by the name of Thorn. Their mother, with Eric and Eva and a cook, 2 housemaids and a nurse, were living at Milverton in Cheltenham. We do not know why the family was divided in this way. In 1913, Charles Edward Forbes Mouat-Biggs was enrolled at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and in later years he published a number of papers on topics indicating an interest in scorpions and in Nicaragua.

            Mary’s silence about her father’s family is frustrating since she explains nothing about the family's international background. She simply says that among visitors to the house were “soldiers, sailors, big game hunters, explorers and scientists,” including the explorer Captain Scott. The house was full of exotic objects from Africa as well as the East, China as well as India. Most telling, though, is her mention of the arrival of a huge elephant’s foot, “the largest elephant ever shot in India,” shot by her father and others on the Maharaja of Patiala’s shikar. Another of the feet had been sent to King Edward VII, no less! That being the case, the Maharaja in question can be identified as Bhupinder Singh, “best known for his extravagance, and for being a cricketer.” He had become Maharja in 1900, on the death of his father, “a Council of Regency ruled in his name until he took partial powers shortly before his 18th birthday on 1 October 1909, and was invested with full powers by the Viceroy of India, the 4th Earl of Minto, on 3 November 1910.” Mary’s family had high connections in India, perhaps more from the Tickell side than from the Mouat Biggs.

The Mouat Biggs family

Mouat Biggs is an extremely unusual name. Hilda's family is almost the only known example, and although Hilda's father hyphenated it in legal documents, in fact "Mouat" was almost certainly not part of the legal family name; although the children of several generations were all registered with it, the legal name was simply Biggs. 

Going back one generation, we find that on 16 Feb 1817, the India Office Ecclesiastical Returns-Bengal Presidency registered the birth of Barbara Achmuty Mouat Biggs, daughter of J. A. Biggs and his wife Barbara. No further information is given, but it is very tempting to think that the mother’s maiden name was Mouat and that they decided to give both their names to their children. This would seem to be the origin of the Mouat-Biggs line. John Peter Mouat Biggs would then have been a younger brother (born 1820) of Barbara Achmuty. The 68-year-old (now widowed) mother of John (Peter Mouat) Biggs, Barbara, (68, Gent(leman) Officer's Widow, born in England)  was living with John Biggs and his family (2 sons, 2 daughters) in Guernsey at the census in 1861.

Another son of J. A. Biggs and Barbara, James Andrews Mouat Biggs, died in Cheltenham on October 26, 1887, reportedly aged 57, having been born in 1830 (but another record says he was born in 1824) in Cawnpore, India. He left for India from Southampton on the Hindustan in January 1848 as a cadet. The London Gazette of April 17, 1863, records that "Lieutenant James Andrews Mouat Biggs of the Bengal army, late of the 10th Native Infantry, having completed 15 years' service, is to become Captain by brevet." His death certificate records the final rank of "Colonel, Bengal Staff Corps." At the end of his career, at the 1881 census he was living in Bideford  (Devon) with his wife (Augusta Monnat, born in Ireland 1837) and 3 children (2 daughters born in the Punjab in 1863, 1868, and one son, Ernest, aged 9, who died 03/05/1916 in the Somme during the first World War, a Second Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment, named on the Torquay war memorial, who was born in Cheltenham in 1872). One of his sons (name unknown), born in April 1865, studied for a time at Cheltenham College (date unknown). The death of James Andrews Mouat Biggs was registered by his son J. M. Mouat Biggs of Bideford, probably the J. Mouat Biggs (age unknown) who was studying at Newton Abbot College (Devon) in 1877-80. John Alborough Mouat-Biggs, Captain Royal Irish Regiment, who was killed in the first World War 22/03/1918 aged 22, and is buried at Honnechy (France) was perhaps another son of this family. Curiously, the death certificate for James Andrews Mouat Biggs indicates that he died at The Lypiatts, Cheltenham, which was (until it was sold in 1904) the address of the Tickell family. The wedding of his brother Charles Edward Forbes Mouat-Biggs had been celebrated in Cheltenham in July of that year, and the certificate says he had been suffering from an abdominal cancer for the previous 6 months, so perhaps he had come up from Bideford for the wedding, then stayed on. We have no information as yet on the nature of the relationship between the Tickells and the Mouat-Biggs prior to the wedding. The shared India connections might have brought them close.

The only other traceable person with the Mouat-Biggs name outside of Hilda's immediate family is 'Tim' Edward Mouat-Biggs  (1919-1997), "After 22 years in the South African Air Force Tim founded his own aviation workshop. He flew cropsprayers and dabbled in aerial photography on the side. But most of all, Tim will be remembered for his deep devotion to gliding. Having built and flown his own gliders, he subsequently became the agent for Schempp-Hirth in South Africa. A South African and Rhodesian (Zimbabwe) national champion many times over, Tim represented his country at several World Gliding Championships with distinction." He died in a mid-air collision while gliding. His brother might have been the John Mouat-Biggs who died in South Africa in 1946, and they were both perhaps sons of Hilda's brother Ronald, himself a military officer during and after the first World War. A "Mouat-Biggs J." is among the second world war Commonwealth dead buried in Padua, he was perhaps a brother of this Edward. In 1959, we read that "Ronald Mouat-Biggs, High-Wycombe garages superintendent of the Thames Valley Traction Co., Ltd., for 30 years, has retired."

Mary the actress meets Bruce the miner

At the start of the war in 1914, she says, her father and brothers joined the armed forces, her mother took up nursing. One of Mary’s mother’s cousins was the actor Sir Charles Hawtrey; Sir Charles’s father was the Reverend John Hawtrey, master of the lower school at Eton College. She went to London, where she was supposed to ask him to help her find work in the theatre, her chosen career, but instead she auditioned with Sir Beerbohm Tree and began to tour in England. Then she was offered the chance of going on a tour through “India, Ceylon, Malaya, China and Japan.” She looked up relatives (unnamed, alas) in India, then in Burma she met another of her mother’s cousins, who was in the teak trade. From there, via Hong Kong, she arrived in Japan and when she arrived in Yokohama, she learned of the death in action of her brother Eric.

The actors were invited to a party at the beach at Homoko and there she first met “Bruce Taylor.” Bruce’s father, George Alexander Taylor had come to Korea in the later 1890s, started a gold mine in Unsan in what is now North Korea, and died in 1908. His son Bruce (real names Albert Wilder Taylor) took over the mine and also bought another mine near Cheonan, south of Seoul. Albert’s brother Bill was also living in Korea, working with him

Mary tells that on their first meeting he saved her from drowning while swimming in stormy seas, although she was very athletic. She makes it plain that they were attracted strongly at first sight. Back in Yokohama, he was to watch her act, and in the taxi on the way to the theatre gave her a very fine Korean amber (hat-)chain. Then he went back to his mining in Korea, she followed the tour back to India.

Mary writes: “many of my family had been associated with India ever since the forming of the East india Company, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.” One great- (great-?)uncle had been awarded the Star of India, she says, and a great-great-grandmother was born in the dungeon of the Residence during the Indian Mutiny while her grandfather, then a young cavalry officer, has delayed the advance of the rebels at Dilkusha near Lucknow. If only she had written their names! She says that she rode out to see the ruins of Dilkusha (see pictures at the foot of this page) and there decided she would give the name (Heart’s Delight) to her own house when she had one. Ten months after they had left Yokohama, Bruce Taylor arrived in Calcutta to join her, and proposed that evening. They were married (at last, a date!) on 15 June, 1917, in St. Thomas’s Cathedral in Bombay. That evening she acted for the last time, in Charlie’s Aunt, and Bruce was sitting in a box with Rabidranath Tagore. She explains (p108) that her husband, whose name was Albert Wilder Taylor, disliked the name and was always called Bruce by his close friends. Confusingly, their son was given the names Bruce Tickell.


First years in Korea

After several months of relaxed traveling, they arrived in Pusan, then by train to Seoul. Bruce’s brother Bill had vacated his own home in a rural area near Sŏdaemun (West Gate) for them. Soon she was an active member of the Seoul Club. Walking along the old city walls, they once found a spot on a hillside where a huge gingko tree was growing, a fine spot for a house. Bruce said the land there belonged to a non-resident Englishman.

The story continues wth first visits to the gold mine in North Korea, and to the Diamond Mountain. It is during this second journey that Mary first realizes the intensity of Korean longing for freedom from Japanese rule, thanks in part to a Korean university student who offers to serve as their guide. Then Bruce explains that there is already an army in exile up in Manchuria, and that the monks in the temples they are visiting are also involved. At the same time, during the journey Mary is at last exposed to Korean ways of living, and finally comes to her first taste of Kimchi. It is still only 1918, and in February 1919, Mary goes into Severance Hospital for the birth of her child.

A representative of the US news agency Associated Press asked Bruce to cover the funeral of the Korean Emperor Kojong, who had died amid rumors that he was poisoned by the Japanese rulers. The funeral was scheduled for March 3, 1919, four days after Albert's first son, Bruce, was born at Seoul's Severance Hospital. On Feb. 28, 1919, after reporting about the large crowds of Koreans who had gathered to prepare for the funeral, Albert rushed to the hospital to see his newborn child. He picked him up, and saw copies of the Korean Declaration of Independence hidden in his wife’s bed. They had been thrust there by a nurse to hide them from Japanese soldiers. That day was the eve of the historic March 1, 1919, anti-Japanese rebellion by Koreans, who were angered by the sudden, mysterious death of their emperor and also inspired by US President Woodrow Wilson's speech supporting the right to self-determination by small countries.

The Taylors did not know that Severance Hospital was being used by Korean independence leaders to hide their printing press, but in this way he accidentally obtained an advance copy of the declaration in the hospital room of his wife and son. Bruce asked his brother Bill to take a copy of the document to Japan hidden in his shoe. There it was cabled to AP in New York to avoid local censorship. Thus he became the first Western journalist to report on the Korean independence movement worldwide. The next day, hundreds of thousands of Koreans took part in street protests demanding independence from Japan. Then, in the days following the uprising, Bruce photographed the Japanese police as they set fire to a small church in the village of Jaeam-ri near Suwon, south of Seoul, in which a group of Korean peasants were locked. Twenty-three people burned to death in the fire. U.S. Vice Consul-General Raymond Curtis and American missionary leader Horace H. Underwood saw the photos and protested to Japanese Governor-General Hasegawa Yoshimichi, threatening worldwide publicity of the carnage The next day's newspaper headlines read, "Hasegawa regrets," and more possible mass killings were stopped. Bruce also compiled detailed reports about the many patriots who were killed at that time, and Faith gave a copy of his lists to President Syngman Rhee when she brought his ashes to Seoul in 1948.

Mary’s sister Una lost a leg as a result of an accident during the war. She came to join the staff at the mine in 1919, at a time when anti-American feeling was strong since the United States had done nothing to support the Korean demands for independence. They left Seoul to spend the summer in Wŏnsan. In the autumn, they were able to help rescue a group of White Russian refugees, just after Bruce had witnessed the attempt on Baron Saito in front of Seoul Station on September 2, 1919!


At last Bruce obtained the land around the Gingko tree, and they realized that there would be a problem since the whole area was a site for shamanistic prayers, and the wells provided the nearby houses with water. The local people tried to prevent the builders’ carts from passing up the narrow streets, and a shaman even cursed the house, saying it would be burned down. The cornerstone with the name Dilkusha is dated 1923. This would normally be laid bear the start of building. On pp191-4 there is a detailed description of the completed house, which was full from top to bottom with beautiful treasures of Korean art and furniture. Bruce has a magnificent collection of Koryŏ celadon and many other rare objects, houses on the third floor in a special room. From the upper floors, bridges led to the hillside behind, to allow bath water to be brought in and permit rapid escape if needed. The first guest to enter the completed house was Mary’s mother from England. They also invited Bishop Trollope to come to bless the house, just in case.

See the Dilkusha page   Read Mary's account of the house

From this point, the chronology becomes important, and rather difficult to establish. We know that the house’s cornerstone was laid in 1923, then the building was delayed for several months because the whole frontage had to be pulled down and rebuilt (she had fiddled with the strings when  the foundation was being laid). She says that it was spring when they moved in, that must be 1924. Una developed scarlet fever, and left for California to rest. Mary's mother arrived for a visit very soon after the moved into the house. Then Bruce fell ill and left early in the summer. Mary and her mother spent that summer on the beach near Wŏnsan, then, the months passing without any news from her husband, she left with their child and her mother toward the end of the year, arriving in California via Honolulu, she says, in 1925 (presumably early in the year). Bruce grew ever sicker, suffering, it was finally discovered, “many months later” from tropical sprue, a disorder of the intestines. Their son was only 6, yet she put him in a boarding school and attended the California School of Fine Arts (she was an artist, the book contains many of her drawings). She speaks of “many months” passing, during which time (1925? 1926?) a telegram from Bill arrived: “Dilkusha struck by lightning, completely destroyed.” They had not thought to install a lightning condutor.

Even supposing that they spent one whole year there, or more, and she says they waited 5 months without her husband’s gastric trouble returning once he had been stabilized, Bruce’s return to Korea must have taken place in 1928 at the very latest. While he went back, she went with her mother and little Bruce to England, where he was to live with her brother and attend school. She says that she spent “a few uneasy months” there before setting off on the return, via California and Honolulu. She affirms that she arrived in Yokohama on 14 September, 1930, “my birthday.” This is surely too long an absence; the date must have been September 1929, as Faith Norris’s account says, and her sense of timing generally seems to be reliable, unlike Mary Taylor’s.

After a few days’ rest, Mary is taken up to the garden of Dilkusha, where she expects to find a pile of debris. Instead, she finds a rebuilt house, thanks to Bill. The house she entered was not yet furnished, but was ready to be inhabited. Clearly, the basic outer structure had survived, but the interior had been badly damaged.

Faith Norris says that the house had been divided into two “rental housing” units, and that they rented space on the upper floor in January 1929 and goes on to describe in great detail (p124) the dreadful state of the house, with blocked fireplaces, damaged paneling, a floor blocking the original staircase leading down, they had to use the bridge, etc. Most unfortunately, there is no mention of lightning or fire, instead she explains the state of the house by a preposterous tale according to which the vandalizing had been done by Mary’s husband (she calls him Bill) in fury after she had left him on account of his philandering with Korean women and gone back to the States, only to telegram in May 1929 that she was coming back. She arrived, says Faith, in September 1929 and at that time the Taylors moved into the lower floor, which had previously been occupied by an Australian former employee, Mr. Boydell, with his wife and son. The Taylor’s son, Faith claims, had been left in a boarding school in San Francisco.

Now Faith Norris was only twelve at the time. Still, how was it, we might wonder, that she got the story so completely and unpleasantly wrong? In an illuminating phrase, she indicates that her mother normally did not allow her to be present when they had visitors, although she made an exception for Mary Taylor’s first visit because Faith was so fascinated by her beauty. One must conclude, then, that we probably have here another example of Joan’s propensity to prefer fable to fact, and also, interestingly, another example of a tendency to think the worst of men, just as she had claimed that her father only became headmaster because his father gave so much money to the school.

Alas, Mary Taylor’s story passes over the upstairs tenants in complete silence. She never mentions Joan Grigsby. Instead, she tells how her family in England sent furnishings, including the “Linley sisters’ dresses” and they slowly rebuilt their stock of Korean furniture. The Taylor brothers had long been the owners of a “Curio Store” in Seoul which dealt in such things, left in the hands of a manager, “Kim Chusa.” This very highly cultivated man from the yangban class had been a friend of Yi Yŏng-ik, and had been part of the first Korean delegation to Washington in the 1880s as secretary and translator.

Faith believes that while she and her father visited the Diamond Mountains (when? spring 1930?) her mother made a hiking trip with Mary Taylor and Lilian Miller in Japan. This seems very unlikely. Another dream-fable? She says that her mother went alone to the Diamond Mountains in the summer of 1930.

The final years

Mary Taylor’s story hurtles over these years, and we are suddenly at a time later in the 1930s when Bishop Trollope (who died in 1932) has been dead for several years (p225). She sets out to take the train to Europe across Siberia. Adventures do not lack, they are even derailed once. After a year in England, she returns via San Francisco where she finds many of the Russian refugees they had helped years before. Once back in Korea, she goes on a visit to a new gold mine, a heroic journey with, again, many adventures.

In December 1941 Bruce and Mary, who were among the few foreigners who had refused to leave Korea, were arrested immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mary was confined in Dilkusha, Bruce with the men in Sŏdaemun prison. Then they were shipped to Japan, and taken with many other foreign detainees to Lourenco Marques, a neutral, Portuguese port in East Africa, and from there to the United States. Before they could return, Albert Taylor died of a heart attack in 1948 at the age of 51. Mary brought his ashes back to Seoul and they are buried near his father’s grave in the Foreigners’ Cemetery.

Faith Norris (p122) visited with Mary and Una in Mendocino, California, in about 1980, when Mary was ninety. Despite everything she had been through, she still had copies of three of Joan Grigsby’s poetry books! She died in 1982, aged 93. She too had written her memoirs, which were published after her death. Her son has also written his memoirs, they have not yet been published.