A Louisville Belle's Marriage to a Scottish Baronet
By Nettie Oliver
When the marriage of popular Louisville debutante, Miss Patricia Burnley Ellison of Louisville, and Kentucky and Sir Charles Henry Augustus Lockhart Ross of Balnagown Castle, Scotland took place in 1901 in Louisville and locals viewed it as the perfect example of a Cinderella story.
Patricia was born in Louisville, daughter of Andrew Ellison and Martha Ann Snead on November 19, 1872. Her father, Andrew, had come to Louisville from Ohio to live, and met and married Martha Ann Snead whose family was well known in Louisville and their roots could be traced to Kentucky’s fourth governor, General Charles Scott. Patty, as those who knew her well called her, was described as being petite, blonde, graceful, and full of charm.
The story began in 1901, when Patty was invited to take a trip abroad by a wealthy friend and her family. It was on this trip that she met Sir Charles Ross, and a shipboard romance developed.
Charles was born on April 4, 1872 in Scotland and was seemingly the “ideal catch.” He was said to be the largest landowner in the British Isles, and the Ninth Baronet of Balnagown Castle, which has been owned by the Ross Clan for several centuries. Ross had been educated at Eton and at Trinity College in Cambridge, and was a brilliant man. He served as an advisor to England’s War Secretary during World War I and was the inventor of the Ross Rifle, which served as the basic infantry arm of the Canadian Army during World War I.
Shortly after the voyage, the couple was engaged with the wedding to take place in Louisville at the home of the bride’s parents at 1438 South Fourth Street. Only a small wedding was planned since Sir Charles had previously been married and divorced by 1897. In the “People and Pleasant Events” section of The Louisville Times, it was reported that the wedding was small with only a few people in attendance. The bride wore a handsome tailored gown of gray cloth, and hat to match. Andrew Ellison Jr., and General and Mrs. J. B. Castleman gave a dinner following the ceremony.
After the wedding, the couple left by train for a few days in New York before sailing to England and on to Scotland. Their hope was to live happily ever after. Shortly after the marriage, however, the couple took up residency in Quebec, Canada. The couple spent little time at the castle, though they occasionally entertained there. A curator of the Tain Museum in Scotland says that Lady Ross did not spend much time in residence because she suffered from asthma and preferred living in a warmer climate.
Sometime later, Lady Ross wrote on her feelings when she first arrived in Scotland: “The castle was surrounded by the straight tall stems of the Scotch firs, let to pink by the winter sun, the great splashes of vivid green moss on the Beech trees, the men’s ruddy faces, their brawny knees displayed below their kilt, the softness of the voices, and the harshness of the bagpipes.”
However, a few short years into the fairytale marriage, it went astray, and many years of unhappiness followed.
Ironically, Sir Ross spent much of the rest of his life living in Canada, Washington, D.C., and St. Petersburg, Florida, while Lady Ross spent much of her life living in London, with a few months spent in New York.
In 1917, Sir Ross was invited by the U.S. government to go to Washington to give advice on the manufacture of munitions fore the U.S. army and he remained until 1918. From 1914 until 1917, he served in Canadian forces in the First World War. Perhaps due to his long absence, Patty told him by letter that she was returning home to Louisville. Shortly thereafter, Ross filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion.
In an attempt to avoid taxation on the income of his manufactory, Ross declared his estate in the U.S. He was unkind, ungenerous, and unfaithful in the long, drawn out divorce litigations. Between 1924 and 1928, divorce petitions were filled in Scotland, London, and in Jefferson County, Kentucky courts, none of them claimed responsibility for settling the matter arguing that the suit was not under their jurisdiction. Finally, in 1928, Sir Ross was able to obtain a divorce in the Courts of Sonora, Mexico.
During the 1920s, Lady Ross lived in London. To support herself and continue living the expensive lifestyle to which she had become accustomed, she became a newspaper correspondent for the Courier-Journal. In her weekly column she described life in London, the arts, the London Theatre, British political affairs, flower shows, and weddings. Even though she chose to live away from her native Kentucky, she often wrote of her desire to return home. “I have just had three divine weeks in Kentucky and I would like to see the demon that could take them from me. They are mine and the people who gave me those weeks are tucked away in a little compartment of the inner shrine of my memory where no others will ever be.” Similarly, on February 17, 1929, she wrote, “For myself, I am suffering a queer sort of homesickness. I long to see America again. I have a longing for the old says, Southern days, for old scenes and colors, smells and sounds. Ironically, Patty always wrote under the byline of Lady Ross of Balnagown Castle, but she never mentioned the castle or of her ever being there.”
Lady Ross lived the remainder of her life in London, and died there on February 5, 1947.
After Sir Charles divorced Patricia, he married for the third time in 1938 to his American secretary, Dorothy Mercado. In 1942, he died in St. Petersburg, Florida. His third wife inherited the castle and estate, which were by then heavily encumbered in debt. Sometime later, Lady Dorothy Ross remarried and she and her new husband tried to run the estate as a sporting venture but failed. By 1950, much of the estate had been sold and the castle itself was in a state of decay. In 1972, Mohamed Al Fayed purchased the castle. He restored the castle to its original splendor, and he remains the owner today.
• For more information on Patricia B. Ross, see: Newspaper articles in Filson Historical File, “Lady Patricia Ross.”
The Filson Historical Society