My research into the wartime ambulance drivers of Chelsea has taken me to some obscure corners of our history, including this one.
The subject of today’s post is Barbara Pouschkine, about whom I know very little. In fact, I am not even that sure of her name. A line on a website about theosophist and writer Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854-1934) tells me that Barbara Pouschkine was the birth name of the first wife of another noted theosophist, Oscar Gustaf Köllerstrom, who was also a writer, priest and psychotherapist, born in Australia in 1903.
In 1939 the Chelsea census taker recorded the woman living at 62 Pont Street as 37-year-old architect and ambulance driver Barbara Köllerstrom. Her marriage to Oscar was over. There may have been a child or children – a ship’s manifest from 1926 records a Mr, Mrs and Miss O Köllerstrom, who lived at The Manor, Mosman, Sydney (where up to 50 theosophists lived. Someone called it a “great occult forcing-house”)
So what, I hear you ask, is theosophy? Basically, it’s a cult, maintaining that a knowledge of God may be achieved through spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition, or special individual relations.
I have no idea if or when Barbara left theosophy, but perhaps it is telling that The Gazette published a legal notice in July 1940 in which she repudiated the Köllerstrom name and was henceforth to be known as Cole. She gave her address as Henley-on-Thames so perhaps she had left the ambulance service by then.
I can find no online evidence of her work or her life after that point, except for a record of death under the name Barbara Cole, in Buckinghamshire in 1978.