I will confess: The Sound of Music is high on my list of favourite films. When we drove around New England in 1999 and New Hampshire was basically closed, it was a real treat to stay at the Von Trapp Lodge. We were even shown our room by Maria Von Trapp (one of the original family singers, rather than the nun). She had been greeting guests and took pity on us.
Over the years, I had vaguely wondered about the Captian's first wife. Who was she? How did she die?
Then when I was reading The Industrial Revolutionaries, I found my answer.
Agathe Von Trapp was the daughter of John Whitehead who was the son of Robert Whitehead, one of the main inventors of the torpedo. Robert Whitehead (born 1823 Bolton Lancastershire) was English but worked mainly abroad as a marine engineer. He went into engineering because of his uncle William Swift.
Agathe Whitehead met Georg Ritter Von Trapp in 1908 when he attended a launch of one of the early U boats. They fell in love and married. Then in 1922, at the age of 32, Agathe died of diptheria, leaving five young children to be cared for. Eventually he employed Maria Augusta Kutschera, a nun as a governess who taught the children to sing. After they lost the family fortune in the bank crashes of 1932, they sang their way out of trouble.
The rest they say is history.
Anyway, I thought it interesting...
UPDATE: I had a look at the Family chronology and see that there were seven children. I am not sure where Gavin Weightman got five from.
From the Von Trapp Family Chronology:
1927 Georg and Maria wed on November 26th; Maria becomes step-mother of Rupert, Werner, Johanna, Agathe, Maria, Martina and Hedwig