Scoundrels, Seafarers And Schmoozers
When I unlocked the secrets of my father’s maternal grandmother’s ancestry a decade ago, I couldn’t envisage the journey ahead. I’d only a dim memory of my great grandmother. There were accounts of her unofficial adoption by a well-known Hawkesbury family. There was a marriage certificate, with what, it transpired, were misspelt birth names for her and her mother, and the words “father unknown”.
Via the NSW BDM index, and a lot of cross referencing, I travelled into the past, discovering my great grandmother had 2 sisters and a brother, all illegitimate. Her mother kept these three, and changed the family name again, using her mother’s surname.
I stepped back another generation. To a father from Surrey, England, and a mother born in London. “Father”, an East India Company Army cadet, returned from India a lieutenant. In later years he passed himself off as a retired colonel. He made much of his blue blood ancestry: he was a great grandson of a duke, via his father, and of an earl, courtesy of his mother. His marriage to my 3xggrandmother was mentioned in letters written by Elizabeth Barrett (Browning). The ceremony took place in the British embassy chapel in Paris. A daughter was born in London. The little family moved to Toronto, Canada, where “my” ancestor was born, plus another daughter. Back in England, they lived in Devon. Then they were off to Australia. A son arrived soon after they reached Sydney. Then his wife died, so he married a widow, 35 years his junior. He started a second family, and fled to Canada, just ahead of creditors. Finally, he settled in Jacksonville, Florida. All this in the 19th century. This fellow’s travels would rival those of any modern day globe trotter.
It’s his parents that inspired my short story, There’s None So Blind. It appeared in the 2009 Romance Writers of Australia anthology. How could I not expand it into a full length novel? Especially after I tracked down a contemporary account of a salacious 1790s divorce involving one of them, found in a San Francisco bookshop crammed with legal works. I’ve since wandered around Bloomsbury, London, locating the family’s townhouses. The real life equivalent of my book’s hero often stayed in his father’s London house in the very upmarket and tiny Bedford Row. The British Society of Authors just happen to be moving into that street in March next year. Bloomsbury is chock full of literary associations. Even my hotel contained the transplanted library of the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet, Seamus Heaney.
Revelations concerning this particular branch of the family continue. My hero and heroine’s real life counterparts had children who befriended people like Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Wilberforce, and Elizabeth Fry, corresponded with Charles Darwin, and were related to Disraeli.
What am I writing about now? Well, the presence of several actors (or, in the vernacular of the time, theatricals) on a couple of twigs on the family tree has started me thinking: Now, what if…?
The Heart Has Its Reasons is available for ORDER by clicking this link https://www.bronwynhouldsworth.com/books