Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Belshaw’s World: the Hugh Frewen story

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 4 February 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a week's lag because the Express columns are not on line. This column is in fact a shortened version of a much longer post - Saturday Morning Musings - Hugh Frewen: a New England story 

I first met Captain Hugh Frewen (or Cappie as he was known) in the early sixties. I specially remember him from New State Meetings and from our car drive on Sydney. There he stood out in his tropical drill suit, frail but still erect.

I had no idea of his history. It was only later that I found out the full story following a very popular BBC TV series that told the story of his mother's family.

Frewen recorded his own story in Imogene an odyssey (Australasian Publishing Company, 1944). It is the story of a man who wandered the world from his birth until his arrival in Dorrigo and New England where he was to spend the rest of his life.

The forest melts as we o'ertop the crest,
Yielding to homely scenes and paths we know,
While grassy uplands open to the west,
The rolling hills and downs of Dorrigo;

Our story begins in 1849 with the marriage of the New York financier Leonard Jerome and Clarrisa (Clara) Hall. The couple had four daughters, one of whom died young.

Leonard Jerome was a financial robber baron who speculated in stocks and had interests in a number of railroads, making and losing several fortunes. However, he was very much a New York person, content to fund his wife's interests.

Clarrisa was different. According to one tart biographer, her sole goal was for her daughters to marry nobly and lucratively. In 1867 she and the girls sailed for Paris where, she believed, the Court of Napoleon III would inevitably fulfil her most ambitious social fantasies.

Following Napoleon’s fall in 1870, Clarissa took the girls to London where they cut a swath through society.

The beautiful Jennie married first. On 15 April 1874, she married Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill at the British Embassy, Paris. Their first son, Winston Churchill, was born in November 1874, making him a somewhat premature child if my maths is correct!

Then on 2 June 1881, Clarita (Clara) married Moreton Frewen at Grace Church New York.

Moreton became known as Mortal Ruin because of his habit of borrowing and losing money on grandiose schemes. This included a Wyoming US cattle venture where he is reported to have arrived with 16,000 pounds, leaving owing 30,000 pounds!

Rudyard Kipling observed of Moreton Frewen that he lived "in every sense, except what is called common sense, very richly and wisely to his own extreme content, and if he had ever reached the golden crock of his dreams, he would have perished".

Hugh Frewen was born in 1883, growing up in the old manor house of Brede Place, a house that his mother somehow managed to keep despite the family's financial tribulations. This was a world that mixed access to the old European aristocracy with the embarrassment of a father who sometimes could not pay the school fees!

From 1906 to 1909 Frewen was private secretary to Sir Percy Girouard, the Governor of Northern Nigeria, and then a little late political officer in charge of a Nigerian hill station. However, he had to resign from the Colonial Office when his concerns about what he saw as British profiteering on Nigerian currency issues, concerns that he raised with his father who was then a British MP, led to the appointment of a Royal Commission.

On February 21 1914, Hugh married donna Maria Nunziante, daughter and co-heiress of the Italian Duke of Mignano. They had two sons before the marriage ended in divorce in 1922. Hugh then married Rosalind Jones, a marriage that brought three further sons and two daughters.

Hugh served throughout the First World War, including the Gallipoli Campaign. Following the war, he ended up as a special services officer in Iraq. This was not always easy.

Here for a little while did I contrive
To measure wits with Oriental wiles
(my predecessor had been burnt alive).

Like many English men of the time, he had a great love and respect for the Arab.

Thine are the manners of an earlier day
Thy nature decorous as ours uncouth,

His support for the Arab position led to another falling out with elements of the imperial system when he took the side of King Feisal against the British High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox.

He resigned, and began the wanderings that were to bring him finally to Dorrigo and to our meetings.

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