Speculator: Morton Frewen lost a great deal of money on grandiose schemes. This is the third in a short series on the life and times of Captain Hugh Frewen
Born in 1853 and educated at Eton College and Trinity College Cambridge, Hugh Morton Frewen came from an old and wealthy English-Irish landowning county family.
In 1881 Morton married Clara Jerome at Grace Church New York. It must have seemed a fine match to Clara’s mother, one suiting her dynastic ambitions. Sadly, appearances can be deceiving. Clara did find love, but not dynastic success.
Morton Frewen would acquire the nickname Mortal Ruin because of his habit of borrowing and losing money on grandiose schemes. In the words of the great imperial writer Rudyard Kipling, Frewen lived “in every sense, except what is called common sense, very richly and wisely to his own extreme content”.
Initially, Moreton took Clara to live on the large ranch he had acquired in Wyoming, the Prince of Wales Ranch. Wyoming was in the middle of a cattle boom, and Frewen was seeking to build a cattle empire there as part of the boom.
Frewen built a huge log cabin castle/mansion to house his new bride. This new house quickly burnt down. Worse was to follow.
The cattle boom had been based on speculation connected with the expansion of European settlement into new territories. This was unsustainable.
As the Wyoming cattle boom came to an end, Morton Frewen’s venture collapsed. He had arrived with 16,000 pounds capital. He left with debts of 30,000 pounds.
Our New England hero, Hugh Frewen Jnr, was born in 1883, the first of three surviving children. His sister, Clare Consuelo Frewen, became a writer, journalist and sculptress who mixed with the elites and, among other things, was Charlie Chaplin’s lover.
Hugh Frewen grew up in the old manor house of Brede Place., a house that his mother somehow managed to keep despite the family’s financial tribulations. Frewen loved Brede Place, “its stones of hoary grey, set in the foreground of a fairy bay, with land-locked waters rippling into foam.”
Life wasn’t always easy for the boy. This was a world that mixed access to the British and European aristocracy and intelligentsia with the embarrassment of a father who sometimes could not pay the school fees!
Despite the problems, it seems to have been a happy time. Frewen loved his father and did not share the negative perceptions that had formed about him.
I am not sure what Frewen did first after leaving school, but from 1906 to 1909 he was private secretary to Sir Percy Girouard, the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Northern Nigeria and then, a little later, political officer in charge of a Nigerian hill station.
This position marks the start of the journey that would finally bring Hugh Frewen to Dorrigo’s quiet green hills.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 24 July 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017, here 2018, here 2019