Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Captain's adventure - from wealth and power to the Dorrigo Hills

NEW YORK MARRIAGE: Clarissa (Clara) Jerome nee  Hall. This is the first in a short series on the life and times of Captain Hugh Frewen 
Many remarkable stories are to be found hidden within the history of the broader New England, stories once well known but now much diminished by time. This is one-such story.

I am not sure when I first met Captain Hugh Frewen (or Cappie as he was known), but it must have been in the early sixties. I clearly remember him from New England New State Meetings and from our car drive on Sydney. There he stood out in his tropical drill suit, frail but still erect.

At the time, I had no idea of his history. He was just a friend of my grandfather's.

I did find out a little later that he was Winston Churchill’s first cousin when I found a letter in my grandfather’s papers from Clementine Churchill to Hugh Frewen.

In 1943, David Drummond had published a book called Australia’s Changing Constitution: No states or new states. Frewen sent a copy to Winston Churchill asking him to read it.

Clementine replied to say that Winston had yet to read it, perhaps not surprisingly in the circumstances, but had asked her to thank Hugh and say that he would read it. Drummond had annotated the letter to say that Hugh was Churchill’s cousin.

I knew little more until I watched a BBC TV series telling the story of his mother and her sisters. I was immediately caught.

There was such an enormous difference between the quiet hills of Dorrigo where High Frewen spent the last years of his life and the world of sometimes wealth and imperial power that Hugh Frewen came from.

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

Known as the King of Wall Street, Leonard Jerome was a flamboyant and successful stock speculator and railway investor who made and lost several fortunes.

Jerome was very much a New York man, part of that period of American history known as the Gilded Age. New York was his power base, his home. There he spent money on supporting the arts, on building race tracks and mansions.

The Jerome Mansion on the corner of Madison Avenue and 26th Street had a six-hundred-seat theatre, a breakfast room which seated seventy people, a ballroom of white and gold with champagne and cologne-spouting fountains!

His wife’s needs were  different. While a recognized beauty of the Gilded Age, she suffered from a degree of insecurity. Her sole goal, a biographer tartly recorded, was to ensure that each of her daughters married nobly and lucratively.

In 1867, Clara and her three daughters sailed for Europe, starting the next stage in our story.  
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 10 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  2017here 2018, here 2019   


Johnb said...

I also “knew” Captain Hugh Frewen Jim as he was a frequent sight in Bellingen during the late fifties/early sixties. I had peripheral contact with two of his sons, Viking and Saxon Frewen, at least one of his grandsons is still in business in the general area as I bumped into him on another blog. I also have a copy of his biography from those days, a volume I have just been searching for to no purpose so far. My principal recall from that biography is of his adventures, both physical and financial in Canada, British Columbia in particular. He misjudged the site for the founding of Vancouver as best I recall.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi John. That's very interesting. I started this series because I had written something before, but the material has exploded as I went along. One of the difficulties is that Hugh and his father had the same name! Another that the sources conflict. So the more I did in, the more questions there are! A case of biting off.....!

What is the name of his bio? Is it Imogene or do you have another? I am missing my copy. It's somewhere in the mess. Trying to work out how to pull all this together. It's such a great yarn. I also hadn't realised that Hugh had written more than Imogene.

I can't re-write the series, so I'm just trying to consolidate a little. I will do a fuller story for New England Travels plus some supplementary material for the main history.

By the way, I think that I have rented a house in Armidale, so will be back there end August, early September.

Johnb said...

Returning to Country as we all try to do. I haven’t found my copy yet for similar reasons. Wonder who will be firstto find the volume. Yes Mortal Ruin does cause confusion.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi John. I have found the book I was looking for, Imogene I wonder if you were thinking of Anita Leslie's 'Mr. Frewen of England: a Victorian adventurer'. (Hutchinson). This was on Moreton.