“One winter morning in 1879, the 20-year-old was found ‘collapsed upon the sands’ near the Semaphore Beach jetty. She had, she explained to the anxious crowd gathered about her, just survived a heinous abduction perpetrated by a ‘stoutly built’ man with ‘dark curly hair and beard’ named Horace Grevelle.”
Of all the fantasies that fuelled colonial women, elopement and abduction must have been one of the most enthralling for 19th-century newspapers frequently published accounts of young ladies running away with their dashing paramours. Some were married before they could be stopped, but just as many got themselves into a lot of hot water. Until the 1920s, it was illegal for a man to ‘take’ a woman from her parents without permission. This legislation can be traced to the 14th century when it was designed to protect wealthy heiresses from those seeking a quick fix for their financial woes. Because there were often vast fortunes and delicate reputations at stake, abduction was made a capital felony and remained so in England and Australia until 1828. The practice was even more popular in Ireland and, by the mid-19th century, thousands of Irishmen had been executed, while well over 180 Irish bride-thieves were also transported to the colonies. A thriving fiction market capitalised upon both the sort of runaway romances Jane Austen made famous as well as more nefarious abductions in which a woman was ‘ravished’ by a ‘ruffainly gang’. After all, this was the Victorian era, and anxieties about sexuality and respectability often found relief in images of vulnerable virgins swooning before glowering anti-heroes. So compelling was such literature that many runaway couples were inspired to follow suit. Indeed, in 1826, South Australia’s dubious foundation father, Edward Gibbon Wake field, stood in court, charged with abduction, vehemently protesting that Walter Scott’s novels had compelled him to elope with England’s wealthiest heiress. South Australia’s connections with abduction were not limited to this gentleman dandy. Nor were such fancies the exclusive domain of the rich and powerful. Take the case of Adelaide Froude, a domestic servant who lived in Port Adelaide with her father, a railway porter. Miss Froude may have come from humble origins, but she was clearly in possession of a rich imagination. One winter morning in 1879, the 20-year-old was found ‘collapsed upon the sands’ near the Semaphore Beach jetty. She had, she explained to the anxious crowd gathered about her, just survived a heinous abduction perpetrated by a ‘stoutly built’ man with ‘dark curly hair and beard’ named Horace Grevelle.
Kiera Lindsey’s latest novel examines another scandalous ‘abduction’
She and Grevelle had been engaged, Miss Froude later told the police, until the gentleman received an inheritance and decided to pursue ‘a better match’. Miss Froude then found a new fiancé in George Rae but as he had recently gone to Natal, Miss Froude had little choice but to make her way into town alone on the evening of her ‘abduction’. She had been passing through Victoria Square when she was suddenly accosted by Grevelle, who quickly ‘rendered her helpless’, and then drove her over rugged roads before hauling her onto a boat. Once alone on the ocean, Miss Froude’s captor revealed his intentions. ‘He alone would have her’, Grevelle insisted. She must now ‘be his wife or die’. Adelaide refused this proposal and then succeeded in pushing Grevelle into the sea, where he conveniently disappeared. Miss Froude’s boat then drifted for several hours, until the tide brought her to Henley Beach and she stumbled onto Semaphore. On the same night, Miss Froude’s father returned home to find a letter threatening ‘to wreck vengeance upon Adelaide’. The railway porter’s daughter had ‘fallen into the trap’, the mysterious author boasted and she ‘would now be forced to do things she had sworn never to do’. The anxious father took the letter to the police. When, however, the police recovered Miss Froude they took her to a doctor who found no evidence of violence. On the contrary, the doctor concluded, the young woman su ffered from an ‘excitable temperament’ and was also ‘inclined to hysterical hallucinations’. The police were even more skeptical, particularly when they discovered Miss Froude’s fiancé George Rae had been charged with embezzlement and was yet to leave for Natal, as previously indicated. When someone mentioned that Rae had been spotted on a steamer docked a little distance from where Miss Froude had collapsed that fateful morning, they quickly deduced that the lovers’ escape plan to leave Adelaide had come undone. There had been no abduction and there was no Horace Grevelle. This villain abductor may have been a figment of a young woman’s imagination but there were many real life colonial cads eager to try their chances with ‘giddy’ Australian girls. Some left stories of love thwarted and others love triumphant, but only in The Convict’s Daughter do we meet a colonial couple whose ‘abduction’ created such a legacy of heartache and humiliation, betrayal and bankruptcy that colonists were greatly relieved when the errant couple finally fled for the Californian gold fields. Dr Kiera Lindsey works at the University of South Australia. Her new book, The Convict’s Daughter: The Scandal that Shocked a Colony was published in May 2016.