GOVERNESS TO THE MAD COUNT OF MORDIALLOC


On Wednesday 23 September 1874 my great great grandfather John Ross McNaughton wrote from a relative's place at 395 Govan Road, Govan, Glasgow to his daughter in Melbourne. A portion reads as follows:

"My dear daughter, I am very glad to learn from your Brother's letter that you are still in the service of the Count. I hope that you will try to give satisfaction and that you will try to save as much of your wages as you can & always be in the one place."

John only had two living daughters at the time. Jane was born in 1838, sailed with John and his wife Agnes from Scotland to Australia, married Hugh Charles Hughes in 1858, had four children in 1858, 1861, 1863 and 1867, married John Thomas on 22 December 1869 and had two more children in 1870 and 1874. She would have been 36 in 1874 with home duties, so probably not "in the service of the Count." The other daughter, Agnes, was born on 28 March 1850, would have been 24 in 1874 and was unmarried, hence more likely to have been in the service of the Count. I only knew of one Count in Australia in the 19th century - Count Strzelecki (1797-1873). He was a Polish nobleman, explorer and geologist and was the first person to discover gold in Australia - in Gippsland in 1839. George Gipps, governor of New South Wales, fearing the effects of a rush on the colony, persuaded him to keep it secret. Strzelecki went back to London in 1849 and died in 1873 so it is unlikely that Agnes worked for him in 1874.

When I searched for "Count" and "Victoria" on the Web I discovered Count de Castelnau, a much better candidate. Professor Walter Kirsop of the French department at Monash University had researched Castelnau so I e-mailed the department and, as a result, he telephoned me on 4 September 2008. I was delighted to find that Kirsop knew Celia Frewen and her mother who both worked in the French department when I was a post-grad student in the chemical engineering department 1962-63. Professor Kirsop suggested Agnes McNaughton may have been a domestic for Castelnau and recommended two books [1,2] in which to seek other Count candidates. These cost $86 and $100 second-hand on the Web so I borrowed them on interlibrary loan. The first went up to the 1850's and was not much help in finding a Count in Melbourne in 1874. It referred to the disproportionate number of "gentlemen" who arrived in Melbourne after its founding in 1835 and their leadership role in the new settlement. It also pointed out that they were not well equipped to survive in such an enviroment, especially when a depression started in 1842. John Ross McNaughton arrived in January 1839 but there were no references to McNaughtons or Counts in the index and I did not discover any other pertinent details after reading the first 70 pages and scanning the rest.

Appendix 4 of the second book, "Cadets of Titled, Landed or Ancient Families" (pages 503-516) is an alphabetical list that includes titles close to the name. I scanned the first line of every entry and read some. I only found two Counts (spelled "Compte de") a Count being a European nobleman whose rank corresponds with a British earl. One was Lionel de Moreton Chabrillan (1818-58) who died before 1874; the other was Castelnau. There were no references to McNaughtons or Counts in the index. Melbourne's population in 1874 would have been less than 150,000; how many other "Counts" could there have been?

François Louis Nompar de Caumont Laporte (or Delaporte), Compte de Castelnau, naturalist, diplomat and author, was born on 25 December 1810 in London [3,4,5]. He arrived in Melbourne in 1862 and became consul-general for France (Fig. 1). In 1874 he acquired 654 acres of land in Mordialloc on what is now the southwest corner of Lower Dandenong and Boundary Roads (Fig. 2). Jonathan Stanway Parker had built a six-roomed house on this land; by 1876 it had expanded to twelve rooms. In 1876 Castelnau travelled around Australia with his Brazilian mistress, Carolina d'Aranjo Fonçeca, her son Edouard, and his private secretary, Edmund Marin La Meslée. During the trip La Meslée was in charge of Edouard and in his memoirs [6] he describes the boy as "a youngster of about twelve . . . and placed in this world for the sole purpose of making me do penance for my sins." Carolina was born in Bahia, Brazil, around 1834 and "married" Castelnau on 13 July 1853, apparently not knowing he was already married. She had a son named Charles on 18 March 1854 in Brazil and gave birth to Edouard at 5 Albert Street, East Melbourne on 12 January 1864. Castelnau is supposed to be the father of both.

If Agnes McNaughton worked for the Count in 1874, there would have been plenty to do for a 24-year old domestic. The Count was responsible for the French consulate at 4 Apsley Place plus a mistress with a "difficult" son of about eleven. Charles was now twenty, apparently a spendthrift and may have lived elsewhere. The Count probably needed a nanny, a maid and a cook. Perhaps Agnes McNaughton's father knew the Count was a traveller, already in 1874 contemplating a trip around Australia with Edouard, and in need of a travelling nanny. John may have been urging Agnes not to stray from Melbourne when he wrote her: "I hope that you will . . . always be in the one place." John McNaughton was on a two-year return visit to his home country and, when he wrote Agnes, had just learned that Christian, one of his three daughters, died a tragic death in Sandhurst (later called Bendigo) in his absence. His good wishes for Agnes sadly were dashed the next year when she also passed away.

According to the death certificate, Agnes McNaughton of 13 Arthur Street, South Yarra died on 5 February 1875 and was an unmarried governess. South Yarra is a good address and the house may have been owned by the Count or his mistress. Carolina derived an independent living by her real estate investments and lived at various places around Melbourne (Fig. 3), not moving into No. 3 Apsley Place by the French consulate until after Castelnau died at No. 4. Agnes died of pulmonary consumption (tuberculosis) that lasted a month and was seen by a Dr. Ramsey (?) on the 5th. Tuberculosis (TB) was a common cause of death in Melbourne in the nineteenth century. The bacillus responsible was not discovered until 1882; even in 2008 it is one of the deadliest and most common infectious diseases.

The informant was her 33-year-old brother - my great grandfather - John, of West Melbourne. John may have been living in his parents' house at 138 Lonsdale Street while they were away. His first born, Little Johnnie, aged nine months, died on 13 February 1874, of congestion of the brain. This may have been hydrocephalus, sometimes called water on the brain, which occurs in 1/500 births and was routinely fatal until surgical techniques were developed in the 20th century. His death occurred eight days after John's father and mother set off on their 100-day voyage via Cape Horn on the ss "Great Britain" to get their youngest son Colin started at school in Edinburgh. Now, with the death of Agnes in Melbourne, John and his wife Catherine were due in six weeks to have their second child, Charles Robert, my grandfather. John had five other brothers, aged 17-30, who probably were all capable of taking care of themselves.

Castelnau died aged 74 at his city residence, 4 Apsley Place, Gisborne Street, East Melbourne on 4 February 1880 and bequeathed his "freehold farm estate at Mordialloc . . . known as Mayfield" to Fonçeca. Carolina died on 28 April 1901 aged 75, estranged from her son Charles but still devoted to her mentally ill son Edouard. She is buried next to Castelnau in the Melbourne General Cemetery. Her will left Mayfield to Edouard and provided for an estate manager. Edouard was declared to be of unsound mind; a Master of Lunacy appointed some domestic staff to live at Mayfield with him. In 1913 portions of the estate were leased to other interests, including the Mordialloc Golf Club. In 1925 the club was dissolved and its assets were transferred to the Woodlands Golf Club, which purchased 158 acres in 1935. Edouard was known for his eccentric behaviour and was nicknamed "The Mad Count." He died on 15 April 1939 aged 75. Mayfield was purchased and used as headquarters for the Specialised Vibrated Concrete Company until it was demolished in 2006.

Hence from two brief sentences written by John Ross McNaughton in 1874 it has been possible to determine 134 years later, that my great grand aunt Agnes was probably governess, in his youth, to The Mad Count Edouard Fonçeca of Mordialloc.

[Apsley Place]
[Mayfield]
[Carolina Terrace]
Apsley Place, Gisborne Street,
East Melbourne, site of the French
Consulate at No. 4 and residence of
Carolina Fonçeca at No. 3
(photo by Alan Willingham 2002)
"Mayfield", Mordialloc
(photo by Graham Whitehead 2002)
Carolina Fonçeca derived income from
real estate investments, including six large
houses in Carolina Terrace, Carlton
(photo by Alan Willingham 2002)

REFERENCES:
1. De Serville, Paul, "Port Phillip Gentlemen and Good Society in Melbourne Before the Gold Rushes," Oxford University Press, 1980, 256 pp.
2. De Serville, Paul, "Pounds and Pedigrees: The Upper Class in Victoria 1850-80," Oxford University Press, 1991, 629 pp.
3. Australian Dictionary of Biography
4. Allom Lovell & Associates, "Nobility at Mordialloc," Kingston Historical Website.
5. Willingham, Allan, "Carolina D'Araujo Fonçeca: Mordialloc Landowner," Kingston Historical Website.
6. La Meslée, Edmund Marin, "The New Australia," 1883, translated and introduced by Russel Ward, Heinemann, London, 1973.

© This work is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any medium without written permission of the author, Ken McNaughton, 3778 College Avenue, Ellicott City, MD 21043; phone/fax: 410-418-9340; kjmcn@comcast.net (2 October 2008).

[Ken McNaughton]

Contributed by Ken McNaughton (PPPG Member No. 1061)


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