Hapless Eliza [short story, 24 March 1832]

[Editor: This short story was published in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, NSW), 24 March 1832.]

Hapless Eliza.

[For the Sydney Gazette].

About two years ago I was induced to visit Australia, with a view to find out or ascertain the fate of a hapless relative of mine, who was married, at an early age, to an officer of the Honourable East India Company’s service; and who, it appears, “bravely fought and nobly fell” in the Rangoon wars, leaving her a widow, with two helpless infants, unprovided for and unprotected. Eliza — for that is her name — was a sensible, pleasing, and interesting girl, with no small share of personal attractions, beloved by all that knew her, and every one felt interested for her welfare and happiness; but her thoughtless and unguarded disposition led her into many difficulties and dangers, and it appears was the cause of her being banished India to New South Wales, where she arrived with her two children — the one two and the other three years of age. Having married contrary to the wishes of her family, there was but little intercourse, except now and then a short letter — the first informing us she was a mother, and the next a widow; and it was from the public papers alone we heard of her misfortunes and downfall. These distressing events threw, very naturally, her family and friends into the greatest consternation; particularly an aged mother, who for a time was bereft of her reason. What to do we knew not; letter after letter was sent, but no tidings of poor Eliza. At length I determined to visit New South Wales, and having provided myself with authority to obtain her freedom, I embarked; and, after a passage of 135 days, we arrived in safety at Sydney.

My first object, on landing, was to endeavour to find out my dear and much-loved relative; consequently I hastily visited all the authorities there, but could gain no tidings. I was persuaded to visit the different settlements in the colony, and advertise, which I did, but still could hear nothing; when, after a fruitless though diligent search of near twelve months, I determined on returning to England, concluding she must be dead, and therefore I engaged a passage for that purpose. Now, it happened at the inn where I was, that a young gentleman occupied an adjoining room, and, being low and dejected, I was desirous of his acquaintance, and we were afterwards much together; but I soon found that he, like myself, was labouring under disappointment. We were miserable comforters; however, I often importuned him to tell me the cause of his grief, in hopes of alleviating his sufferings and doing him good; but he only answered, nothing but death could alleviate his sufferings — there was nothing now in this world could do him good — and then, with much feeling, would repeat the following beautiful lines:—

“Oh! may thy grave with rising flowers be drest,
And the green turf lie lightly on thy breast;
There shall the moon her earliest tears bestow —
There the first roses of the year shall blow —
While angels, with their silver wings, o’ershade
The ground now sacred by thy reliques made.”

One day an old acquaintance, while in the navy, called upon me at the inn, and gave me an invitation to spend a few days with him in the country while the ship was getting ready. I introduced him to my friend Mortimore, who was with me, when he gave him an invitation also; and, at sunrise on a beautiful morning in November, we set off to walk it, each with a little bundle and a stick; and while lying down to rest on the second day, on the summit of a hill which commanded a very extensive and delightful prospect, I heard him exclaim, “Oh, dear Devon! — how much this reminds me of the romantic scenery of Devon, and my dear Eliza!” On resuming our journey, I again enquired the cause of this grief and dejection of mind, telling him it was one of that unhappy name who was the cause of my visiting this country, and of all my sorrow — but he made no reply. I wanted to persuade him to return with me to England, but he said he was resolved to live and die in Australia, having for ever taken leave of his native country and friends.

It was not until the fifth day we arrived at the residence of my friend, Capt. ——, although only 70 miles distance, who kindly welcomed us to his hospitable mansion, and introduced us to his amiable lady and her friends; after which we walked in the garden until dinner was announced, when I took an opportunity, for the first time, to relate the object of my visit to this country, and the disappointment I had met with, &c. Mortimore said nothing, but appeared to feel deeply at hearing my narrative. However, dinner being over, the servant was told to tell Eliza to bring the children — and presently the door opened, and who should enter, with two lovely girls, but my dear and much-loved relative, and long-lost Eliza.

To even endeavour to describe the scene that followed is impossible; suffice it to say, fixing her eyes upon me, she exclaimed, with wild astonishment, “Oh, my dear George! is it you that has come to witness my humiliation?” and then observing Mortimore, “and you, Henry Mortimore, too? Oh, God! God! what shall I do? — what does all this mean?” and then fell almost lifeless on a sofa that was near, exclaiming faintly as she fell, “Oh, my dear mother! my dear mother!” The first impulse of this extraordinary scene having subsided, which drew tears from the eyes of all, and the deepest lamentations from the dear children, Eliza exclaimed, “Oh, my dear cousin, why did you come to make me again a wretched woman? I fondly hoped to have lived and died forgotten and unknown; — I almost fancied myself happy; — and you, Henry Mortimore, too, whom I once so deeply injured; — all my sorrows revive, my grief is insupportable!”

The day having drawn to a close, the family were as usual assembled to their evening devotions; and never shall I, or can I, forget the sensations of gratitude and thankfulness I felt, to that great Disposer of all human affairs, for the wonderful events of this eventful day.

Time and circumstances had made great inroads upon poor Eliza. Her once lovely face was marked with care and sorrow; and her figure, once so admired, and so richly adorned, was worn down with fatigue, and clad in the rustic habiliments of domestic costume. However, these impressions daily wore off, and, during our frequent walks, we almost fancied ourselves living in better and happier days; but poor Mortimore, who was never absent, hardly ever spoke, except on one occasion, when he said, “Eliza, you know you treated me once unkindly, but I forgive you; and now that I have once more had the happiness of seeing you, life or death, I am content.”

Time thus passed on for some days, when I took an opportunity of telling Eliza that I hoped, after a little, she would be ready to accompany me to England, as I was prepared to obtain her liberty, and the good family she was with had given their consent; but she said, “George, that can never be, for I am solemnly engaged to marry to one who has ever been my benefactor and friend — not so much for a companion for myself as a father for my children, for I know I am not long for this world, feeling, as I do, both mind and body fast on the decline.” Nothing could exceed the grief I felt at this intelligence, except that of dear Eliza, who was overwhelmed. To poor Mortimore it was a death stroke, from which he never recovered; for soon after our arrival in Sydney I followed him to his grave, and his last words were imploring heavenly blessings on his dear, dear Eliza.

After spending ten eventful days in the country, I took leave of the good family, and my dear relative for a time — and Henry Mortimore did so for ever. In about a month afterwards, Eliza came to Sydney, with her two lovely children, and was united to the man she was bound in gratitude to esteem, if not love — and I am preparing to embark for England to-morrow morning, one of the most wretched, unhappy men in existence.

Sydney, 21st March, 1832.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, NSW), 24 March 1832, p. 3

Also published in:
The Launceston Advertiser (Launceston, Tas.), 23 May 1832, p. 168 (8th page of that issue)

Editor’s notes:
bereft = to be deprived of, to lack, or to have lost something; to be without something

Capt. = an abbreviation of “Captain”

determined = decided, resolved (can also mean: of firm decision, of unwavering mind, resolute, unwavering; to have decided to do something, especially in the face of difficulties)

Devon = a county in the south-west of England, located to the east of the county of Cornwall

drest = an archaic form of the word “dressed”

great Disposer of all human affairs = God

habiliment = clothing, attire (usually rendered in the plural form: habiliments)

intercourse = communication, conversation, dealings, or interaction between individuals and/or groups (in modern times, commonly used to refer to sexual intercourse)

o’ershade = overshade (cover with shade, to have shade overhead)

Rangoon wars = a reference to the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826), which was fought between the British Empire and the Burmese Empire; the city of Rangoon (also known as Yangon), situated at the convergence of the Yangon and Bago Rivers in Burma (also known as Myanmar), was captured by the British in 1824 (the city was taken again by the British in 1852, during the Second Anglo-Burmese War; they made it the capital city of Lower Burma, and it later became the capital of all Burma, until 2006)

relique = (an archaic spelling of “relic”) a buried body, a corpse, the remains of a dead person (plural: reliques)

thy = (archaic) your

[Editor: Changed “this extrrordinary scene” to “this extraordinary scene”.]

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