Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saturday Morning Musings - Hugh Frewen: a New England story

Moreton Frewen, Wyoming, c 1880.

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 grand-father's. It was only later that I found out the full story, and then after a BBC TV series telling the story of his mother's family.

I was reminded of all this because I have just be re-reading his Imogene an odyssey (Australasian Publishing Company, 1944). In her forward to the book, Dame Mary Gilmore wrote that it was a record of impressions and reflections in verse during journeys across four continents and over many countries.

It is also the story of a man from his birth to his arrival in Dorrigo and New England where he was to spend the rest of his life.

The forest melts as we o'ertop the crest,

Yielding to homely scenes and paths we know,

While grassy uplands open to the west,

The rolling hills and downs of Dorrigo;

There is an enormous difference between the quiet world of Dorrigo and the world of sometimes wealth and imperial power that Hugh Frewen came from, from New York and the imperial courts of Europe to the hall meetings where New England's future was debated.

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

Leonard Jerome was variably successful in financial terms. He speculated in stocks and had interests in a number of railroads, making and losing several fortunes. However, he seems to have been very much a New York person, content to fund his wife's interests.

Clarrisa was very different. One tart biographer records that her sole goal was that they each marry nobly and lucratively. So in 1867 she and the girls and sailed for Paris where, she believed, the Court of Napoleon III would inevitably fulfil her most ambitious social fantasies.

Foll0wing Napoleon's fall, their mother took the girls to London where they attracted considerable attention, cutting something of a swath through society.

The beautiful Jennie was the first to marry. On 15 April 1874, she married Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill at the British Embassy, Paris. Their first son, Winston Churchill, was born in November 1874, making him a somewhat premature child if my maths is correct!

Leonie Jerome ('the witty') married Irish Baronet Sir John Leslie, 2nd Bt. (1857-1944). They had 4 sons.

In the middle, of these two weddings, Clarita (Clara) married Moreton Frewen at Grace Church New York on 2 June 1881.

Moreton , also known as Mortal Ruin because of his habit of borrowing and losing money on grandiose schemes, is best know in the US for his Wyoming cattle venture where he is reported to have arrived with 16,000 pounds, leaving owing 30,000 pounds! Kipling observed that Frewen lived "in every sense, except what is called common sense, very richly and wisely to his own extreme content, and if he had ever reached the golden crock of his dreams, he would have perished".

Who fashioned first these stones of hoary grey,

All streaked and weathered now with gold and chrome,

Set in the foreground of a fairy bay

With land-locked waters rippling into foam?

Hugh Frewen was born in 1883. He grew up in the old manor house of Brede Place, a house that his mother managed to keep somehow, despite the family's financial tribulations. This was a world that mixed access to the old European aristocracy with the embarrassment of a father who sometimes could not pay the school fees! However, it is clear from his notes in Imogene that Hugh Frewen did not share the negative perceptions of his father.

I am not sure what Hugh Frewen did first after leaving school, but from 1906 to 1909 he was private secretary to Sir Percy Girouard who was Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Northern Nigeria and then a little late political officer in charge of a Nigerian hill station. However, he had to resign from the Colonial Office when his concerns about what he saw as British profiteering on Nigerian currency issues, concerns that he raised with his father who was then a British MP, led to the appointment of a Royal Commission.

On February 21 1914, Hugh married donna Maria Nunziante, daughter and co-heiress of the Italian Duke of Mignano. While they had two sons, the marriage ended in divorce in 1922. Hugh then married Rosalind Jones, a marriage that brought three further sons and two daughters.

Hugh served throughout the First World War, including the Gallipoli Campaign.Following the war, Hugh ended up as a special services officer in Iraq. This was not always easy.

Here for a little while did I contrive

To measure wits with Oriental wiles

(my predecessor had been burnt alive).

Like many English men of the time, he had a great love and respect for the Arab.

So slow to reason, and so swift to slay,
I love thy spirit - thy contempt for gold
But as a toy to give or take away!
Thine are the manners of an earlier day.
Thy nature decorous as ours uncouth,
In love - a lion,
purring for his prey,
In hate - inexorable as the sleuth,

Like Lawrence, this led to another falling out with elements of the imperial system when he took the side of King Feisal against the British High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox.

Frewen's description of Cox is scathing - tall, cadaverous, tight-lipped as a Spanish Hidalgo, he seemed to have stepped straight out of the pages of Don Quixote. By contrast, King Feisal was a truly regal personage, and a man of outstanding character, .. not to be treated as a cipher, neither were his people of a mettle to brook subservience.

I cannot comment on Frewen's role in subsequent events without checking my historical facts. But Frewen summarised one key issue this way:

Yet the principle for which he (Frewen) stood, and which has since been vindicated
by the course of history in the granting of complete independence to the Iraqian state, was simply the honouring of Britain's pledged word to her faithful ally, the Arab people.

In any event, Hugh Frewen now began the wanderings that were to bring him finally to Dorrigo and to our meetings.

A postscript.

Hugh Frewen died in 1967. In 1972 I was campaigning in Dorrigo for Country party pre-selection. The story of the three sisters had just been retold as a major BBC TV series.

My pilot, the local who was guiding me, said that we were going to meet one of Hugh's sons, Winston Churchill's nephew.

As I trod the steps cut into the hill towards the house, a typical Dorrigo farm house with the washing drying on the veranda, I could not help but compare the scene with the the world of European aristocracy that I had so recently been immersed in.


Anonymous said...

What a fascinating story.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, Neil. I think that it is indeed that.

Anonymous said...

Apart from placing 'absolutely' in front of 'fascinating' I can only agree with ninglun.

You should obviously go "on the road" much more often.


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, KVD, although going on the road too ofetn is a tad tiring!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting to read this about Hugh. I live in East Sussex, England, close to Brickwall and Brede Place, the Frewen's former estates here. As I lived in Brede itself for most of my childhood and have a keen interest in local history, I carried out a lot of research into the Frewen family and their very interesting history. Hugh Frewen has always been hard to research though, by virtue of the fact that he chose to reside in Australia and there don't seem to be many records concerning him! He certainly owned property in Ireland, as his father Moreton transferred the Innishannon Estate (3300 acres and the entire village) to him during his lifetime, though Moreton's exploits had resulted in mortgages amounting to £ 26,000 by this time. Their home, Castle View, was burnt down during the uprising in 1921 and I believe a lot of the estate was sold off. However, Hugh's son, Roger mentions Irish property in his will, so there may still be a connection to Ireland. Any other information you may come accross would be most welcome!

Greg Coleman

Jim Belshaw said...

Good evening, Greg. Nice to hear from you.

Imogene is the best source of info that I know on Hugh because the poems are supported by autobiograpical notes on different aspects of his life. A search suggests that copies can still be found for sale on-line.

The Australian family may still have some records, although I am not sure where they are now.A search of Frewen in the Dorrigo white pages shows three:

Frewen R C & K M, (02) 6657 2558
13 Elm Ave
Dorrigo NSW 2453

Frewen S (02) 6657 2321
14 Beech St
Dorrigo NSW 2453

Frewen S A & K D (02) 6657 2772
501 Maynards Plains Rd
Dorrigo NSW 2453

I suspect one if not more than of these three is related.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this article tonight. Hugh was brother to Oswald, who wrote "Sailors Soliloquy” and to Clare Sheridan nee Frewen, sculptress and author of several books.

The property of the Sussex Frewens in Ireland is almost gone, what remains is small, residual amounts of freehold interest/ground rent. There also was a large estate in Co. Galway/Connemara, long gone.

Hugh’s Nigerian connection was instrumental in introducing Lady Randolph Churchill to her second husband. While serving in Iraq Hugh met the noted Arabist, Gertrude Bell who mentions him. (see below).

There is a branch of Frewens in Ireland (same family but quite distantly related, arriving here in 1650) which also has a sub-branch in Australia. It, in turn, has a sub-branch in New Zealand. Add to that the descendents of Hugh, noting that the common ancestry ensures that Christian names are repeated liberally. Mix that with another lot from Ireland that changed their name to Frewen on arrival in Oz in the early 1800s and you can see why the family genealogy can cause confusion!
Bob Frewen
RFrewen at

GERTRUDE BELL - The Letters [3 January 1921] in which she mentions a meeting with a Maj. Frewen:
<< I feel convinced (this is all private) that if our military people would drop their extravagant war standard of expenditure we could keep the necessary troops here at far smaller cost. Think of it - we are still keeping up military labour corps for road mending and street watering which is all paid for by the British tax-payer when it ought to be done, if they can afford to do it, by Mesopotamian municipalities - if they can't afford it, they can't have it. Our electricity, even our milk and butter are provided by the British army, I've no doubt at a loss. They ought to be provided by private enterprize - at a profit. The whole organization of G.H.Q. is on a war basis - what need have they now, for instance, of an Intelligence Branch of 4 or 5 highly paid officers? It's a war need, not a peace need. And in point of fact they are doing work which need not be done at all and which they're doing - so far as I can judge - very ill. There debouched in my office the other day an innocent called, if I remember rightly, Frewen, a Major, recently added to I. Branch. He stated that he had been entrusted with the task of compiling a Gazetteer of Mesopotamia and as he had only been 3 months in the country he had come to me for information. Thereupon he produced and read out a series of questions which no one in this universe could have answered. They were either pure tosh or they were things that you can't know. What, said he, was Baghdad like in the time of Harun al Rashid? I don't know - nobody does. People have spent lifetimes of research in trying to form a vague picture of it but they haven't arrived at any real conclusion. Did I, he proceeded solemnly, think that the Turks were a Semitic race? That I could answer off hand, but imagine the state of mind of the man who asked the question! Then he tied himself up into the most inextricable knots over the ancient Chaldaeans (he hadn't a notion who they were) and the modern Chaldaean church which is merely the Roman Catholic branch of the Nestorians - it's the fancy name of a sect born of missionary enterprize. Finally I'm sorry to say I lost patience, said I was very busy and suggested that before he came to me he should read a few articles in the Encyclopaedia Britanica - and with that I bowed him out rather abruptly. But what I wish to point out is that you're paying for his researches. And for many like him, you may feel assured.>>

Anonymous said...

If you want to know about my grandfather Why don't you ask his children who are very much alive. One still living in Dorrigo NSW, one in Bingara NSW, and one in Bundaberg, Qld. His daughter Imogene is living in Grafton in NSW. He has considerable amount of grandchildren and great grandchildren living through out NSW, Qld and WA.

Rosalind Simpson - Granddaughter

Jim Belshaw said...

Bob, thank you for your information. Fascinating, answering one of Greg's questions.

Thank you, too, Rosalind. I was nor sure where the local family now was. Again, this may help Greg Coleman if he wants to follow up.

I wrote the original post as a kind of nostalgia piece. I am glad that it attracted interest.

Rosalind, what is not mentioned in the comments is that KVD (Kangaroo Valley David), the third commentator was so interested that he bought a copy of Imogene on-line and then gave it to his business partner to read. I thought that was nice.

Jim Belshaw said...

Rosalind, if you come back to this blog,a question for you that may seem very odd and is in any case a long stretch. Where does the Simpson come from? I ask because there may be another Armidale/Dorrigo link here.

Nicola Frewen said...

Hello nice article
I'm a relative in this family ....

Nicola Frewen said...

sorry i should've mentioned
the part in the article where you had mentioned they were going to meet the pilot, winston churchill's nephew.
That would be my grandfather.
great article

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Nicola. I have very fond memories of cappie. I liked writing this story, and I enjoyed the fact that so many people were interested. Do you have an email address?

I gave an outstanding emial who was writing a Pacific book and wanted to take about cappies Pacific wanderings.

Rosalind mentioned the family, but didn'y give me any address details beyond location.

Jim Belshaw said...

A further point, Nicola. Now that I am trying to write a history of New England I want to blend in a little about the Frewens.

Nicola Frewen said...

My great grandpa Hugh.. was banished to the colonies by his aristocratic family because he married a commoner (Rosalind - his second wife)where he became a farmer at Jerome park in dorrigo.
He was together with Judith wright, the famous Australian poet (and incidently an early campaigner for aboriginal rights) they were active in the campaign to establish a new state called new england.
After his military service he met his first wife Memy at Rome Airport (this was before the first world war)and took her back to england which didn't suit her.. when the mariage broke up (wasnt long) she returned to the continent and later married the famous brewer - Guinness, meanwhile Hugh travelled the world ( a typical frewen activity) and for a time he earned his living taking lepers between the fijian islands. He also spent some time in Adelaide working as a labourer before settling in dorrigo.
Hugh was a frequent visitor to England especially when his first cousin Winston Churchill became Prime minister and he virtually haunted downing street.

My Father Jerome Frewen met his grandfather Hugh (for the first time) at Dorrigo on the occasion of his 80th Birthday. His recollection was of a learned, country gentlemen - better suited to the ancient rolling hills of his native sussex than the rugged and hard lifestyle of a potato and dairy farmer in the new england highlands surrounded by leech infested forest. However Hugh spent his days writing his memiors, writing to relations in England and telling ripping yarns about life growing up in England and his world travels while his sons and daughter toiled to eke out a living in the harsh sunburnt Australian country side. Hugh was from another world....

My father has some interesting stories relating to My grandfather who fought during the second world war as pilot and died shortly after, I have his war medals and wear them at anzac day.

I hope you enjoyed the above stories from my father my email is:
and my fathers is: (he would have more knowledge than me)

Thank you for your time.

Riley Pathfinder said...

A comment from family still in East Sussex.
His wife Rosalind was his companion from 1922 and the mother of his Australian based children. Firstly, she probably caught HF's attention because of her beauty and secondly her job, she worked as a gardener at Crowham Manor, between Brede and Westfield, unusual for those days.
Her sister, Hazel and brothers lived in this area all their lives and there are still relatives there today. Hazel was my mother in law. If you would like any more information please contact us.
Many thanks

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi RP. I do apologise for the delay in responding. It's hard for me at the moment to manage my emails and blog comments.

As it happened, I mentioned Cappie Frewen today in another post - In response, one of my regular commenters KVd reminded me that he bought a copy of Imogene for his previous business partner.

I would so love to write a proper biography of Hugh Frewen.

Anonymous said...

I love this article and learning about my family history. My grandfather is a son of cappie frewen and has told me some of the stories of growing up on the farm and what life they lived. I would love to know any of the information that you have found as i am trying to do a current Frewen family tree as well as collect information on some of the well known Frewen names like cappie. My email is

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Tashsa. Will respond by email.

Linda Frewen said...

Hi Im Hughs grandaughter Linda Frewen.My father is Winston who lives in Bundaberg as do I. Istumbled on this site while I was trying to find out stuff about Moreton Frewen and I must say it makes for interesting reading.I share a love of poetry and writing with my grandfather Hugh,my dad is always saying Im a lot like him.Not sure if that's a compliment or an insult considering some of the history between dad and my father!

Anonymous said...

Gday Riley
My name is Shane Frewen. I live in the New England Area of NSW Australia. I am one of Rosalind and Hugh's Grandchildren. I am a son Of Viking Frewen, the youngest son of Hugh. I would love to know more about My grandmothers side of the family.
I met your mother in law Hazel when I was a teenager. Hazel came to visit Rosalind and stayed in our home for a time in Dorrigo.
Take care and hope to hear from you soon
Shane frewen

Anonymous said...

PS I also have Hugh Frewens unpublished Autobiography.

Rick Forger said...

I stumbled here as well!
Lots of interesting stuff - and one or two inaccuracies, for example, Hugh only ever returned to England once, for Queen Elizabeth's Coronation in June 1952.
Who am I?
Jonathan Frewen, Roger was my Father, Hugh and Memy my grandparents.
I met very many of my Australian relations at an emotional Hugh Frewen Memorial in Dorrigo just before the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
I am putting together a series of mini-biographies of family members, starting with Moreton and Clara, Hugh's parents.
I live between Munich, Germany; Verbier, Switzerland and near Cirencester, Gloucestershire in the UK.
You can reach me by email:

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, rick. The post has attracted continuing interest. I look forward to seeing your mini-biographies in due course

Michael Doyle said...

Hi, Ive been doing some research for a book that I'm (trying to) intend to write.
I'm here as a result of Clare Sheridan .... Hugh's sister. Fascinating lady.
My main focus on her is through Lord Birkenhead ... who may (Ive only seen one reference) have been a lover.
Far too much to say about her.
One other interesting point is the link to Michael Collins (Ireland). The Irish burnt the Frewin's Irish home down.