I was listening to a Radio New Zealand podcast about the archaeology of sealers’ camps on Campbell Island, way to the south of New Zealand, when I heard a story that I had never heard before.
‘The last grand daughter of Charles Edward Stuart aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, lived in a sod hut on Campbell Island, a substantial hut with glass in the windows, lace curtains, and a heather bush by the front door, and that she would walk along the foreshore in shoes with silver buckles.’
Unlikely, to say the least. Unless she was really down on her luck, any grand daughter of Charles Edward Stuart, was unlikely to consort with sealers, much less live on an island at the arse end of the world in a sod hut, no matter how elegant it was.
However, my discovery of my own connection with the Sobieski-Stuarts shows that the Bonny Prince Charlie legend did seem to have a hold over people well into the nineteenth century, so I could imagine that some woman may have claimed that her illegitimate daughter was a result of a one night stand with Bonnie Prince Charlie, and that her daughter could just possibly have ended up on a sealer’s boat away down in the southern ocean.
The times do sort of fit – Bonnie Prince Charlie took to the heather in 1746 after Culloden, if one assumes 20 odd years between generations that would mean that our supposed grand daughter would be in her mid twenties at the end of the eighteenth century.
Campbell Island itself was discovered in 1810 by a Captain Hasselborough, who commanded the Perseverance a Campbell company seal boat out of Sydney.
Captain Hasselborough was later to lose his life in an accident in Perseverance Bay on the island.
Interestingly, the other victims on the accident were a ship’s boy George Allwright and a ship’s girl Elizabeth Farr from Norfolk Island.
Norfolk Island was of course purely a penal colony at the time and Elizabeth Farr was said to have run away at the age of 13 to become a ship’s girl – which could be anything from a skivvy to an officer’s bedmate, or perhaps both – apparently quite a few girls and young women preferred to take their chances running away on a seal boat with all the risks of sexual abuse and exploitation that entailed rather than live out their lives in a penal colony where there were substantially more men than women, and where women were equally at risk of sexual abuse.
Their deaths were recorded in the Sydney Gazette at the time – the whole story can be downloaded from Trove – but essentially all three drowned and were buried on the island.
Elizabeth was probably thirteen or fourteen when she drowned, meaning that she would have been born at the end of the eighteenth century. It would fit the story quite neatly if she was the great grand daughter than the grand daughter.
So maybe, just maybe, being the illegitimate great grand daughter of Bonnie Prince Charlie was a story she told about herself.
Interestingly, her mother was also said to have been known as Elizabeth Farr and a convict, meaning that we should have a little bit of a documentation tail about them …
I’ve since come across another, grimmer suggestion.
That the story of Elizabeth Farr had become mixed up with a later story of a woman, possibly another ship’s girl, that was put ashore a few years later and abandoned on the island.
It is said that she built herself a sod hut for shelter, and that her skeelton was found a few years later.
It doesn’t answer the supposed Bonnie Prince Charlie link, but could explain the story of the exiled woman and the sod hut …