Sunday, September 8, 2013

Octavia Hamilton, A struggle for contentment

Octavia Hamilton is one of those anorexic footnotes in Australian musical history who despite efforts to feed her citation starves in written memory. She was, most sources tell, the principal contralto in the Philharmonic society and that is usually all one receives in the way of revelation, except in more weighty academic ventures into music of the nineteenth century in Australia, where, you may see mention of the scandalous Mrs. Moon (as she was in married life) and the numerous children associated with her behavior. To further sketch the picture in a way that Cruickshank may have drawn it, there is the tough and bitter husband, Augustus Graham Moon. It was venomous, public and contumelious. 

As with all minor satellites of domestic tragedy, there is usually some kind of knotted psychological mess, and there appears to have been, in Octavia’s case, just such a knot. Positively Gordian. It reaches back into her family’s past, and let me say right here that I am supposing greatly, but making sure my suppositions drift magnetically along the natural currents of likelihood.

She was born Eliza Octavia Scrivenor, eighth child and daughter of John Walter Scrivenor, solicitor of London who suffered intermittent success in his field, being bankrupt on more than one occasion and dissolving at least one professional partnership that is known. His father in turn (Eliza Octavia’s Grandfather) Harry G. Scrivenor - a Surrey man - had married a minor, one Elizabeth Craiston and had a respectable number of children, one of whom became Sir Harry Scrivenor, who made his name, a title and many pounds sterling in mercantile pursuit of Iron, and, who married into the Bayes-Cotton family. The Bayes-Cotton family were a wealthy Victorian family with ministers peppered upon every branch of the family and the hard fog of religious adherence wrapped around all. Some of Sir Harry’s children even emigrated to Australia, including his son, Octavius Scrivernor. Sir Harry did well. John, his solicitor brother , rather struggled (He eventually came out to Australia as well).

On the maternal side the truancy of success made itself well known. Octavia’s maternal grandmother, Caroline Medkaff had been born in about 1768 and was the illegitimate but recognized daughter of Henry Herbert, the badly-behaved, horse-loving, one-tenth-of-an-adventurer, 10th Earl of Pembroke, whom Horace Walpole found intolerable and regular fodder for wit. The poor daughter (the second illegitimate child) Caroline had been the offspring of the libidinous Earl and some poor woman whom he had whisked off, and bedded, on her wedding day to some poor unfortunate groom in Venice. The Pembroke papers do not mention who this unfortunate husband was, nor the name of the woman, nor how or where the pregnancy was carried. But be that as it may, Eliza Octavia was still the great-grand daughter of a peer although I am sure the details were lost on purpose and the nobility part thoroughly elevated and glazed.

Her choice of professional name perhaps may possibly be explained as follows:- her great grandfather John Hoadley Scrivenor had a daughter Ann (thus Aunt to Octavia's father) who married Baron Charles Hamilton, from the family that were on the bloody field at Culloden. The Baron and Ann had a son James who was born in Hamilton in Scotland, and who emigrated in 1839 as a young adventurer to New Zealand and died there in 1844. There is evidence to suggest Octavia and her cousin James were close.

So, Eliza Octavia lived in a family that had a compulsion to achievement,  religious durability on the left and the faded, ‘don’t-ask-too-many-questions’ end of noblesse on the right. John Walter Scrivenor’s family was in the middle. No pressure then.

Augustus Moon then enters the picture, the nephew of Sir Francis Moon, Lord Mayor of London who apart from whatever else he did, managed to receive a portrait in the Illustrated London News (Francis, not Augustus, alas). Augustus enters the scene of Frances’ life as a boarder, living with the Scrivenors in Islington, where he marries her while she was still under age. A little calculation of the marriage entry and the census entry for 1851 shows that hanky was being very definitely panked while Augustus was a guest under John Scrivenor’s roof. That’s not very gentlemanly and rather takes the protective varnish off Augustus’ later hard-done-by husband image he threw into the press. 

After marriage Augustus and Eliza Moon, emigrated to Australia where Augustus had a post with the General Steam Screw Navigation Company but the Crimean war put a stop to whatever venture that had guaranteed and he found himself working in the Post Office in its correspondence branch. Mr. Moon, who looked like he was going to court great success soon settled down to the hard upward climb in a land at least three months sail from England where his choice of station may have fared better.

At some point Eliza Octavia, after giving birth to ‘some’ children to him, takes up with wine merchant Thomas Holme Davis (a music lover and secretary of the Philharmonic in 1860 where he no doubt began some kind of association with her) with whom she brought the total of children issued to fourteen. 

Thomas Holme Davis was the son of a woolstapler and came to Australia as an emigrant starting as a wool dealer, no doubt helped by connections back home. At some point he moved into the import and export of wine. He was the successful self made man that John Walter Scrivenor tried to be, and that Augustus Moon promised to be. What is more - he loved music and was the secretary of the Philharmonic Society where Octavia Hamilton was principal contralto. Mr. Moon was never comfortable with France’s public display of singing, being of that same cast of opinion that reminds me of Armes Beaumont’s father who refused to acknowledge him even in the street because he sang Opera as a profession. Thomas obviously had no such low opinion of  singing.

At some point either side of 1860 Frances Octavia, Madame Augustus G. Moon, moved in with him above his wine store and there seems to have been a genuine rapport between them for in 1874 he sells up and they both move back to England with child number fourteen, Beatrice Connaught Davis, leaving the freshest trail. Thomas and Eliza appeared to have stayed together until death. The descendants of Augustus Moon know little about her, and several told me their impressions were that the parents had been told all manner of wickedness about her and that she was persona non grata.

Whatever the truth, her first marriage cannot have been the choice of the wise and wizened regardless of Frances‘ wishes as a ‘young woman’.  The result was an unhappy one and Augustus Moon’s public outbursts seem to hint at an anger fueled by an indignant spirit. The second ‘marriage’ with T. H. Davis looked to be a match born of music, the bottle and other private sport.