Travel

Jilted bride made a Dickens of a yarn

Charles Dickens.
Charles Dickens. Friends of Charles Dickens

FANS of 19th century British writer Charles Dickens are flocking to England for celebrations to mark the bicentennial of his birth on February 12 1812, and one story that's sure to be told over and again is that of the tragic life of a young Sydney woman, Eliza Donnithorne - whom Dickens is said to have fictionalised as Miss Havisham in his classic Great Expectations.

The first of many exhibitions to be staged in England to honour Dickens is A Hankering after Ghosts; Charles Dickens and the Supernatural that opened at the British Library in London in early December, and will run until March 4.

From when he was a young boy Dickens had a fascination for ghosts, which culminated in arguably his most famous novel, A Christmas Carol in which the skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge changes his ways after a visit by three spirits.

He also based many of his reformist novels on personal experiences when growing up, including when his father was imprisoned in the notorious Marshalsea prison in Southwark for an unpaid debt to a baker.

The twelve-year-old Charles jumped school to work in a factory to help pay off his dad's debt; pilgrims this year will find only a part of the prison's wall remaining, and a plaque placed there by the local council.
           
Also marked by a plaque is the site of Furnival's Inn in Holborn where Dickens rented rooms during the mid 1830s and began writing Pickwick Papers, the serialised novel that set him on the path to popularity. Today the impressive Holborn Bars stands on the site and is home to many law firms and convention and meeting halls.

Tavistock House on Devonshire Terrace, near London's Paddington Railway Station, is also marked by a commemorative inscription as it's the location of the home in which Dickens wrote Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities in the 1850s.

And the town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire will also attract its fair share of Dickens disciples during his bicentenary celebrations: it was here in its Music Hall in 1867 that he gave the first-ever public reading of A Christmas Carol.

Shrewsbury was also transformed into Victorian London for the 1984 filming of A Christmas Carol, which starred George C Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge -the movie's grave of Scrooge still lays amongst a host of real ones in the grounds of the local St Chad's Church.

But what is not so well-known about Dickens was his fascination with Australia which he saw as "a place of opportunity," and which he actively encouraged two of his sons to migrate to.

He also had several close acquaintances settle in Sydney, and they sent him letters detailing "the many curious aspects of life in the colonies."

One of these included the tale of Eliza Emily Donnithorne, the daughter of a retired East India Company judge with whom she lived in his gracious Camperdown Lodge in Sydney's Newtown. The letter detailed how after her father's death, Eliza was to have married in the Lodge in 1846, but on her wedding day and dressed in her wedding gown, her guests assembled in the Lodge's large dining room, and with the wedding breakfast set before them, Eliza's fiancé failed to appear - and in fact was learned to be sailing to India.

Jilted and heartbroken she bade her guests goodbye, locked the dining room with the wedding breakfast untouched, closed the window shutters and lived in the darkened house with two female servants until her death there 40 years later. The dining room was never opened again and the wedding breakfast moldered away until eventually eaten by rodents.

Dickens allegedly turned the tragic and factual Eliza Donnithorne into the equally tragic and fictional Miss Havisham in Great Expectations in 1860 - but unlike his Miss Havisham, Eliza did not live the rest of her life in her wedding dress: she lived four decades as a recluse, but well-off and comfortably, seen only by her servants, doctor, solicitor and clergyman.

And bizarrely she kept the front door open, but secured by a chain, in the event her fiancé may one day return…

Eliza Donnithorne died in Camperdown Lodge in 1886 aged 60, and is buried in nearby Camperdown cemetery in the same grave as her father.

>> Read more travel stories.

Topics:  charles dickens, travel, travelling


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

These local movies will shine at 10th Byron Film Festival

LOCAL STORIES: One of the films featured this year is The Bentley Effect, a documentary about the Bentley Blockade.

THIS year marks a milestone for the Byron Bay Film Festival

Graceful Russian ballerinas will perform Swan Lake

ON STAGE: The Russian National Ballet Theatre brings their production of Swan Lake, the full length classical performance.

The Russian National Ballet Theatre is coming soon

Baird dogged by fears greyhound ban will cost Nationals seat

Mike Baird may hold off on implementing the greyhound racing ban until 2020 as he tries to woo voters back into the National fold before the Orange by-election.

Could Orange by-election force Baird to delay greyhound racing ban?

Local Partners

Junior golfer makes the most of regional opportunity

Forget the HSC< Murwillumbah school leaver Lucas Higgins has the biggest test of his golfing career on the horizon.

It's time to get your shorts on the big screen

ANIMATED: Citizen To Activist, an animation by David Lowe and Eve Jeffrey, won the Jury Award for best Short Film at Flickerfest 2015 - Byron AllShorts.

Entries for Flickerfest 2017 and Byron All Shorts are now open

These local movies will shine at 10th Byron Film Festival

LOCAL STORIES: One of the films featured this year is The Bentley Effect, a documentary about the Bentley Blockade.

THIS year marks a milestone for the Byron Bay Film Festival

Graceful Russian ballerinas will perform Swan Lake

ON STAGE: The Russian National Ballet Theatre brings their production of Swan Lake, the full length classical performance.

The Russian National Ballet Theatre is coming soon

Baird dogged by fears greyhound ban will cost Nationals seat

Mike Baird may hold off on implementing the greyhound racing ban until 2020 as he tries to woo voters back into the National fold before the Orange by-election.

Could Orange by-election force Baird to delay greyhound racing ban?

Are government staffers talking Wentworth Park sale?

Greyhounds race at the Wentworth Park ahead of the industry's July 2017 shutdown.

No answer on whether government staff discussed Wentworth Parl sale

Justice delayed is justice denied in NSW courts

Court backlogs trigger push for break and enter law change

Communication breakdown in NSW fishing reforms

State-wide commercial fishing industry reforms have left fishers confused about their futures.

Non-English speaking fishers confused at industry-wide reforms

Classic car auction draws buyers from US, Dubai

"He wants everyone to enjoy the cars, the collection got too big'

Bonus point gets Dan and Carleen over the line on The Block

Dan and Carleen in their winning living and dining rooms in a scene from The Block.

BABY boomers win living and dining week as show hits halfway mark.

Olivia Wilde having a girl

Olivia Wilde revealed she is expecting a baby girl.

Michael Palin: Terry Jones dementia is 'painful' to see

Michael Palin has found Terry Jones' decline "painful to watch"

Daniel Radcliffe hoped for haircut anonymity

Radcliffe thought shaving his head would make him more anonymous

Jim Carrey slams 'shameful greed' of lawsuit

Jim Carrey has slammed the "shameful greed" of White's ex-husband.

'Highly unlikely' Brad Pitt will face prosecution

It is highly unlikely that Brad Pitt will be prosecuted

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

Couple build their own 'tiny house' for $45k

Holly Bowen and Oli Bucher built their "tiny house" themselves, only hiring a plumber and an electrician. Photo/supplied

The house, which is built on a trailer and can be towed.

Sunshine Beach property breaks real estate record

The property overlooks Sunshine Beach, as the backyard lawn meets the sand.

Sunshine Beach mansion sale smashes real estate record

SOLD: Historic hotel finds new owner

Post Office Hotel Grafton

Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner

Pub in new hands and heading in a brand new direction

Peppers Airlie Beach put on the market

ON THE MARKET: Peppers Airlie Beach is being for recievership sale by CBRE Hotels and PRD Nationwide Airlie Beach.

Peppers Airlie Beach is being offered for sale.

3500 jobs on the way with new $950 million resort

Residential, tourist, community, and open space on Hummock Hill Island.

PROPERTY developers plan to begin construction next year.