Persuasions #11, 1989 Page 13
D'Arcy Wentworth, One of the Fitzwilliams
In The Fatal
Shore, his account of the founding of Australia, Robert Hughes devotes several
pages to an accused highwayman from England who made good in Australia, D’Arcy
Wentworth of the Fitzwilliam family.
served as a medical ensign in the Irish Volunteers, and is described as “a man
of great charm, cheerful, gregarious, liberal in his political views” (Hughes
361). In London to continue his
medical studies, he was introduced into high society by his high-born relations,
the Fitzwilliams, “and soon this personable lad was living far beyond his
means” (361). Acquitted three
times of highway robbery Hughes relates, he came up again on a fourth charge in
1789. “Wentworth, who cannot have
been too sure of his innocence,… [told] the judge he was going to Botany Bay
anyhow… as an assistant surgeon. He
was acquitted a fourth time, but now he had given his word and had to go”
relates that “he sailed on the Neptune, the hell-ship of the Second Fleet.
A third of her five hundred convict passengers died, but Wentworth
survived and so did a twenty-year-old girl named Catherine Crawley, transported
for stealing cloth. By the end of
the voyage she was heavily pregnant by D’Arcy Wentworth” (362).
Their son, born at sea, later became a prominent journalist and political
activist in the new land. As for
D’Arcy, he “went on to make a fortune… when he died… the funeral cortège
was a mile long… he sired (and supported) at least seven other children by
various mistresses in Australia” (362).
Barbara Kerr-Smith has firm basis (once she establishes Jane Austen in Australia
on a visit with the Leigh-Perrots) for the appearance of D’Arcy Wentworth in
her recent novel, Antipodes Jane.
in Australia is fanciful, and Jane Austen couldn’t have known the later career
of the swashbuckler with the fascinating name.
It is reasonable, however, to imagine an alert girl of 14 reading an
account of his early tribulations in the Hampshire Chronicle, feeling a
teenager’s ready sympathy for an unjustly accused buck, and storing up his
names for some of her own most personable heroes.
The Fatal Shore. New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.