Popular Posts

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Original Aussie Sheila


I was fascinated to read about Sheila Chisholm [1895 - 1969] in recent reviews of Robert Wainwright’s book 'Sheila: The Australian Beauty who bewitched British Society'. The story immediately put me in mind of the ‘Duchess’ who is encountered by Digger Smith, the ANZAC soldier, when he is on leave in England during WW1. I feel certain that the ‘Mrs Chicolo Legend’ influenced C.J. Dennis in writing his poem – and that there is a strong possibility that 'Sheila' gave her name to the Typical Aussie Girl.
Let's start with the poem.

A Digger’s Tale by C.J. Dennis (1918)

"My oath!" the Duchess sez. "You'd not ixpect

Sich things as that. Yeh don't mean kangaroos?

Go hon!" she sez, or words to that effect --

(It's 'ard to imitate the speech they use)

I tells 'er, 'Straight; I drives 'em four-in-'and

'Ome in my land.'

"You 'ear a lot," sez little Digger Smith,

"About 'ow English swells is so stand-off.

Don't yeh believe it; it's a silly myth.

I've been reel cobbers with the British toff

While I'm on leaf; for Blighty likes our crowd,

An' done us proud.

"Us Aussies was the goods in London town

When I was there. If they jist twigged your 'at

The Dooks would ask yeh could yeh keep one down,

An' Earls would 'ang out 'Welcome' on the mat,

An' sling yeh invites to their stately 'alls

For fancy balls.

"This Duchess -- I ain't quite sure uv 'er rank;

She might 'ave been a Peeress. I dunno.

I meets 'er 'usband first. 'E owns a bank,

I 'eard, an' 'arf a dozen mints or so.

A dinkum toff. 'E sez, 'Come 'ome with me

An' 'ave some tea.'

"That's 'ow I met this Duchess Wot's-'er-name --

Or Countess -- never mind 'er moniker;

I ain't no 'and at this 'ere title game --

An' right away, I was reel pals with 'er.

'Now, tell me all about yer 'ome,' sez she,

An' smiles at me.

"That knocks me out. I know it ain't no good

Paintin' word-picters uv the things I done

Out 'ome 'ere, barrackin' for Collin'wood,

Or puntin' on the flat at Flemin'ton.

I know this Baroness uv Wot-yeh-call

Wants somethin' tall.

"I thinks reel 'ard; an' then I lets it go.

I tell 'er, out at Richmond, on me Run --

A little place uv ten square mile or so --

I'm breedin' boomerangs; which is reel fun,

When I ain't troubled by the wild Jonops

That eats me crops.

"I talks about the wondrous Boshter Bird

That builds 'er nest up in the Cobber Tree,

An' 'atches out 'er young on May the third,

Stric' to the minute, jist at 'arf past three.

'Er eyes get big. She sez, 'Can it be true?'

'Er eyes was blue.

"An' then I speaks uv sport, an' tells 'er 'ow

In 'untin' our wild Wowsers we imploy

Large packs uv Barrackers, an' 'ow their row

Wakes echoes in the forests uv Fitzroy,

Where lurks the deadly Shicker Snake 'oo's breath

Is certain death.

"I'm goin' on to talk of kangaroos,

An' 'ow I used to drive 'em four-in-'and.

'Wot?' sez the Marchioness. 'Them things in zoos

That 'ops about? I've seen then in the Strand

In double 'arness; but I ain't seen four.

Tell me some more.'

I baulks a bit at that; an' she sez, '"Well,

There ain't no cause at all for you to feel

Modest about the things you 'ave to tell;

An' wot you says wonderfully reel.

Your talk" - an' 'ere I seen 'er eyelids flick --

"Makes me 'omesick".

"I reckerlect," she sez -- "Now let me see --

In Gippsland, long ago, when I was young,

I 'ad a little pet Corroboree,"

(I sits up in me chair like I was stung.)

'On it's 'ind legs,' she sez, 'it used to stand.

Fed from me 'and."

"Uv cours, I threw me alley in right there.

This Princess was a dinkum Aussie girl.

I can't do nothin' else but sit an' stare,

Thinkin' so rapid that me 'air roots curl.

But 'er? She sez, "I ain't 'eard talk so good

Since my childhood.

"'I wish," sez she, "I could be back again

Beneath the wattle an' that great blue sky.

It's like a breath uv 'ome to meet you men.

You've done reel well," she sez. "Don't you be shy.

When yer in Blighty once again," sez she,

"Come an' see me."

"I don't see 'er no more; 'cos I stopped one.

But, 'fore I sails, I gits a billy doo

Which sez, "Give my love to the dear ole Sun,

An' take an exile's blessin' 'ome with you.

An' if you 'ave some boomerangs to spare,

Save me a pair.

The Thursday 28thSeptember 1916 edition of Tasmania’s ‘North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times’ issued the following notice:

‘Lord Loughborough’s Affairs – Money Lenders Warned

Lord Rosslyn has issued a warning that owing to money lenders tempting his son (Lord Loughborough) to borrow money, he will not be responsible for his son's debts. Lord Loughborough married an Australian lady at Cairo in December, 1915’.

This was a bit rich because ‘Loughie’s dad, James Francis Harry St. Clair-Erskine, 5th Earl of Rosslyn, had once lost £15,000 betting on his horse Buccaneer to win the Manchester Cup; was the Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo [and went back to lose all his winnings]; and an out and out scoundrel who went through a fortune in properties, an estate, and collieries only to be declared bankrupt and lose everything, including his magnificent steam yacht and the family silver, gold and silver plate which was sold at a three-day auction in Edinburgh.

But like father, like son.

Francis Edward Scudamore St. Clair-Erskine, Lord Loughborough [b. 16 November 1892, d. 4 August 1929] was both ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ and ‘brave, crazy and foolhardy’.

As Robert Wainwright explains in his new book ‘Sheila: The Australian Beauty who bewitched British Society’ [seehttp://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=858], Lord Loughborough—"Loughie", pronounced Luffy, to his friends—was twenty-three years old in May 1915 when he found himself invalided from the Dardanelles Campaign with a bullet wound in the shoulder to a make-shift hospital at Mena near Cairo.

‘Tall, rakishly handsome and affable, so far he had found it difficult finding a place in society beyond his birthright, let alone meeting the demands of the military. He had been in Rhodesia when the war broke out, but joined up within a month of returning to London in the autumn of 1914. On application, he had been assigned to the obscure new armoured car division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

‘Loughie had been dressed in his army uniform when he appeared in a court in January 1915 accused of writing a bad cheque. According to the charge, he had, in April 1913, signed a cheque for £200 to cover a gambling debt. Not only had the cheque not been honoured, but it had been post-dated to November to cover the fact that Lord Loughborough had not yet come of age’.

The matter took a long time to come to court because Loughie had fled to Rhodesia. Clearly the war was a life-saver in his case.

The Rosslyns were the descendants of the Norman Sinclair, or St Clair family (also anciently spelt Sanctclare which had held a castle at Roslin in Scotland since 1280.


Margaret "Sheila" Mackellar Chisholm was born on 9 September 1895 at Woollahra, Sydney, youngest of the three children of native-born parents Harry Chisholm, grazier of Wollogorang, Breadalbane, and his wife Margaret, née Mackellar. Sheila was educated at home. She was variously described as of excellent deportment with a beautiful complexion and a good dancer. She was also praised as ‘calm, lovely, gentle, restful and perfect', and with a classic, oval face, dark brown eyes and auburn hair, her 'smile was like that of a Lely court beauty'.

Her grandfather John Chisholm had been in born in 1820 very modest circumstances in a cottage in George Street, Sydney. Over the years he became a very successful and wealthy grazier – a tribute to his energy and frugal habits. Around 1854 he purchased Wollogorang, fourteen miles from Goulburn in New South Wales. Here he went in for breeding pure-bred cattle, and was one of the first to import shorthorns from England.

John’s youngest son Harry took over Wollogorang when the old man retired back to Sydney. The eldest son, John, had been found dead on 1st April, 1887, having fallen from his horse soon after leaving home that morning.

In 1914, Harry’s wife Margaret [‘Ag’] and his daughter ‘Sheila’ left Australia for a visit to England, where following the outbreak of WW1, they decided to try, as far as they could, to assist Sheila’s brother John who was serving with the Australian Imperial Force. John was in Egypt prior to the Gallipoli landings, and Sheila and her mother enrolled as nurses at the Mena Hospital.

As Robert Wainwright describes:

"Jack", a lean, 6-foot-tall man with the ingrained deep tan of a grazier, cut a commanding figure and was assigned to the 6th Australian Light Horse Regiment and given the rank of sub-lieutenant. The regiment was part of the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade, which would be based at Maadi on the outskirts of Cairo where they would wait for orders.

'No one was prepared for the reality of war, as an Australian government report prepared in the aftermath recorded:

'The weather was beautiful, and anyone might have been easily lulled into a sense of false security. In April however, a trainload of sick arrived. Its contents were not known until it arrived at the Heliopolis siding. The patients had come from Lemnos and numbered over 200 sick. On the following day, however, without notice or warning of any description, wounded began to arrive in appalling numbers. In the first 10 days of the conflict, 16,000 wounded men were brought in to Egypt.

'Sheila was a witness to the horror: "The news was appalling, like a nightmare. About 500 wounded were expected but 10,000 arrived."

'A casino was taken over, then a sporting club, a factory, three more luxury hotels, even Prince Ibrahim Khalim's palace. By the second week of May 1915, the initial plans for one hospital of 520 beds had grown into eleven hospitals housing 10,600 beds, most of which were now being made of palm wood. By the end of August, the wounded and sick would number more than 200,000, handled by a daily staff of fewer than 400.

'The crisis was not merely because of a lack of space and facilities but also a lack of staff; many nurses began to break under the strain. Reinforcements were on their way, but there was a desperate need for civilian help. Margaret and Sheila Chisholm were among a number of Australian women who volunteered to stay on and help.

'Margaret, or "Ag" as Sheila began calling her mother in gentle mockery of Margaret one day declaring: "Goodness, I am becoming an old hag," had been working for the Blue Cross taking care of injured horses. She and Sheila also helped establish the Australian Comforts Fund, which provided basic items, such as blankets and socks, for the soldiers at the front; they spent hours each day going from one hospital to another, visiting men they didn't know, listening to their stories and providing reassurance. Against protests from officialdom, they even provided free cigarettes to convalescing soldiers, rather than force the men to spend their wage of 5 shillings a day on the tobacco they needed to take their minds off the pain and horror.

Sheila then worked alongside her mother tending the wounded and dying, much to Ag's annoyance who thought her daughter, aged nineteen, too young and delicate ("how it bored me to be thought too young", Sheila would later recall). The young woman, who a few months before had been dressed expensively while attending parties almost nightly and mingling with the upper echelons of London society, was now clad in the practical garb of a hospital volunteer.

'But she did not remain unnoticed, particularly when she accidentally destroyed several thermometers by leaving them for too long in boiling water and was relegated to cleaning duties for a period. She would always cringe at any reminder of that particular mistake.

'Two decades later, at a reunion of nurses in Adelaide, her contributions would be remembered. Miss Sinclair Wood, principal matron of the Army Nurses Reserve, who was in Egypt when the first wounded came back from Gallipoli would recall:

"There were five of us at Mena Hospital, and one night we got word that 248 men were coming. We set to and made up beds, prepared wards, and waited. The men had been in the ship for a week and no one knows what they had gone through. When we got the opportunity to snatch two hours’ sleep some of the Red Cross women, among them Sheila Chisholm, who was one of the loveliest girls I ever saw, came over, rolled up their sleeves and it was wonderful what they did".

 'A Sunday Times gossip column in early May 1915 described her as one of "four beautiful Australian girls to be seen in Cairo quite recently". It seemed she could not be mentioned without a comment about her beauty.

'Margaret and Sheila had other roles outside the hospital, including organising the delivery of Australian and English newspapers so the men could feel as though they were still a part of the world outside the war. There were even moments of levity in the bleakness of the dusty city. The cable sent to Australia by Margaret to begin an appeal for newspapers mangled her surname, which appeared as "Mrs Chicolo".

'Not only did papers arrive in their thousands but more than a hundred letters came addressed to Mrs Chicolo, thanking a "foreigner" for her kindness. "Some of the epistles are written in French and Italian, and others from people I know," she told The Sydney Morning Herald.


Picking up the story again from Robert Wainwright:

‘It was here at Mena, convalescing, that Francis Erskine's life changed for the better when an Australian soldier was given the bed next to him. Jack Chisholm and Francis Edward Scudamore St Clair-Erskine—two elder sons of landed gentry from opposite sides of the world—found themselves in the same wartime hospital, and they would soon share another common bond.


‘Sheila met Loughie one day when she came to visit her brother in hospital. It was love at first sight, according to a later report in the Singleton Argus, which described Loughie as a "youthful warrior". He was instantly smitten by Sheila’s dark beauty and frontier-like attitude and quickly made a play for her attention. She was at first distracted—just another admirer—but fell for his cultured English charm when he sat up with her all night nursing a sick stray dog she had adopted and called Treacle.

‘She recorded the romance in her memoir: "Loughie came to tea the next day. He was tall and slim, with thick brown hair and hazel eyes. He was witty and most attractive. I soon began enjoying his company. We read the Brownings. He pursued me relentlessly and I was flattered by his attention. He told me that he had fallen in love with me at first sight. He constantly said: 'I love you and you are going to marry me, you will like England and all my friends will adore you.'

"He was persistent. He said: 'I know I am wild, but with your love I will be different. I could do great things.' I believed him and I was fascinated by him. We seemed so happy together. I thought this must be love."

 ‘Margaret counselled her daughter against marriage—she was too young and her beau, as witty and charming as he was, had a reputation for being too wild. Her father, Chissie, would not approve.

‘But amid the Armageddon the warnings fell on deaf ears, as she later remembered thinking: "Too young, too young, wait six months, wait a year, wait while he goes back and probably gets killed. He loves me so much and I love him. He is sweet to me and fond of animals; can't we be engaged? I suppose Loughie was spoiled and perhaps not very reliable but he had a great attraction and such a wonderful sense of humour, and he always made me laugh."

‘Loughie returned to the Gallipoli peninsula, his shoulder mended, but remained only a few weeks before being injured again, this time "slight and entirely his own fault", according to his colonel who described him as "brave, crazy and foolhardy". He returned to Cairo where he soon proposed.

 ‘Their engagement was announced on July 20 in the Daily Mirror, which praised the young peer. The rush to the altar received the blessing of Loughborough's father, the Earl of Rosslyn, of whom the paper commented: "The Earl himself is, of course, one of our most versatile peers. He has been a good soldier, a fair actor, a talented editor and a very brisk war correspondent. He has made at least one speech in the House of Lords. Verily, a peer of many interests!"

 ‘On December 27, 1915, at St Mary's Church in Cairo, Lord Loughborough married Sheila Chisholm, a union described by the News of the World as one of the most interesting weddings of the war because of the match between an Australian commoner and a British peer, adding: "Like most Australian women she is a superb horsewoman and excels as a vocalist."

 ‘Another newspaper columnist noted: "It is refreshing to hear that an Australian girl, after a pretty little war romance, has married into the peerage. With some of Britain's lordlings it has been a not too infrequent habit either to marry a charmer off the music halls or else wed an American heiress. Now it appears they are marrying on the keep-it-in-the-Empire principle—at least Lord Loughborough has set a new and patriotic fashion in that direction."

Not surprisingly, the marriage was a disaster - though Sheila went on to an extraordinary life as a society belle, royal mistress and 1920's 'Flapper'. She was buried at Rosslyn Chapel.



No comments:

Post a Comment