Thursday, September 14, 2017

Whispered Secrets and Jane Austen

We all have secrets. Some secrets are more precious than others. Some secrets are to be shared, others are to be treasured. In this new land so far away from the Hampshire and Surrey of George Kersley’s early years those secrets recede and almost disappear into the primordial past. There are newer secrets which burden one after a lifetime in this hot antipodean sun with the sound of blow flies buzzing in his ears. He looked out over the Lake absorbing the sad news. The Queen is dead! Their Great White Queen - Empress Victoria after 63 years has breathed her last. George’s eighteen year old and still innocent grandson Hillyer Bartram revealed the news to his grandsire with tears in his eyes. The end of a reign and the beginning of a new century and a new nation. It is not the role of the old to burden the young with the secrets of the past. For Hillyer and all those under sixty years of age the death of the Queen is a shock. George remembered when she first became our young Queen the same age as young Hillyer now. George was a young man of twenty then living and working on his father’s farm the Inwood Barn Farm near Wanborough on the edge of the Hog’s Back in Surrey when Queen Victoria came in the Throne in 1837.

George had been born in the year that Jane Austen the authoress had died. This was significant to his family and one of those proud “secrets” that are not a secret. Jane Austen had been his mother Elizabeth Knight’s third cousin and his father George Kersley’s relative too as his parents were related to each other through the Knight family. It was said that George was the last baby that she ever held in her arms. He had been born in the January of 1817 and she departed for the other life in the July. How often his parents spoke of Jane popping in for a brief visit on her walks to George’s grandparents John and Olive Kersley’s residence at Farringdon Manor House when Jane lived at Chawton House. George’s grandparents were part of the lower gentry class of the area with whispered aristocratic antecedents on the wrong side of the blanket. Another of those family “secrets” often spoken of by George’s mother and sisters.

George’s grandmother Mrs Olive Kersley nee Yalden had inherited a two thirds share in the Farringdon Manor estate from her mother Mrs Mary Yalden nee Trimmer whose father Richard Trimmer had bought the two thirds share of the estate from his father –in-law John Knight of Farringdon. Richard had married Mary Knight. Mary Knight's sister Anne Knight was the mother of Christopher Yalden who was George’s grandmother’s father. Her parents had been first cousins just like Emma and Mr Knightley in one of Jane Austen’s novels. Both the Knight family on his father’s side and the Knight family of his mother went back to Nicholas Knight whose family were the original Knight family who had owned and lived at Chawton House. "We are the real Knights", his mother would say, "the ones who have it now only took the name in order to inherit the Chawton Manor Estate". Jane Austen’s brother Edward had been the most recent relative to take on the surname Knight in order to inherit the estate and in 1901 George’s distant cousin Montagu Knight (who was really an Austen) owned the Chawton estate.


As George was ruminating on the past Hillyer and he heard a sound and turned and saw what looked like an apparition. A very dignified native man with a long beard on a horse surrounded by the sun. As he drew closer he recognized him as King Dinah of the Noongars. George was disorientated for a moment as he had last seen King Dinah riding his horse almost 50 years before and he didn’t seem to have aged a day. It must have been his father or grandfather that I saw back in the 1850’s he reasoned. He remembered his darling wife Eliza’s surprise when he appeared to us as she had first seen him when she was about five years old around 1838.
“My mother called him Demban Jerong” Eliza had explained.
“Who is he? he queried her. 
She responded: “My mother said he is the native King of this area, the whites call him King George. I later found out that demban meant grandfather in the native language. That was when I first realised there was some secret about my mother with her dark hair and skin. My mother always referred to the natives as her natives. She once confessed to me ‘I did not come in the ship with your father that was another one I was born in this land before the British settled it. I was born in Balardung and my grandmother Oma Dini was the last of the pure white Queens of Balardung who was forced to be the wife of Demban Jerong, King of the Blacks when they had been defeated in battle. Oma Dini’s mother belonged to the Dutch people who came here long before the British’.” These were native whispers of a hidden past.

George inclined his head towards the regal native upon the horse saying “King Dinah”. The native nodded saying “George”. Hillyer stood as if mesmerized by the presence of this strange apparition. George and the old native King knew of their connection but Hillyer knew nothing about it. King Dinah peered into the face of the young man and said quietly: “the whispers are always with you”. Many years later Hillyer’s daughters would also encounter King Dinah regally riding on his horse and think it was the same King Dinah not realising that it was the grandson of the previous King Dinah of the Noongars. Their oldest brother was to fight many a battle with the townsmen who turned the whispers of native blood into a loud and nasty taunt. The family hid from such whispers preferring the whispers of gentry and aristocratic antecedents in the mother country. I don't think this story is quite Jane Austen.

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