Corella Press - Historical Australian Crime and Mystery

Friday 30 August 2019
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
In store at Avid Reader Bookshop
Register until 30 August 2019 6:00 PM

This event commences at 6.30pm. Printed tickets are not issued and your booking will be on a door list under your surname.

Join Meg Vann, Kim Wilkins and Mirandi Riwoe for the launch of two books in Corella Press' Historical Australian Crime and Mystery collection.

Corella Press is publishing the first two installments of their 19th Century Australian crime and mystery collection. Corella is a not-for-profit small-press teaching initiative staffed largely by University of Queensland interns, who source serialised fiction from early Australian newspapers to produce beautiful, thrilling, collectable books for contemporary readers, unearthing forgotten and unrecognised Australian crime and mystery stories.

The first book in the collection, Bridget's Locket and Other Mysteries is a triptych, including one novella-length story and two short stories from Mary Helena Fortune, writing as Waif Wander, who is suggested to be the first female crime and mystery writer in the world. Bridget’s Locket tells the story of a migrant dressmaker’s search for justice when her travelling companion meets a terrible fate. Joined by two stories about falling in love with a fugitive from the law and murder and bigamy amid goldfields and through the streets of Melbourne, this volume promises a tour of 19th Century Australian crime.

The second volume, The Millwood Mystery is a single spellbinding novel by Jeannie Lockett, author, journalist, teacher, and women’s advocate. Alongside Fortune, Lockett wrote phenomenal crime and mystery. The Millwood Mystery is a family tragedy. When Barbara Neill is found dead in her home, the only suspects are also her only relatives. It is the tale of a community’s suspicions and how they have the potential to destroy innocent lives.

Mary Helena Fortune was born Mary Helena Wilson in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1833. As a child, she immigrated with her father to Montreal, Canada. In 1851, at the age of eighteen, Mary married Joseph Fortune and bore a son. When her father immigrated to Australia to try his luck in the Victorian goldfields, Fortune followed with her young son in 1855.

In Australia, Fortune bore a second son and named the father improbably as Joseph Fortune, yet claimed widow status upon her second marriage to Mounted Constable Percy Rollo Brett. Fortune undoubtedly took inspiration from Brett’s detective work when forging her own career as arguably the world’s first female crime-procedural author.

Writing under the famed pseudonym W.W. or Waif Wander, Fortune penned over five-hundred pieces of work, making her one of Australia’s most prolific writers in the late nineteenth century. Her major work, a six- part novel serialised under the title The Detective’s Album, was printed in The Australian Journal, and also collected and published as a book in 1871. Unusual for the age, The Australian Journal paid Fortune an annuity until her death, perhaps in recognition of her decades-long contribution. 

Fortune’s later years were plagued by poverty, alcoholism, and blindness. After being institutionalised in 1909, she died in Victoria in 1910 and was buried in a mis-marked grave. Fortune may have been lost forever if not for a book collector’s discovery of Waif Wander’s true identity in the 1950s, and researcher Lucy Sussex, whose academic sleuthing unearthed Mary Helena Fortune’s life story.

Jeannie Lockett was born Jane Beattie in New South Wales in 1847, the seventh child of Irish migrant farmers. In Wagga Wagga in 1868, Jeannie married Thomas Lockett, son of a retired British Army officer. They had three children.

Lockett was a teacher before she married, and became a respected headmistress of several Sydney schools, including the Forest Lodge, Camperdown, and Plunkett Street public schools. Lockett poured herself into her writing, of the romance and mystery fiction genres and as a journalist. Many of her fiction stories — including The Millwood Mystery (1886-1887), An Awfully Sudden Death (1887) and The Garston House Tragedy (1888) — were serialised in the Australian Town and Country Journal, Sydney Mail, and Evening News. Lockett’s Judith Grant: A Novel was published posthumously in Britain in 1893 to high acclaim.

As a journalist, Lockett outspokenly advocated for women’s rights—no mean feat in an era where women’s rights, particularly in divorce and labour, were fiercely debated. Her opinion pieces, such as ‘Divorce Considered: From a Woman’s Point of View’, were published in Australian newspapers and notable English journals, including Westminster Review, Nineteenth Century and St James’s Gazette.
Lockett is also credited with inspiring one of Australia’s defining literary voices. Lockett was aunt to Jane Cameron (more widely known as Dame Mary Gilmore) and it is said that Lockett encouraged the young Jane to also become a teacher and writer.

In 1890, Lockett was said to be a tireless worker, making plans to travel to England to pursue literary and publishing opportunities. But she suffered ill health and passed away unexpectedly before her trip, aged just forty-three years old. Jeannie Lockett is buried in a nameless grave in Sydney’s Waverley Cemetery.

In her short life, Lockett successfully merged roles unusual for a woman of her time — wife and mother, writer, women’s rights activist, teacher and mentor — and her legacy lives on for contemporary readers today.