Newtown’s “Miss Havisham”

Only a few weeks ago I catalogued a plan of Camperdown Cemetery, from about 1848, and today I came across a leaflet about Eliza Emily Donnithorne who is buried in this Cemetery. Living in the Inner West, and particularly having had the good fortune to live in a lovely old terrace at my last place, I’ve been fascinated by all the maps showing the early landowners and developers in the area. I was particularly interested to read more about someone who was apparently something of a local identity. I’m not sure if I’ve heard of Eliza Emily Donnithorne before (let’s call her Eliza), but perhaps some of you might have.

Perhaps the main reason that Eliza is still well known, and this was the subject of my leaflet, is that it is believed by some (particularly John Sprott Ryan it would seem) that she was the basis of the character of Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham, in Great Expectations.

Poor Eliza was jilted at the altar…

On the morning of the wedding ‘the bride and her maid were already dressed for the ceremony; the wedding-breakfast was laid in the long dining-room, a very fine apartment. The wedding guests assembled—the stage was set, but the chief actor did not turn up to keep his appointment’. From that time her ‘habits became eccentric’. She never again left the house, finding solace in books and opening the door only to the clergyman, physician and solicitor. The wedding breakfast remained undisturbed on the dining table and ‘gradually mouldered away until nothing was left but dust and decay’.   – Donnithorne, Eliza Emily (1826? – 1886), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition

But for all her bad luck she has managed to possibly score a role in a Dickens novel, had an opera named after her , ‘Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot‘ (that’s not what you think), features in the autobiography of James Tyrrell (of book-selling and publishing fame) and features on the tourist trail.

Matt Murphy has examined a lot more material and has written an article suggesting that there never was a wedding planned, and if you’d like to do more reading about the family there is a book in the Mitchell Library by John Godl The Donnithorne’s of Camperdown Lodge.

I wonder whatever happened to the dastardly rogue who stood her up?


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