Australian Dictionary of Biography

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de Rougemont, Louis (1847–1921)

by B. G. Andrews

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Louis de Rougemont (1847-1921), hoaxer, was born Henri Louis Grin on 12 November 1847 at Gressy, Vaud canton, Switzerland, son of Antoine Samuel Emanuel Grin, farmer, and his wife Jeanne, née Perret. Educated at a local primary school, he moved with his family to Yverdon, where he worked in his father's wagon business. At about 16 he became a footman to the actress Fanny Kemble, touring extensively and learning fluent English. In 1870-74 he was a valet in London, and in 1875 came to Australia as a butler with the new governor of Western Australia, Sir William Robinson; to Lady Robinson he was insolent and ambitious, and left after five months.

In June Grin became master and owner of the pearling cutter Ada, which was posted missing in February 1877 some months before it was found wrecked near Cooktown, Queensland; Grin claimed to have sailed the 3000 miles (4828 km) from Fremantle and to have been the sole survivor of an attack by Aboriginals at Lacrosse Island. By May 1880 he had arrived in Sydney. He worked as a dishwasher, waiter and seller of real estate and mining shares, but mainly as a photographer. On 3 April 1882, as Henri Louis Grien, he married Eliza Jane Ravenscroft at the Presbyterian manse, Newtown; they had seven children. He was also known as 'Green' and 'Grein'.

Early in 1897 Grin deserted Eliza and fled Sydney taking a copy of the diary of a bushman, Harry Stockdale. He surfaced in New Zealand as a spiritualist and then worked his way to England, arriving in March 1898. As Louis de Rougemont he called on (Sir) J. Henniker Heaton, who gave him a letter of introduction to the editor of the new Wide World Magazine. From August 1898 to May 1899 it serialized 'The adventures of Louis de Rougemont', which focused fancifully on the astounding experiences he had had while allegedly spending thirty odd years as a castaway among the Aboriginals of North-West and Central Australia. The articles were republished as The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont, as Told by Himself (1899); they were fluently and cleverly written, but essentially the plausible concoction of a colonial Munchausen.

In the furore that erupted de Rougemont was supported by his publishers and by John Moresby; he lectured in September 1898 to the geography and anthropology sections of the Bristol meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. But his claims were doubted by Louis Becke and strongly disputed by D. W. Carnegie in the London Daily Chronicle. Assisted by revelations in the Sydney Evening News and Daily Telegraph, the London paper established that the hoaxer had been identified by Eliza from a copy of Wide World; the Chronicle's articles, republished as Grien on Rougemont; Or, the Story of a Modern Robinson Crusoe (London, 1898), provide the information on Grin's life from which most subsequent accounts derived.

At the time of the controversy de Rougemont was described as tall and lightly built with a thin, seamed face, full eyes, heavy lids, bristly hair, pointed beard and cultured voice; as caricatured by Phil May he looked remarkably like May's Bulletin companion of the 1880s, Livingston Hopkins. In 1899 he was a music-hall attraction in South Africa as 'The greatest liar on earth'; on a similar tour of Australia in 1901 he was booed from the stage. As 'Louis Redman', handyman, he died in London on 9 June 1921, and was buried in St Mary's Roman Catholic cemetary, Kensal Green. He was survived by his second wife Thirza Ann Wolf, née Ellis, divorcee, whom, as Louis de Rougemont, he had married on 28 July 1915. She had his death certificate amended in 1929.

Select Bibliography

  • F. A. Kemble, Further Records, 1848-1883 (Lond, 1890)
  • N. Gould, The Magic of Sport (Lond, 1909)
  • J. W. Kirwan, An Empty Land (Lond, 1934)
  • F. Clune, The Greatest Liar on Earth (Melb, 1945)
  • A. Sykes, Five Plays for Radio (Syd, 1975)
  • G. J. Maslen, The Most Amazing Story a Man Ever Lived to Tell (Syd, 1977), and for bibliography
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 14, 16, 21 Sept, 3, 28 Oct 1898
  • Evening News (Sydney), 20, 21 Sept 1898
  • Arrow (Sydney), 26 Nov 1898–14 Jan 1899
  • Times (London), 11 June 1921, p 7, 15 June 1921, p 7.

Citation details

B. G. Andrews, 'de Rougemont, Louis (1847–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/de-rougemont-louis-5961/text10171, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 9 December 2016.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Grin, Henri Louis
  • Grien, Henri Louis
  • Green, Henri Louis
  • Grein, Henri Louis
  • Redman, Louis
Birth

12 November 1847
Gressy, Vaud, Switzerland

Death

9 June 1921
London, Middlesex, England

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation