Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fitzhardinge, Hope Verity (1908–1986)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Hope Verity Fitzhardinge (1908-1986), teacher and bookseller, was born on 12 December 1908 at Glen Innes, New South Wales, eldest of seven children of William Vigors Hewitt, a New South Wales-born farmer, and his wife Nina Marguerite Haast, née Sealy, from New Zealand. Verity attended Glen Innes Grammar School and the University of Sydney (BA, 1929), where she became engaged to Laurence Frederic Fitzhardinge. In 1930-33 she taught at Telopea Park Intermediate High School, Canberra. After visiting the United States of America in 1935, she taught in Wellington, New Zealand. On board ship she had fallen in love with George Lacey Lee, an English migrant. Planning marriage, they designed their future home but Fitzhardinge pursued her. Believing he needed her more, she hastily married him on 1 August 1936 at the registrar’s office, Wellington, but instantly, permanently, regretted her `folly of … compassion’. Verity and Lacey were to maintain an intense correspondence. She visited him in New Zealand in 1939 and was devastated when he died in January 1942 while serving as a lieutenant with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force in North Africa.

Laurie worked as a librarian in Canberra. Unhappy, loathing housework, his wife opened Verity Hewitt’s Bookshop in East Row on 1 April 1938. From second-hand books, it expanded to sell new books, prints and artefacts, and to hold art exhibitions. Unsuccessful financially, it became a `pool of light’ for the book-starved community, reflecting the friendliness of its owner, who delivered library books by sulky. Her sister June took over when the Fitzhardinges returned to Sydney in 1945. The shop was to occupy seven locations, the last in Queanbeyan from 1968, when Verity resumed the management before selling up in 1974.

In Sydney Mrs Fitzhardinge studied Russian and taught part time at Abbotsleigh Church of England School for Girls and Bradfield Park migrant camp. Diverse cultures intrigued her. Secretary of the Russian Social Club, she hosted Pushkin Circle meetings at her Pymble home. Unworldly and generous, she took in the homeless; two such, migrants, informed the Australian Security Intelligence Organization that she was a communist. This rumour persisted but was not substantiated. She called herself a `fellow traveller’, a `romantic’.

The Fitzhardinges spent 1947 at Oxford, England, Verity working on a farm. Next year she travelled to Russia. In 1951 they resettled in Canberra. Helped by Russian migrants, she ran an orchard at Narrabundah while tending her frail parents and retarded brother. ASIO kept both Fitzhardinges under surveillance. Undeterred, Verity learned Russian from, and taught English to, numerous officials, including Evdokia Petrov, at the Embassy of the Soviet Union. She also worked as a relief teacher. When her Canberra Grammar School pupils locked her in a cupboard, she was encouraged to resign. While respecting the military virtues, she was a passionate pacifist, a founder and secretary of the local Australia-USSR Society and a member of the Australian Labor Party. Her appearance grew weather-beaten and eccentric; some found her excessively ideological.

From 1959 the Fitzhardinges leased River View, near Queanbeyan, New South Wales; Verity raised Dorset cattle and held an executive position in the Primary Producers’ Union. She leased more land near Captains Flat and was librarian at the local primary school. She continued teaching Soviet personnel and in 1963 revisited Russia. At the Australian National University (MA, 1965; Ph.D., 1968) she investigated Russian contacts with colonial Australia and, later, the Anglo-Russian construction in the 1880s of the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire. There, in 1966, she walked the entire border, alone.

In her seventies Fitzhardinge prepared Lacey’s memoir: their letters, his diary jottings and war service, her recollection of despair and renunciation. She interviewed his wartime comrades in New Zealand. The moving, candid manuscript was complete when she died on 23 June 1986 in Canberra. An agnostic, she was cremated. Her husband and their two sons survived her. Laurie loyally shepherded A Man’s Man through to publication in 1987.

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Times, 29 Aug 1968, p 19, 17 Feb 1979, p 15, 5 July 1986, p B6, 31 Jan 1988, pp 1, 7
  • Canberra Historical Journal, no 17, 1986, p 32
  • series A6119, items 876-79 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Fitzhardinge, Hope Verity (1908–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fitzhardinge-hope-verity-12499/text22489, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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