Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mordaunt, Evelyn May (1872–1942)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Evelyn May Mordaunt (1872-1942), author, was born on 7 May 1872 at Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire, England, fifth child of St John Legh Clowes, gentleman farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Caroline, née Bingham, daughter of the 3rd Baron Clanmorris. She spent her childhood at Charlton House near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, and her teens near Heythrop, in the Cotswolds. Tall like her brothers, and 'stoutly made', Evie grew up with a love of horses, hunting and open-air life. She learned little from a series of governesses but later took up landscape painting and fabric and wallpaper design, and studied German, Latin, Greek and shorthand.

In 1897 Evelyn went to Mauritius as companion to her cousin Caroline, wife of (Sir) George Le Hunte. On 18 August 1898 in the Plaines Wilhems district, she married Maurice Wilhemn Wiehe, a sugar-planter. Her two children of this unhappy marriage were stillborn. Wasted by malaria, she returned alone to England; in convalescence she completed The Garden of Contentment. But before the first edition appeared in 1902, under her pen-name 'Elenor Mordaunt', she had left in the sailing-ship Loch Katrine for Melbourne, arriving on 10 June. On 9 March 1903 she gave birth to a son, Godfrey Weston Wiehe.

In Australia Evelyn made some lifelong friends, initially through Dr Edith Barrett. Except when incapacitated by illness or injury she refused all offers of help, living in cheap lodgings and earning her keep by sewing blouses and muslin cushions, painting parasols, posters and friezes and decorating white furniture. She tried her hand at stained-glass window design and for some months ran a small metal workshop. She briefly edited a woman's monthly magazine. Friendship with C. Bogue Luffman led to work designing and building a garden; she lived at his house at the School of Horticulture, Burnley, for some two years from late 1903. While there she wrote Rosemary: That's for Remembrance (Melbourne and London, 1909). On 14 July 1909 she and her son left for England.

To support herself Evelyn turned to writing, using several pseudonyms but from 1913 principally 'Elinor Mordaunt'; she changed her name by deed poll to Evelyn May Mordaunt on 1 July 1915. Altogether she published over forty volumes, mainly novels and short stories. Her reputation as a travel writer resulted from her round-the-world trip by sail and cargo steamer for the London Daily Mail in 1923.

In her autobiography, Sinabada (1937), Evelyn Mordaunt recalls her antipodean years with affection, but few of her books have Australian settings. A Ship of Solace (1911) describes a voyage by sailing-ship to Melbourne; Lu of the Ranges (1913) is set in Victoria; the hero in The Pendulum (1918) becomes involved in trade union and labour politics while in Australia. Short stories published in The Island (1914) first appeared in the Lone Hand in 1910 and 1912; 'The Ginger Jar' in Old Wine in New Bottles (1919) is about the Chinese of Melbourne's Little Bourke Street. A more practical appraisal of Australian society is contained in her handbook, On the Wallaby Through Victoria, by E. M. Clowes (1911). The product of both reminiscence and research (some of it unreliable), this book is interesting as the memoir of a woman who had learned to adapt to unfamiliar class values.

During World War I, Mrs Mordaunt lived at Greenwich, London. In the 1920s she bought a house in the south of France but sold it when her travels took her far afield to Central and North America, the Pacific and Africa. On 27 January 1933 at Tenerife, Canary Islands, she married Robert Rawnsley Bowles, 66, a retired barrister from Gloucestershire; in her own words, the marriage 'ended in tragedy'. She died on 25 June 1942 at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford.

Select Bibliography

  • R. B. Johnson, Some Contemporary Novelists—(Women) (Lond, 1920)
  • S. J. Kunitz and H. Haycraft, Twentieth Century Authors (NY, 1942)
  • National American Woman Suffrage Associaton, Woman's Journal (New York), Mar 1929
  • Wilson Bulletin, vol 3, no 18, Feb 1929, p 470
  • Australian Book Buyer, June 1912
  • The Times Literary Supplement, 14 Sept 1911, 23 Oct 1937
  • 'New Novel', Times (London), 18 Sept 1931, p 7
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 27 June 1942, p 6.

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Mordaunt, Evelyn May (1872–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mordaunt-evelyn-may-7650/text13379, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bowles, Evelyn May
  • Wiehe, Evelyn May
  • Clowes, Evelyn May
  • Mordaunt, Elenor
  • Mordaunt, Elinor
Birth

7 May 1872
Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire, England

Death

25 June 1942
Oxford, Oxfordshire, England

Cultural Heritage
Occupation