Melorina Florentina de Saumarez (1827?–1876)

by Alison Alexander

 

Nineteen-year-old Melorina Florentina de Saumarez stated that her father, now deceased, had been a colonel of artillery, commanding a regiment; her mother and brother were in Paris; and she herself had received a superior education. The Saumerez were certainly a notable family in Guernsey, but since Melorina later stated that her real name was La Lausse, her relationship with them sounds doubtful. In 1846 she was arrested in England, in such exciting circumstances that the event was widely reported, with one journalist thrilled by her fashionable clothes and her magnificent black hair. Wholly unconfined (ladies never wore their hair unconfined in public), it flowed over her shoulders down to her waist.

Melorina’s story was that she had arrived from Guernsey two months earlier. She took respectable apartments, saying she was the niece of Lady de Saumerez, and became friendly with a local girl, Elizabeth Purkis, daughter of a well-to-do merchant. Elizabeth invited Melorina to stay with her family. There she found that Mr Purkiss kept his cash box under his pillow. She bought a matching one, exchanged them, and then left with the money. When found and arrested she did not deny the crime, but said vehemently, ‘Don’t let the world know I am a de Saumarez’. She sounds like an inept criminal, for she gave the money to a third party, who returned it to Purkis – the sum of £135 in cash, £99 in a cheque, and some coins, totalling the large amount of £250.

Three months after the arrest, Melorina was tried at Winchester. This time she was dressed demurely in black, with a black veil. The romantic circumstances of the crime aroused deep interest, it was reported.‘The fact of the prisoner being a Frenchwoman had created considerable sympathy on her behalf,’ and several benevolent ladies offered help. Melorina was found guilty, the jury recommending mercy (she had no prior convictions), but the chairman said there were no extenuating circumstances. He had seldom seen a case where the advantages of education had been applied to such deep-laid schemes of vice. It was transportation for 10 years. The prisoner fainted.

Melorina was transported to Van Diemen’s Land on board the Asia. The surgeon described her behaviour on the voyage as ‘good’. She arrived in Hobart in 1847, giving her trade as needlewoman. After serving her probation period on the Anson she presumably worked as a domestic servant, but not for long; in 1848 she married William King in Hobart. Married women convicts were usually assigned to their husbands, and to all intents and purposes Melorina was free; but she could not bear Van Diemen’s Land – the lack of sophistication, poverty, William, domesticity? – and in 1849 she absconded and hid on a ship bound for the just-discovered goldfields of California. Disastrously, she was discovered. She had to serve three weeks’ solitary confinement, but after that her record is blank; she committed no further offences.

Melorina died in Hobart in 1876, aged 63, in poverty, and was buried in the pauper section of the cemetery. How she spent the intervening 26 years is unknown, but she obviously did not accumulate wealth.

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