Tale of the Connemara

An intriguing drama took place at the Government House where the new Secretariat, now a multi-specialty hospital, stands

April 16, 2013 11:35 am | Updated June 06, 2013 02:26 pm IST

November 27, 1890, saw London all agog. The final hearing of a sensational high-society divorce case, of the Governor of Madras, was taking place. The petitioner, Lady Connemara, daughter of Lord Dalhousie, once the Governor-General of India, was there in person. The respondent, Lord Connemara, was neither present nor represented.

In 1886, Robert Bourke, a successful career politician, was made Lord Connemara and posted to Madras as Governor. In the Governor’s household were his niece, Lady Eva Quinn, and her husband who was Aide-de-Camp to the Governor. Lady Connemara suffered from the Madras heat and Lady Quinn began acting as hostess at all social events, which the former deeply resented.

Quarrels ensued especially when the gubernatorial party retreated to Ootacamund and Capt. Quinn resigned his post and returned to England, leaving his wife to follow. Lord Connemara returned to Madras in October 1888 with his niece, leaving his wife in the hills. The Governor’s doctor, Surgeon-Major Briggs, stayed on to attend to Lady Connemara.

Once in Madras, Lady Quinn stayed at Government House and acted as hostess to a large house party complete with several aristocrats from England. Lady Connemara arrived suddenly with Dr. Briggs on the eve of a ball, and was mortified at what she saw. She left at once to stay at a hotel. Incredibly enough, barring a few of the inner circle, none knew of Lady Connemara residing at the hotel for four long months. She refused to return to Government House even after Lady Eva was sent home. In March 1889, Lady Connemara sailed to England.

In November 1889, Hannah Moore, one of Lady Connemara’s former maids confessed to adultery with Lord Connemara while at Government House, Madras. Lady Connemara immediately filed for divorce citing infidelity. Lord Connemara countered by accusing his wife of having an affair with Dr. Briggs, which she hotly denied. The Governor resigned his post and returned to England but chose to stay away from the divorce proceedings. His political career was finished.

Dr. Briggs testified in Court that Hannah had confessed to him about the adultery. Lord Connemara being absent, the divorce was granted at once. Shortly thereafter, Lady Connemara married Dr. Briggs. Hannah Moore went on to a good position with another aristocratic family. Lord Connemara married a rich widow. In short, everyone lived happily ever after.

Several years later, a newspaper speculated on whether Lady Connemara had connived with the servant girl to stage a drama of adultery to enable a quick divorce. It cited a character reference that Lady Connemara gave Hannah in which she had praised the latter’s faith and trustworthiness.

Government House, where all this happened, has since made way for the new assembly-cum-secretariat, now the multi-specialty hospital.

As for the hotel where Lady Connemara resided, it changed its name to Connemara and remains so. A portrait of Lord Connemara is in the lobby. A picture of his first lady would have been more appropriate.

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