“At Rokeby, where the road branches off from Skillion Hill, through Glebe Farm on its way to Cambridge,” wrote Mabel Hookey in a small limited edition book published over 40 years ago, “there is an old cottage, once the home of Dr and Mrs Desailly. It was built in 1826, by William Hance and was one of the early landmarks of the locality.
“There was a certain cachet about the Desaillys, and a hint of strangeness as of exotic birds blown from their course by adverse winds. It was whispered that Dr Desailly’s English practice had been at the court of George IV, and that his beautiful wife had been a Lady in Waiting to Queen Caroline.
“What were they doing in this antipodean outpost?
“They held no official position, nor were they of the free settlers who were beginning to trickle into the colony. They did not swell the ranks of those unfortunates [convicts] who had left their country for their country’s good, nor were they political exiles.
“A vessel under special charter brought them to Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania], and they always had plenty of money, derived from a mysterious pension, paid regularly and with great secrecy.
“Uneventful years went by. The doctor settled into his practice at Clarence Plains at Kangaroo Point.
“More years passed, but the secret that barred the Desailly’s return to England was as closely kept as ever.
“Apparently the young people had no inkling of what it was. Their descendants knew nothing of it. No doubt the district gossiped but, there was so little to go [on] that conjecture was baffled.
“Could it possibly have had anything to do with the divorce proceedings between George IV and Queen Caroline? This supposition was as good as another.
“In 1861 Mrs Desailly died, aged 77, and was buried in Rokeby churchyard.
“The Doctor’s last years were passed at Bellerive in the two-gabled house next to the old church.
“I have talked with elderly people,” wrote Hookey, “who could remember the frail old man in his hooded carriage, drawn by a black, white-faced horse, driven by his coachman, Paddy Swan.
“His secret died with him . . .”
Or so it was thought – until now.
I couldn’t believe my luck.
Right there in my small local country library I found a numbered limited edition copy – number 365 of only 750 copies printed – of a book published in 1970 (originally published in 1943) titled ‘The Chaplain: Being Some Further Account of the Days of Bobby Knopwood’.
The Reverend Robert Knopwood was the first chaplain of Tasmania. As it happens he plays a significant role in my story later in the book.
Quite unexpectedly Mabel Hookey provided me with the perfect opening to my story, setting the scene for the mystery that had unfolded for me before leaving Australia for the New York under my own strange circumstances.
Curiously, when I went back to borrow the book again to check on the material I am quoting here I discovered to my surprise that it was no longer in the library catalogue or on the shelves, having sat there for possibly the last forty years. A search on Amazon shows the book as “out of print”.
Then when I wrote to the publisher in Tasmania requesting permission to quote from the book I received no reply. It was as if the book had never existed.
Never mind, because I know Dr Desailly’s Royal secret.
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Reference: ‘The Chaplain: Being Some Further Account of the Days of Bobby Knopwood’ by Mabel Hookey, Fuller’s Bookshop, Tasmania, 1970.
Illustration: The site of Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) 1855