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Louis de Rougemont., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 68, 20 March 1909
Louis de Rougemont.
By LOUIS BECKE. , I (Specially written for the "Auckland j Star.") j When, on the anernoon of September 9th, 1898, the British Association began its series of meetings at Bristol, the interest of the vast audience was centred in the first public appearance of a man, . whose extraordinary adventures, as narrated by himself in a popular magazine, had aroused the widest interest in the public mind—Mr "Louis de Rougemont." t was observed that before the lion of the day appeared on the platform, hundreds of people had brought with them copies of the London "Daily Chronicle" of that day's issue, and were studying a leading article under the curious heading of "?", and signed "A"a Australian." That article was the precursor of De Rougeniont's downfall, and the genesis of the exposure of one of the most daring and impudent frauds ever perpetrated upon the public— except perhaps the Humbert swindle. I may say at the outset that I was the writer of the article, and that it was written by mc, and published by the editor of the "Daily Chronicle," from a sense of duty, and with intimate knowledge of the fact that the man -who was to address the I British Association's audience was an unmitigated liar and impostor. But we did not then say so plainly. The time had not yet come, and our researches into bis past history were not completed. All that "An Australian" asked in the article was essentially, "Were the two very learned scientists who were sponsors for De Rougemont, absolutely' satisfied as to the truth of his narrative?" These gentlemen were men of the very highest integrity, and of world- ; wide reputation. Their bona fides were, of course, unimpeachable, and it was this very fact that brought the man such strong support from thousands of educated people, who believed in his lying tale, which practically was endorsed by the members of a learned and famous society. 1 need make no further allusion to this meeting at Bristol, except to say "that the gifted adventurer failed to answer some very simple and pentinent questions put to him t>y Professor Tylor hiih regard to the aboriginal vocabulary. Still the majority of the audience believed in him, and he went on in his career, challenging the world to disprove any of his tale, and clamouring for "An Australian" to reveat his identity. But "An Australian" macre no further sign. He was but waiting. I must now go back a little, and relate how I came to write that article. About two months previously I was dining in a London club with the editor of the "Daily Chronicle," his associate editor, the editor of the "Illustrated London News," Mr Edward Olodd, the scientist, and the late Louis Austin, when I produced that number of tne magazine which contained the beginning of the "Amazing (Adventures" and the author's portrait, and casually remarkea that a huge fraud was being perpetrated by "De Rougemont" upon the editor and proprietor of the magazine and the public in general. My friends were greatly interested, especially when I gave them very valid reasons for my statements. The man, I asserted, was well known in Sydney, and he had there married a girl of sixteen years of age, whose parents kept a fancy goods and seamen's outfitting shop in George-street North. I remembered the young lady very well, os a bright, pretty, and pleasant-mannered girl, from whom , I had made many purchases for myself nnd my crew of Polynesian natives. As for "De Rougeniont's" story of having lived for thirty years among mc blacks of Northern Australia without ever seeing a white man, that, I said, was preposterous and impossible. Then, too. I briefly traverser! in detail his tale of his marvellous pearling voyage, shipwreck, with its absurd concomitants; I his landing on the mainland, encounters with blacks, subsequent admission into) a tribe as a member, and his weird j wanderings in search oT civilisation, dis-' covery of a mountain of gold, his performance with snakes, w-nose poison fangs I . he had extracted, and all bis other countless lies- Furthermore, I added that I was convinced I he man had been crib-j bing extensively from the works of Australian explorers 'and scientists. We decided to give the amazing gen-1 tleman plenty of rope, and the editor of the "Daily Chronicle" at once set to work, beginning his researches simul- j taneously in Switzerland and Australia,' ! and in a few weeks he had an enormous mass of evidence for the edification of , the public, to prove that "Louis de I Rougemont" was Henri Louis Grein. a native of Vevey, that he certain!}- had, had a strange career in Australia, had I been connected with pearling enterprises I in Torres Straits, but that his story as a whole was a farrago of lies from beI ginning to end. Afler the excitement of the Bristo! meeting, "De Rougemont's" editor (I am I sure in perfect good faith) issued a chal-. lenpe to the effect that he would pay £500 to any person who could disprove the story of the amazing Louis. And al- , finest simultaneously a city gentleman, who was acting as De Rougeniont's finI ancial adviser with regard to the "moun- ' tain of gold," announced that a syndicate had been formed with a large capiI tal to send out an expedition to work the mountain of gold, the location of ' which was known only to "De Rougemont" and himself, and could not possibly be divulged, else some callous-mind-ed persons might get the start of them, and annex the auriferous mountain for their own base purposes- And it is a matter of fact that there were hundreds of credulous people who were wildly anxious to put thousands of pounds into this precious syndicate. Later on they recognised that the "Daily Chronicle"' bad saved them from being remorselessly swindled by "De Rougemont," and the precious syndicate was heard of no more. It was always a marvel to mc that, the savants of the British Association could accept so easily that part of Grein's story concerning his voyage (with his faithful black spouse Yamba) from the mouth of the Roper River in the Gulf of Carpentaria, along the tortuous coast line to Cambridge Gulf —a distance of 1200 miles. If these gentlemen had known anything at all of the condition of affairs on that part of the Australian continent they would at once have seen that it would be absolutely impossible for Grein to have made such a voyage without coming into contact with many white men. It seems incredible that they should not know of the town :jf Port Darwin, the terminus of the overland telegraph line, of the numerous cattle stations all along the coast, of tbe fleets of pearling luggers which Grein could not have failed to have met, of the scores of Malay proas engaged hi trepang fishing, of the abandoned settlement of Port Essington (which he says he visited), where there were hundreds fit aborigines lyio ?polse English, ani
' could have told him that there was a i large cattle station only twenty milea away, where ke would have been heartily welcomed. And only three days' journey from th«_» was the white settlement at Adam Bay. Poor, weary Da Rougemont! By some evil fate he seems to have dodged in between and missed the pearlers, the trepang fishers, the settlements, the coastal cattle stations, the numerous white men engaged in buffalo hunting, the sailing vessels and steamers that any other person would have met with. For even so far back as forty years ago (before his wonderful canoe voyage), it would have been absolutely impossible for anyone to have been on that part of the coast for a week without seeing a vessel of some sort, or coming into contact with white men—except he was blind. And as to his voyage down the Roper River to its mouth in a frail canoe, I have now before mc Mr Alfred Searcey's just published account of his experiences when he was Collector of Customs of that part of the Northern Territory of South Australia. Mr Searcey bears out the statements of other people who have been on that river, to the effect that, so numerous are the alligators that it is unsafe for even a well-manned boat (with a low freeboard) to travel upon it. The occupants of a frail canoe would be attacked and devoured within ten minutes after setting out. "So numerous are the alligators. . . . just endless spots upon the water. .. . thousands line t_« banks." One wonders at which most to marvel —the Munchausen effrontery of the Amazing Man, or the Gullibility of the British Ass.— (abbreviation for British Association). De Rougemont made extensive cribs of the most bare-faced character from th e works of Mr. Harry Stockdale, the Australian explorer, Dr. Leichhardt, the "Narrative of William Buckley's 32 years' Captivity with the Australian ■ Blacks," and also derived much valuable information as to native customs and mode of life from the narrative of James I Murrell, a shipwrecked seaman, who was captive with a tribe of blacks in North Queensland for seventeen years. One of the officials of the British Museum library, which Grein visited daily for many months, working up his amazing I tile, noticed his asiduity in poring over I books relating to the aborigines of Australia. He also did mc the honour of studying my works, especially those relating to nautical adventures. At the Bristol meeting he said, "I only reached civilisation in 1895, after an exile of upwards of thirty years.** As a matter of fact he had been living in Sydney for seventeen years before that date. At the time when he declared himself t" have been living a savage life, he was surrounded by a white family in Sydney, where he had resided, with occasional absences, for seventeen years, and scores of people in that city knew him in various capacities—canvasser for a photoenlargement firm, canvasser for the HoltSutherland Land Estate Agency, and also as having had business relations with a firm of diving-apparatus manufacturers, named McQuillan and Green, and at the time be was addressing the British Association at Bristol, his eldest daughter Blanche was fourteen years of age. The discovery by this girl that the famous Louis de Rougemont, who, a fi-w months previously, was the lion of London, was her missing father, "Louis , Grein," or Green, was quite dramatic. She | had been sent by her mother to execute some errand in one of Sydney's busiest streets — the Parramatta-road, and j stepped to look at a newsagent's win- I dow, when her eye lit upon a number of the "Wide World Magazine, and the saw I i-\ it the strikingly executed photo, of | "'the man of the most amazing adventures," and recognised her missing I parent, whom she had not seen for some years. Entering the shop, she asked the proprietor, Mr. Ruble, to let her examine I the photo, more closely. He did so, and | Rr.kM her if she had heard of him. "Why, of course. It is my father, Louis Green." Only for this photograph it is quite | possible that the Green family might have remained in ignorance of the identity of "De Rougemont" for perhaps many years, for they were in poor circumstances, and were not likely to buy illustrated English papers, containing his ! portraits, nor the sixpenny magazine which recorded his amazing story. The publication of that photograph was, perhaps, one of his fatal mistakes. During the merciless exposure of the fraudulent tale by the "Daily Chronicle" and the Australian Press, the London "Figaro" published every week a delightfully humorous parody of the story under the title of "The Preposterous Adventures of George Washington Munchausen de Spoof; Being the Most Amazing Story a Man Ever Told and Lived," and I may add that there was not; one single newspaper in the Australasian Colonies that gave the slightest credence to his story, for as his portrait was reproduced in various journals, from Port Darwin to Hobart Town, it was recognised as that ot the man of many aliases and many vocations. And with one or two notable exceptions, the London daily Press would I not accept his ridiculous" tale as anything but the wildest fiction. A more striking case of the exposvre lof an audacious liar was never before I presented. "De Rougemont" not only imposed upon the proprietor of the | "Wide World Magazine," who accepted | his lying tale in absolute good faith, but he actually enlisted on his behalf many j distinguished persons in the scientific [ world of England, who firmly believed in his statements, although the whole Ausj tralian Press, and one great London daily, were holding up the man's antecedents, and laughing at the gullibility of the British public in accepting his story. Surely "De Rougemont," alias '"Louis Grein," "Henri Louis Green," etc., must be the reincarnation of one Jacqu 's Sadeur, who, more than 200 years ag\ published in Paris a book entitled "Adventures of Jacques Sadeur in Terra Incognita Australia, who, cast thereon by shipwreck, lived So years in that country." On the fly-leaf of this book there is a note as follows: "These memoirs were thought so curious that they were kept secret in the closet of a late great Minister of State, and never published till now, since his death." Jacques Sadeur, whose real name was Gabriel de Foigney. was one of the most elaborate liars of his time, and he and "de Rougemont" could well have run in double harness. His adventures are so much akin to those of Mr Green, that one can hardly believe that Jacques' lying tale bears the Paris printer's date of April S. 1693. "De Rougemont" saw a dead whale 150 yards (450 feet) long, but Jacques saw on the Australian coast "certain kinds of horses, but with pointed heads, and claw-footed; they also bad wings and feathers." He also met with "flying bears" (like Mr Green's wombats), one of which seized him. "Only my girdle," he I says, "which went many times around my body, prevented mc from being' pierced into the entrails*"
Monsieur Sadeur reaped a rich harvest from his book, and then disappeared, but his unfortunate publisher was put in .prison for a year and had to pay a fine of 10,000 -nancs, for issuing "a false and lyeing narrative." Green was also in the employment of Sir William Robinson, Governor of Western Australia, as valet, but Lady Robinson dismissed him for his violent temper. He came to London in the steamer Waikato, working his passage from New Zealand as assistant steward, and the certificate of his discharge is signed "H. L. Green, age 50; place of birth, London." (He informed us at the meeting in tho editor's office of the "Daily Chronicle" that he was born in the Boulevard Haussman, Paris, in 1844—forgetting that there was no Boulevard Haussman made until 1858.) Amongst other pursuits in Australia. "Grien," as be called himself in 1879 l was on the Palmer river goldfield, where he practised' as a "doctor." He filled the position of wardsman to the local hospital. Then, after that he appeared in various Queensland towns as the agent ! of "Princess Midas" (Miss Alice Corn- : well), of (bad) mining fame. He had pleasant manners, spoke French and English fluently, but at that time never mentioned any of his amazing adventures. •Detective Rochaix, of tbe Sydney police, who went into Green's history, ascertained that he without doubt first came to Australia with Sir William Robinson in 1874, and after being dismissed, went to Sydney and lived at Newtown for some time with a relative of his—a Mme. Dupont, a native of Lausanne, Switzerland. In conclusion, I may add that at the united wishes of the Amazing One, his editor, and the editor of the "Daily Chronicle," I consented to meet the man at the "D.C." offices, and put certain questions to him. I found him a very clever, shifty and remarkably engaging liar. My account of the meeting appeared in most of the London dailies of the time, and a few weeks afterwards, when the "Daily Chronicle's" complete history of the man was issued, the proprietors of the maprazine in which the story appeared published a notification to the effect that they recognised that his story was an impossible one, and would no longer continue the publication of it os a true narrative. So ended the De Rougemont -fraud.
Louis de Rougemont., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 68, 20 March 1909
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