Paul Wilkes Fraser

The Herbarium
The University of Hull
Cottingham Road
HULL HU6 7RX
United Kingdom


by Richard Middleton, 2009

Paul Wilkes Fraser was the only son of Sarah and John Fraser M.D. He was born in 1863 and lived for most of his childhood years at 5 Tettenhall Road, Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton.

The following story has very little to do with botany but is too interesting to ignore. The events described must have had an immense impact on John Fraser in the last decade of his life. It is presented as a simple narrative based on the contemporary newspaper reports but since much of the evidence is hearsay, and strongly partial, there may be a bias in some aspects. An index to the newspaper reports - which are all freely available online - is presented so that the reader may re-interpret the material as they wish.


After qualifying in medicine Paul took a position as a Navy surgeon. He was working at the Haslar hospital in 1888 when he was called upon to give evidence in the court-martial of William Wright, a Lieutenant of the Asia accused of excessive intoxication. In 1890 Paul married the young and spirited Kathleen Dillon a native of Jersey, in Plymouth. Later statements suggest that Kathleen, and possibly even Paul, were involved in "show business" and that she had charge of a shooting gallery. Paul must have continued service in the Navy after his marriage as he is recorded as being the surgeon on board the newly commissioned HMS gunboat Ringdove when it anchored in Sydney Harbour in March 1891. Kathleen must have accompanied him on this voyage as their daughter Katie's (Kathleen Paul Wilkes Fraser) birth was registered in Petersham/Newton, New South Wales on 14th May 1891.

Financed by a recent legacy, the couple set up home in St John Street, Launceston, Tasmania, where Paul established a medical practice. By 1892 his activities in Launceston were causing some upset amongst the Royal College of Surgeons, back in London, who did not approve of him advertising his services in the local journals. Although he was not removed from the medical register his interests turned in other directions. Both Paul and Kathleen took an active interest in mineral prospecting and mining - presumably an interest that Paul had developed from youthful expeditions with his father. Surprisingly, it was Kathleen who took the lead, often venturing alone through the mining districts gathering intelligence and making investments. She became an investment adviser and acquired extensive holdings in the North Mount Lyell and other mines. Over the next few years both Paul and Kathleen were to travel around various parts of Australia amassing considerable wealth and property, finally moving to Victoria around 1895 and settling at St Kilda, Melbourne.

Some time around 1897 Paul made a trip back to England and on his return it was clear that their relationship was in trouble. His wife complained that she had possession of letters written to Paul from a girl signing herself Dorothy and a woman called Louie - her assumption being that Dorothy was the fruits of an earlier (and still continuing) relationship. Although this caused a fit of jealousy in Kathleen it is clear that it was only part of the problem and that they had never experienced the happiest of marriages. It was, however, an important factor - enough for Kathleen to place the following advertisement in the Lloyd's News of 11th August -

THE LETTER SENT FROM LONDON To Dr. PAUL WILKES FRASER, Melbourne, Australia, by Person signing herself LOUIE, and Girl signing herself DOROTHY, at Ellerker College, Richmond Hill, Richmond near London; the Wife of Dr PAUL WILKES Fraser has said Letter. If said person will communicate with Mrs. FRASER it will be greatly to her advantage. - GPO, Melbourne, Australia.

By mid 1899 the couple had parted company with John living at Hampton House, Grey Street, and Kathleen lodging at the Federal Coffee Palace. Their young daughter was sent to a Convent at Kew. The couple had, however, invested jointly in property and still met frequently on the construction site of a terrace of houses being built on Mary Street, St Kilda. These meetings frequently ended with fierce argument with Paul, normally a placid man, usually being on the receiving end. On the morning of Saturday September 23rd 1899 Paul met with his solicitor and discussed changes to his will. He desired to leave his entire fortune to his father, John Fraser (now almost 80 years old) and "not a shilling" to his wife and child.

At 1pm the couple met in Grey Street and after an acrimonious exchange, Kathleen drew a revolver from her pocket and shot Paul in the left temple. Although the bullet had lodged in his brain it did not cause instant death. Senior Constable Trainor heard the shot and hurried to the scene from where a cab was called to drop Kathleen off at the watch house and then take the, still conscious, doctor to the Alfred Hospital. So serious were his injuries that no hope of recovery was entertained. On arrival at the hospital preparations were made to operate with the hope of removing the bullet but Paul resisted all attempts at this. A successful skiagraph (X-ray) of the bullet had been produced but this was accidentally destroyed (the glass plate broken?) by the agitated patient who then refused to submit to further imaging attempts.

So hopeless was his situation considered that it was decided to take a statement before his inevitable death. In this statement he confirms that they had been living apart for the last month but during that period had met a dozen or so times to discuss business. He denied that he had provoked her in any way and stated that he had no knowledge that his wife had ever owned a revolver.

Kathleen seems to have been in a worse state than her husband when she gave her own statement. There was no denial - "Oh! - I shot him and I'm afraid he will die. I shall surely be hanged for it" and then in mitigation "My life has been one long misery ever since we were married". The blame was laid on his correspondence with the unknown woman back in England. This was all punctuated with wails and sobs (something she was quite good at by all accounts). It is clear that marital infidelity was suspected on either side!

Paul managed to hang on to life but by 29th September he seemed to be sinking-

"His apparent bodily strength and his cheerful manner disappeared completely and he spent the whole day dozing fretfully and fitfully resenting all attempts to minister to his comfort."

Kathleen was now in a poor state and had been moved to the jail hospital suffering from influenza and nervous exhaustion. Kathleen's sister, husband (Mr and Mrs Howard) and niece had traveled from Sydney to be with her.

But he did not die. Despite the hopelessness of the situation he managed to survive, albeit with some paralysis and blinded in his left eye.

On 6th February 1900 there was an attempt made to take young Katie Fraser from the control of her mother. At the time the girl was being looked after at "Eitak" by Mrs McCormick, an author and journalist, supported by two domestic servants. While Mrs McCormick was away posting a letter a "tall well-dressed, gentlemanly-looking man" called at the house asking for Mrs Howard (Kathleen's sister). He was told that she was no longer there but when he persisted the door was slammed shut and the interview continued through the letter-box. When asked who he was he replied "Mr You-know-who from you-know-where". The servants were expecting an attempt at abduction and quickly secured the house and grounds, one then running for help. The caller admitted that he had come to take Katie away. A crown had gathered and the gentleman admitted that he was Mr Padey Pennington before making his departure. The Argus records that Padey made two further attempts to gain entry to the house after disguising himself "in accordance with the custom of the music-hall stage" and also that he had two accomplices in the crowd. This seems quite a remarkable thing to attempt but Padey Pennington was an experienced street performer, well capable of managing a hostile crowd.

The trial in March was a sensation. Kathleen appeared in the dock, eyes cast down and pleaded not guilty to either intent to murder or wounding with intent. She was given permission to sit and removed her cape and feather boa remaining "as calm as if taking a seat in her own drawing room." It emerged that the Thursday before the shooting Mrs Fraser had told John Grinham that "I will either have to do for the doctor or get some person to do it for me." Later it was revealed that there had been doubts cast on Kathleen's moral character and the legitimacy of her child ... When Paul was called to the stand he seems to make rather sarcastic responses to the questioning. He admits that his brother in law (Padey Pennington) is present in court but denies that he (Paul) was involved with the attempts to abduct his daughter Katie from her mother's residence.

Had you an illegitimate child?- No.
Do you know a woman lamed "Louie"? - Yes.
Was she your mistress in England? - No never.
Did your wife believe she was your mistress? - Yes I think she did.
etc.

There was also a strange exchange, the significance of which those present in court were clearly aware of but must have mystified many of the readers -

Is your Brother-in-law here? - Yes.
Is he a lawyer? - No.
What then - a music-hall singer? (Laughter.) - No.
Has he any profession? - he is studying for the law now.

The joke being that Padey Pennington had been a professional entertainer for over a decade before marrying Paul's sister Mary Martin Fraser. He toured extensively offering ventriloquism, hypnotism, conjuring and some musical comedy ...

The defence tried to show that Paul was constantly drunk and mistreated his wife. They suggested that he may have been involved in shady professional dealings and that he left Launceston under an assumed name. They were trying to show that the shooting was a result of severe provocation. When Kathleen took to the stand she presented a pathetic, sobbing, creature who had endured nine years of torment at the hands of this man. She and her daughter had been cruelly treated both mentally and physically and yet she bore him no malice at the time of the shooting. Just before the incident she had taken her handkerchief from her pocket to dry her eyes, it had tangled with the revolver (which she didn't even know that she had) accidentally discharging a shot. The report of her final appeal to the jury is pure theatre ...

She would do anything to restore her husband to perfect health, and would gladly sacrifice her life if it would make him well again. For herself she did not care what happened now as her life was such a misery and burden to her, but her thoughts were for her dear little girl. The little child was all she had in the world to care for now, and she did not want her to fall into the hands of her husband. She felt far more sorry for her husband than for herself. In a violent fit of sobbing she concluded "I now leave myself in your hands, gentlemen. Please do what is just and fair by me."

Justice Beckett summed up and reminded the jury that no evidence had been presented to show that the defendant was temporarily insane, despite the admission by her husband that she was subject to hysterical outbursts. However great the provocation it could not, in law, justify shooting someone. The jury were then dismissed to consider their verdict.

NOT GUILTY - the court was stunned and the judge incredulous. He asked the foreman on what grounds - insanity? No, Sir. (with astonishment) What then? On the grounds that she did not shoot the man? Yes Sir - On the grounds that it was an accident. (Sarcastically) Gentlemen you have exceeded the hopes even of the accused's advocates. I compliment you. The prisoner is discharged.

Matrimonial harmony was not restored after the acquittal and the couple did not live together again. On 7th June 1900 Paul placed an advertisement in the Melbourne Argus advising that he would no longer take any responsibility for his wife's debts. By this time Kathleen had become the licensee of the Royal Hotel, Queen Street, Melbourne.

Retrospectively, this was not really necessary as Kathleen left Victoria in the same year on her way to a new life in America. In June 1905 Paul Fraser petitioned for a divorce from his wife Kathleen. It transpired that she had obtained an American divorce herself in 1903 (without informing Paul) and had been re-married two weeks later to Mr Theodore Mark Frederick (Freddie) Budden, an Englishman travelling in America. Unfortunately Mr Budden was killed in a railway accident three weeks later, leaving her a widow. She was last heard of on her way to Alaska to do "a little mining and a little singing".

- At least that was the story presented at Paul's application for a divorce, when the decree nisi was granted a much fuller picture emerged. On leaving Australia she took young Katie with her and travelled under the name of Mrs Wallace. Katie was clearly a burden to her mother (despite her court-room pleadings) and in due course was dispatched to live with her grandfather (John Fraser) back in England. In March of 1903 she had written to Paul from Mitchell, Dakota, informing him of her divorce and that she had been awarded custody of their child. Details also emerged of letters sent to young Katie at her grandfather's house in Wolverhampton.

"My Darling Babe, I divorced papa, Dr P. W. Fraser on March 14 1903 and I was married yesterday April 1 at 2 o'clock to the gentleman who's photo I sent you in the locket and on the card, sweetheart. He is an English gentleman travelling in America for his pleasure. I know that you will like your new papa, dear, and I want my little girl to write him a nice, long letter..."

"... we are going to come to England soon to see his little girlie. Mamma is very happy."

And another from Seattle June 8th 1903

"My Darling Babe - I received your letter dear and cannot tell you how glad I was . Well sweetheart you can see by the address that I have taken my old name. Well sweetheart, Mr Bodden has met with a railway accident, and was killed, and now I am all alone again. There are a great many accidents out here on railways. Not anything is thought of it..."

she then goes on the say that she is taking singing lessons

This seems to be a cruel blow to Kathleen, whether or not she is considered to be at fault or not. However ... There are curious records available concerning Mr Budden. A Frederick Budden registered as a voter in Victoria, Australia in 1903. This could be coincidence but the name Budden is unusual and he does not appear on any later registers. More startling is the fact that a Theodore Mark Frederick Budden was drafted for war service from Seattle in 1917 - he states that he is 39 years old and was born in England in 1879.

The electoral registers of Victoria show that Paul not only survived but that he lived to a ripe old age. He appears consistently at 193 Hotham Street, Balaclava, St Kilda up to 1942 when he would be 80 years old. More than that they show that he must have recovered his health as he is described as a Surgeon throughout. From 1914 a Hilda Fraser is living at the same address suggesting that he re-married.


Read the story in the Melbourne Argus


The divorce


Other References

Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England), Saturday, May 26, 1888; Issue 5579.