Sunday, March 24, 2013

A walking shadow: the remarkable double life of Edward Oxford

The life of Edward Oxford can be told in two parts. Born in England 1822 Edward Oxford gained notoriety in 1840 when he fired two pistols at Queen Victoria. There is no proof that the pistols were loaded and after his trial at the Old Bailey he was declared insane and was initially sent to the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Bethlem and later transferred to Broadmoor Hospital when it opened in 1863. From all accounts Oxford took advantage of the situation to study and improve his education  studying subjects including French, German and Italian as well as some Spanish, Greek and Latin. He also became a grainer and painter. Eventually it was decided that Oxford was sane but the government did not want him released in England so he was released on the understanding that he travelled to one of the colonies and stayed there.

Edward Oxford left Plymouth aboard the Suffolk in December 1867 but he now had a new identity - he was now John Freeman, a 'merchant' travelling to Melbourne Australia. In the second part of the book Jenny Sinclair pieces together what is known of Freeman's life in the colony of Victoria. Initially he worked as a painter and grainer and then in 1874 he wrote a series of articles about Melbourne for the Argus. The articles were signed Liber meaning, in Latin, free. Freemen was a member of the West Melbourne Mutual Improvement Society and was also actively involved at St James' Cathedral, holding positions of church warden and secretary.  In 1881 Freeman married Jane Bowen (Tapping) and by 1888 they were living in Albert Park. He was a respected member of Melbourne society and no-one suspected his past.

In 1888 the book, Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life, was published in London. Freeman based the book around the Argus articles of 1874 and provided a view of life in Melbourne probably written for a London audience.

Freeman was probably not the only person in Melbourne who had two or more identities. Living two lives cannot always have been an easy thing to do but there is no evidence that Freeman told anyone in Melbourne about his earlier life in England. It was only through letters to a friend in England that many years later that John Oxford was linked to James Freeman.

In this book Jenny Sinclair provides not only an account of the life of Oxford / Freeman but also an introduction to life in Victorian England and the Colony of Victoria.

Berkshire Record Office - Broadmoor - Edward Oxford

Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life

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