27th November 1890 saw London all agog. The final hearing of a sensational high society divorce case, of the Governor of Madras from his wife, was taking place. The petitioner, Lady Connemara, daughter of Lord Dalhousie, once Viceroy 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 ADC to the Governor. Lady Connemara suffered from the Madras heat and Lady Eva 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 on Lady Connemara.
Once in Madras, Lady Eva 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 for 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 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-speciality hospital. As for the hotel, 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.
This article appeared under the Hidden Histories column of The Hindu dated 16th April 2013