‘A charming if financially incompetent adventurer’

 Hugh Moreton Frewen, lived out his fantasies in the Wild West.

Hugh Moreton Frewen, lived out his fantasies in the Wild West.

Travelling by rail to Clifden from Galway in the later years of the 19th century was supposed to take about one and a half hours, but it often took much longer. One of its great benefits was to bring anglers and shooters, ramblers and artists through the heart of Connemara, which it did very successfully. The train was quite happy to stop between stations to let people alight to follow their dreams, or to stay with friends who lived close to the railway.

A popular and boisterous unscheduled stop, just before Clifden, was near Munga Lodge, one of the many homes of Hugh Moreton Frewen, who lavishly entertained his London friends to days of fishing and shooting, horse riding and hunting, followed by wild parties into the early hours. *

Frewen was a charming if financially incompetent adventurer from an English landed family known for reckless financial and political schemes. He and his brother Richard inherited a small fortune from their father, but whatever money Frewen had it was never enough to pay for his schemes and life-style.

On Friday 13 September 1878, in a fit of extreme madness, he put whatever money he had on a horse to run in the Doncaster Cup, while announcing to his friends that if the horse won he would be content to live out his life as Master of Kilkenny Hounds.

His horse lost. Undeterred he convinced his brother to join him on a get-rich-quick cattle venture in Wyoming USA, where cattle prices were going through the roof.

With borrowed money he established the 76 Outfit, the largest cattle ranch in the state, by Powder River, within sight of the Big Horn Mountains. Between his ranch and the mountains was virtually empty territory. He built an enormous log house furnished with antique furniture, and invited his friends to come and stay.

Having the time of their lives the two brothers became cowboys hunting and shooting buffalo. They had fierce gun battles with cattle rustlers, and new homesteaders fed up with cattle roaming their lands. On one occasion they were saved just in time by the arrival of the cavalry from Fort McKinney.

They raised enormous herds of cattle which were fattened on rich, prairie grassland. With more than 70 cowboy hands they enjoyed long cattle-drives into Omaha to send cattle on their way to the butchers’ yards in Chicago. Their English friends invested in 76 Outfit, and for a time it looked as if Frewen was secure and wealthy while living out all his boyhood dreams.

Mama was horrified

However, the ‘big freeze-up’ in the winter 1886/87 put an end to the cattle business. For a time it did not matter because on a money-seeking trip Frewen was invited to a Mr Leonard Jerome’s big brownstone house on Madison Square, New York,** where, we are told, the minute he walked into the drawing room the golden-haired Clara, about to announce her engagement to Lord Essex, fell instantly in love with this lean, handsome, and deeply tanned man with wonderful tales of the wild west. Her Mama was horrified. She had devoted enormous energy and time in her hunt for bigger and better game for her Clara, and enjoyed being the envy of all other New York mothers for netting an English lord.

Despite Mama’s protestations, however, they were married, and Frewen scooped his bride and her fortune away from her soft city life to the wonders and hardships of the American west. After a long train journey, and a ninety-mile ride in the Deadwood stage, ‘sitting beside a male cook known as Black Hank’, they were met by whooping cowboys from the ranch.

For a while Clara was happy, sleeping under the stars with her husband ‘who is the greatest husband ever sur terre!’, but when later she was threatened a miscarriage the journey over rough tracks to meet the Deadwood stage, and make fast for Cheyenne, where a baby daughter was still-born, destroyed her illusions. Clara boarded the train for New York never to return to 76 Outfit. She joined her two sisters in London and waited for Frewen there.

Eldest boy Winston

The three Jerome sisters took the English aristocratic world by storm. In contrast to well brought -up English girls of the period, the Jeromes were confident, well educated, had travelled extensively throughout Europe with their parents, and were ready for marriage. England was full of earls with exotic titles, centuries of ancestry, and enormous castles and estates. Most of them were broke, and their castles desperately needed repairs. The Jeromes were expected to marry well and they did. Clara, the youngest, was already married, and everyone hoped that Frewen would eventually find the fortune he so desperately craved (he never did ).**

The eldest sister Jennie married Lord Randolph Churchill and their eldest boy Winston *** was born in the family’s enormous Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. The second sister Leonie married Sir John Leslie of Castle Leslie, Co Monaghan. No doubt Mama Jerome was pleased.

Meanwhile Frewen moved his family to another of his homes (described as not much more than a hunting lodge ) at Innishannon, West Cork, where they had three surviving children two boys Peter and Oswald, and a girl Clare Consuelo Frewen, the sculptress and writer, best known in Galway by her married name Clare Sheridan.

I will try and to tell her story next week.

NOTES: *The Frewen estate in Connemara consisted of 3,391 acres, situated to the east of the town, running alongside the Clifden to Galway road. It included the townlands of Tullyvoheen, Killymongaun, Derrylea and Munga.

**Leonard Jerome was a wealthy Wall St financier. His father was known as The King of Wall St.

*** The relationship between Clare and her cousin Winston Churchill was crucial in the development of her career, as artist and writer.

Sources this week include Beyond The Twelve Pins, by K Villiers-Tuthill, and Cousin Clare - The Tempestuous Career of Clare Sheridan by Anita Leslie, published by Hutchinson, London, 1976. The author was the granddaughter of Leonie (Jerome ) and Sir John Leslie. Her father, known as Shane Leslie, married Marjorie Ide. They had three children: two sons and a daughter, Anita.

During the war Anita drove ambulances with the Free French Army, followed the Allied armies to Berlin, and wrote letters from Hitler’s office in the Reich Chancellery. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre personally by Charles de Gaulle. She met her husband, Cdr Bill King DSO bar, DSC, in Beirut, while both were on leave. Bill served in submarines, and was the only submarine commander to survive the six years of the war, such was the attrition among senior RN submariner staff.

They married and had two children, Tarka and Leonie. They lived in Oranmore Castle and spent busy lives sailing, farming and writing. Leonie Finn is the present chatelaine.

As for Hugh Moreton Frewen he continued his quest for fortune, even briefly becoming member of parliament for North East Cork. Despite his precarious pecuniary life style he wrote a book: The Economic Crisis 1888. He was known as ‘Mortal Ruin’, and to his family ‘Immortal Ruin.’

Listen to Tom Kenny and Ronnie O'Gorman elaborating on topics they have covered in this week's paper and much more in this week's Old Galway Diary Podcast.


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