This, if true, adds a little to my scant knowledge of Elvira’s pre-Barney days. As ever it poses more questions than it offers answers.
“Mrs. Elvira Barney
Sir,-With reference to the article, “Death of a Wastrel,” No. 5 in the “Consider YourVerdict” series, I would like to add some remarks to those”made by the writer, Stafford Silk.
I shared the same room at boarding school as Mrs. Elvira Barney, the accused in the trial.It is quite true that she was. the child of wealthy and ambitious parents, and she was a very true example of the Poor Little Rich Girl who had everything but happiness.
Shortly after leaving school she underwent a very serious operation for mastoid; in fact she was at death’s door before the operation was performed.
This illness seemed, to affect her adversely in a number of ways, one of them being that she appeared to lose the power of concentration.
She fell from the balcony of a hotel in Paris within a few months of her trial, and was killed instantly.
I think the Evelyn Ligg should be Evelyn Legg as a) Ligg is a very rare name and b) there is another letter in the Herald archive from “Evelyn Legg, Woollahra”. there is an Evelyn N. Legg on a passenger list from Australia to England in 1952 who is about the right age. She was a teacher and member of various scientific societies. An Evelyn Nora Legg gained a B.Sc. at Sydney University in 1923.I’d rather like it to be her but it’s only a guess. Any further information, anyone?
Ditto with the boarding school. We now have three pupils – Georgia Doble (Sitwell), Elvira Mullens and Evelyn Ligg or Legg – but as yet no name. This should be possible to find and I feel I’m overlooking an obvious on-line resource. It is perhaps worth mentioning that biographical accounts of male figures from this era devote an inordinate amount of time to their schooling,whereas for women that formative period is often covered in the most cursory fashion and sometimes not at all.
The mastoid operation is new ground and may have some explanatory powers. If Elvira did suffer from one of the many mastoid process-related illnesses then it was, at worst, life-threatening (as appears to be the case here) and, at best, disorienting and painful. Did it recur? What damage did the operation do?From what I can gather, anxiety, irritability and mood swings are possible side effects of both the infections and some of the treatments – but it would need a more medically informed person than me to speak with any authority on the matter.
As the circumstances of Elvira’s death are incorrect we can assume that Evelyn lost contact with her after school. This would then suggest that her awareness of Elvira’s lack of happiness was not just the result of trial reports but something she detected as a room-mate. Charles Graves also commented on the young Elvira’s “unhappy home life”. Is there a slightly pejorative edge in the use of the word “ambitious”? I can’t help wondering if there was not something deeply amiss in the Mullens household (well, households actually, they had country and city residences).
The article to which the letter refers was written by Leicester Cotton (who wrote as Stafford Silk). In 1963, he was to find himself involved in an actual “murder mystery”. This was the unsolved Bogle-Chandler affair (see http://www.boglechandler.com/ ). The press were full of tales of the wild party (at which Cotton was present) that took place just before the deaths and full of speculation about drug-use and sexual promiscuity. All of which sounds vaguely familiar.