Corvey Project Database: Women's Writing 1790-1840; Text Page; Eliza Parsons; The Convict

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Parsons: Text Page; Synopsis

The Convict or Navy Lieutenant Eliza Parsons


Henry Thompson, a curate's son, is promoted to navy lieutenant for bravery at 22, behind others of good family who are promoted as a matter of course. On his way to Portsmouth, he calls on an ex-navy friend in Clerkenwell, Sam Barton, whose wife keeps a tobacco shop. At the Old Bailey they hear a sermon for condemned felons. A well-dressed woman convict asks who will look after her 2 year old daughter. The kind-hearted Henry says he will. The woman thanks him and gives him a manuscript. Since Henry must join his ship, Sam takes the child. His avaricious wife detests children, but wants the money Henry leaves. Henry calls the child Frances Thompson. At Newgate he is told her mother is a gentlewoman who stabbed a gentleman. She will be executed.

In the coach to Portsmouth, Henry makes friends with a lady, Mrs. Percy. He then meets his ship and sails.

Meanwhile, a customer compliments Sam on his kindness in looking after the child of a murderess. Mrs. Barton is horrified, shaking the child until she screams. A lady, Mrs. Fitzwilliam tells Sam that she will take the child. Sam decides to leave his wife and soon is back at sea.

Henry reads at the manuscript, headed, "The crimes, the wrongs and sorrows of Ellen." She writes that, when she was 17, her family went to the Hot Wells, where her admirers included Lord C---, who immediately made a play for her, and Sir Gilbert Mervin who was more respectful. Lord C-- met Ellen secretly, making her vow silence until he was free to speak to her father, as his uncle was capricious and might cut him out of his will. Sir Gilbert wanted to pay his addresses, but Ellen refused. Lord C--- pretended his uncle was about to die and suggested they marry in secret. They married in London, where Lord C---'s friend Major Freeland seemed constantly in attendance. After two months, her husband left for the South of France with his uncle. She could not go as she was pregnant. After Lord C--- left, Ellen was drugged and woke in Major Freeland's arms. Realising she had been raped, she felt she had been punished for deceiving her parents.A letter from Lord C---- told her the marriage was not valid. He had settled 100 per year on Ellen and had consigned all rights to her over to the Major. Escaping, she was hit by a stagecoach and robbed. Sir Gilbert found her and offered help but she was too ashamed to accept it. He told her that her mother was dead. Ellen dared not return to her father. She set off alone and was helped by an old couple, at whose house she gave birth to Fanny. In a newspaper, she read that Lord C--- had succeeded to his uncle's estates and remarried. Confronting him at his house, she refused a settlement, stabbed him and was arrested.

On the ship, Henry makes friends with William Lascelles, a marine lieutenant, who had married young. His wife was pregnant with their sixth child when she and the child had died. The local clergyman is looking after the children and a year ago, his eldest daughter had died because her mother had not had her inoculated against smallpox. He says his story is a lesson to those who rush into marriage.

Meanwhile, Fanny is with Mrs. Fitzwilliam, but her two jealous nieces, the Misses Bruce, sour their aunt's opinion of her and she is sent away to school. When Mrs. Fitzwilliam dies of a stroke, Fanny gets a sewing job with Lady Overton.

In Bombay, William decides to return home. On arrival, he finds his children with his long-lost brother George, a rich man who offers William a home with him. Henry returns late to his ship and is reprimanded by the Captain. In the Bay of Bengal, there is a storm. The captain is a coward, so Henry, mannning the pumps, saves the ship, but the captain has him court-martialled and dismissed for his lateness. At an inn, the crew thank him for saving them, overheard by an English trading-ship owner named Seymour, who offers Henry command of the Britannia, newly built. Henry is pleased, but worried to receive no news from Sam, who, unknown to Henry, has died. A year later, the Britannia is wrecked and Henry disappears.

Willliam thinks Henry is still on the Vengeance, which is in Portsmouth. He hears there of Henry's dismissal. Mrs. Percy and her family are there looking for Henry too, and meet William, who falls in love and soon marries young Clara Percy. At the admiralty, he discovers Henry is working for Mr. Selwyn.

At Lady Overton's Fanny meets Lord Presville, a middle-aged man who follows her about, so she places an advert for another job, becoming companion to a country lady, whose nephew turns out to be Lord Presville. This is a plot; the lady is not his aunt but his accomplice. Out walking, Fanny is attacked by Presville and saved by Henry, who had escaped after four years of imprisonment by Indians and was visiting the Seymours who live close by. Overjoyed to find Fanny, he is dismayed at her story. They visit Lascelles, whose son William is attracted to Fanny.

On a walk, Henry and Fanny see a thatched cottage where a sick lady lives. Fanny feels faint, so Henry carries her to the cottage, where the lady welcomes her. Henry leaves them to chat. The lady becomes agitated when Fanny tells her story, and Henry is sent for. Lord Presville, looking for Fanny, enters the house and the lady and he seem shocked to see one another. Henry arrives to hear the lady say she is Ellen, Fanny's mother.

Lord Presville, Fanny's would-be seducer, is stunned. He is Lord C---, her father, whose identity Ellen had changed in her manuscript. Ellen says after Lord Presville recovered, Sir Gilbert got her a pardon, but when she could not find her child, she became ill. Lord Presville, conscience-stricken, begs Ellen to remarry him. She refuses - he had dishonoured her, sacrificed her to another man and abandoned his child whom he has now tried to rape. Soon, Ellen, happy at finding her daughter but worn out by sorrow, dies. Lord Presville gives his money to charity except for 20,000 for Fanny, gives up his title and leaves England, vowing to repent. Fanny marries young William Lascelles. Sir Gilbert and Henry both remain bachelors and all live close by.