A wayward prince
Investigating a possible imposter seen in a striking photo at Rouse Hill House, Dr Scott Hill uncovered a story of scandal.
In the vestibule at Rouse Hill House hangs a hand-coloured photograph of a group in fancy dress. The photograph (shown above) was taken at the St Vincent’s Hospital Ball in June 1903. At this fundraiser, a group identified as ‘The Hunting Set’ – the men dressed in red coats known as ‘hunting pinks’, the women in powdered wigs – won first prize for their costumes. The ‘set’ included Nina Terry (nee Rouse) and her husband, George, the newly appointed Master of the Sydney Hunt Club. A tall, high-browed man in the back row is identified intriguingly on the back of the photograph as the ‘Count De Neva’ (sic), his name annotated ‘son of Duke of Braganza’.
An aristocratic imposter?
In 1903, the Duke of Braganza – who held the secondary title of Count de Nieva – was Luís Filipe, Crown Prince of Portugal, all of 16 years of age. Was the ‘Count’ in the photo a fraudster trying his luck on an unknowing colonial society?
There was, however, another Duke of Braganza (who also claimed the title of Count de Nieva), Miguel (1853–1927), then living in exile in Vienna following the 1834 overthrow of his father, King Miguel I of Portugal. The Duke’s second son, Prince Francis Joseph,1 born in 1879, had a very good reason for being a long way from Europe.
An attempt at entrapment
In 1902, European aristocrats had flocked to London for the coronation of Edward VII. For the young Prince Francis Joseph, then aged 22, the visit would have profound consequences: on 2 July, he was charged with ‘gross indecency’.2 It was alleged that he had gone to a lodging house with two men, whereupon the suspicious landlord summoned the police, claiming he had spied them in bed.
Changes to the law in England in 1885 criminalising any form of homosexual sex had led to a spate of attempted entrapments and blackmail of gay men. A standard ruse was for one man to entice the target to a room, where another man would burst in on them and demand hush money. The threat of a destroyed reputation or career, or a jail sentence, usually worked. In this case it backfired on the blackmailers, who confessed the plan and were sentenced to hard labour.
While the landlord’s evidence against the Prince was deemed inconsistent and dismissed, and the jury found Francis Joseph not guilty, he faced repercussions in conservative Vienna. The Emperor Franz Josef, the Prince’s godfather, demanded that Francis Joseph resign his commission in the Austrian Hussars, and he was even placed under the guardianship of his brother-in-law, the Prince of Thurn and Taxis. It was a few months later that he left Europe, under the name ‘Count de Nieve’, bound for Sydney.
Flight from scandal
The Prince was far from the first person, or the last, to flee to the Antipodes to lie low from scandal or escape the law. With his English court appearances widely covered in the Australian press, his own title would have been recognised, which explains the decision to travel under his father’s secondary title. The note on the Rouse photograph naming him as the Duke’s son indicates that some, however, knew his true identity.
Francis Joseph arrived in Sydney on 9 February 1903, and with his skills in riding and shooting he quickly fell in with the various local shooting and riding clubs; he won his first trophy – the Sydney Gun Club’s ‘Monte Carlo trophy’ – only four days after arriving. Over the following months he won a series of high-stakes wagers for pigeon shooting, and his attendance at social events can be assumed. Then, in September, he suddenly departed. The Count had made quite an impression – although it might not have been so positive had his real identity been widely known:
‘… it will come as a surprise to many to learn that Count F. de Neiva [sic] bade N.S.W. ‘au revoir’ last Saturday, when he set sail for his native city, Vienna … Very few distinguished visitors have made themselves so popular in social or sporting circles as the Count. He was always the same – genial, jovial and affable to a fault.’3
While it was the Count who departed Sydney, it was the Prince who disembarked in Europe; Viennese newspapers reported on 3 November that the ‘Prinz Josef von Braganza’ had arrived from Genoa.
Section 11 of the British Criminal Law Amendment Act (1885), under which Francis Joseph was charged, was in force in England until 1956. In NSW, laws criminalising homosexual acts weren’t repealed until 1984. The ‘Hunting Set’ photograph remains as one of the few traces of Francis Joseph’s brief colonial exile, an example of how simple objects at Rouse Hill Estate, when investigated, can reveal the most unexpected of stories.
- In Austria he was known as Prinz Franz Josef, while in Portuguese he was Francisco José de Bragança.
- Trial of Prince Francis Joseph of Braganza, Henry Chandler, William Gerry, Charles Sherman, Proceedings of the Old Bailey, September 1902.
- Referee, 23 September 1903, p9.