Saturday, November 15, 2008

A short biography, Part 2.

In summing up, His Honour the Chief Justice, found that the evidence was strongly in favour of the defendants.

After his release from prison, Chidley joined the newly established Byron Theatre Company, an Adelaide theatre group and met a young actress, Ada Grantleigh. Although Chidley initially rejected Ada’s advances, the couple soon formed a de facto relationship with lasted 25 years until Ada’s death from kidney failure, precipitated by chronic alcoholism, on 1 December 1908. Ada was aged 48 at the time of her death. Throughout their relationship Ada remained legally married to Walter Thoms, a violent man whom she wed at age 18 and separated from soon after. She had adopted the name of Grantleigh from a theatre proprietor whom she had befriended shortly after her separation from Thoms.

Chidley and Ada’s relationship was marred intermittently by violence and alcoholism, on both sides. They separated on innumerable occasions, sometimes for up to two years. The couple moved frequently and lived in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and Wellington, New Zealand, although during times of separation Ada returned to her home town of Adelaide. In 1891, around nine months after one of their many separations, Ada gave birth to a child whom she named Donald William Chidley. Chidley had remained in Sydney and when the child was aged one the couple reconciled. Until Donald was nine years old Chidley thought the child to be his natural son. Ada’s natural child, of whom Chidley was indeed the father, had however been still born, and as was common during that period, Ada left hospital with a child whose mother had died in child birth. During Chidley’s subsequent public life between 1911 and 1916 he made few references to his late de facto wife. On those occasions when he did, Ada was not named and referred to in such a manner as to suggest that the couple had been legally married. Similarly he made no reference to his adopted son, Donald, and on admission forms during his four asylum incarcerations stated that he had no children. The numerous public attacks on Chidley together with the general societal perceptions of morality during that period would suggest that Chidley considered it in his best interests not to reveal his own breaches of societal mores.

Donald had remained in New Zealand after one of the couple’s separations and subsequently joined the Seventh Wellington West Coast Company First Wellington Battalion, New Zealand Expeditionary Force, with whom he served in France. Sally McInerney in her introduction to Chidley’s Autobiography, Confessions, published in 1977 incorrectly states that “Donald was killed in the First World War, serving in the AIF”. Donald died on 17 May 1926 at Auckland Hospital, New Zealand, from carcinoma of the stomach. His death certificate notes his parents as being William James Chidley and Ada Chidley, and him to have been resident in New Zealand for 22 years. He died aged 25 years and left a widow aged 33 and four (4) living children, three girls aged 7, 6 and 3, and a boy aged four (4) months.

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