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30 - "Pamela" from Fogo

 

 

from The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories published, by Maple Leaf Mills Limited, in 1961

In the early days of our country's history, many children of the scattered settlements along the coast were born out of wedlock. This was mostly because there was no priest or other licensed official to perform the marriage rites. As a consequence children were born and, in some cases, reared, before any opportunity of giving legal marriage status to the parties concerned offered itself. "Little Nancy" (afterwards called Pamela) who was born in a winter tilt near Fogo in the spring of 1773, comes within this category. She was called "Little Nancy" to distinguish her from her mother whose name was also Nancy. Her surname was Simms.

The story of Nancy Simms is no fairy tale even if it bears strong semblance to it. It is well authenticated both by oral tradition and documental evidence. the story was related by the late Harry Simms, of Fogo, whose father was a brother to Little Nancy's mother. Mr. Simms died in 1884 at the age of 80 years after telling the story to a leading educationalist of this country. this historian's intense research not only verified what Mr. Simms had told him, but more besides.

Here is the story. There was one living at Fogo late in the 18th Century by the name of Jeremiah Coughlan. He was an English naval officer stationed here to organize the fishermen into fighting forces to repel invasions by the French and the Americans. He had a fort and six cannon. He also carried on a business in exports of fish and oil, and imports of provisions and clothing. In the spring of 1771 Mr. Coughlan took into his service Harry Simms' aunt, Nancy. He fell in love with her and promised to marry her when opportunity arose.

As was the custom of many in those days, Mr. Coughlan left for the Old Country after the fishing season was over, to return the following spring. When he left, Nancy returned home to her father's house and went with the family to live at Dog Bay for the winter. Here Little Nancy, the future "Pamela" was born.

When Coughlan returned in the spring he took both child and mother into his house at Fogo. He provided them with every comfort and promised to take them both home to the Old Country in the fall, and be married there. It was not, however, till the fall of the following year that he found it convenient to go to England, and the three embarked on a vessel laden with dried fish for Poole. There is no account that Nancy ever married Coughlan. The last record of her is that she lived at Christ Church, and got her living by doing needlework, at which she was an expert. On one occasion she wrote to her brother at Fogo selling him that she was too poor to keep little Nancy, and that she had parted with her to go into "foreign parts". About the same time her brother received a letter from Coughlan, telling him that the mother and child were being looked after by him indirectly and were being well taken care of.

It is here that the story of Nancy, the child's mother, practically ends, and the fairylike tale of Little Nancy, the future Pamela begins.

When Little Nancy was six years old she was taken to France. It came about in this way. The Duke of Orleans, who had committed his own children to Madame de Genlis' care to be educated, wanted a young English speaking girl for their companion. He wrote to Mr Forth, a personal friend in London, asking him to send to France a little English girl about six years old, as a companion for his children. Mr. Forth happened to visit Christ Church, saw little Nancy and, taken with her beauty and childish wit, persuaded the mother to let the child go. He sent her in charge of his valet to France. The letter that accompanied her, and which is probably still extant, said, "I am sending Your Highness the prettiest little girl in England". Madame de Genlis at once felt a strong liking for her new pupil, and re-named her Pamela, discarding the name Nancy. She became so fond of her that she dreaded the possibility of ever losing her, and she went to England for the express purpose of securing ownership of Pamela. In this mission she was successful. She found the mother and paid her 25 pounds to resign all claim to the child.

Later Pamela was educated at Belle Chase with prince and princesses as companions and friends. There she grew in beauty, grace and refinement.

When the French revolution broke out, the Duke of Orleans sent Madame de Genlis, and the rest of the family to safety in england and they lived there for a year in retirement. Before they left Paris the Duke commissioned a family portrait, including Pamela. This picture is hung in the Palace of Versailles.

While in England they accepted an invitation to spend a month at the home of Richard Brinley Sheridan. He was at this time regarded as the most brilliant man in England. He soon became enarmoured of Pamela, the Fogo girl. they were engaged, but for some unrecorded reason, the engagement was broken before the visit terminated and nothing more came of it.

The next to come on the scene in Pamela's life was lord Edward Fitzgerald, an Irish patriot. At a theatre where the then-celebrated play "Lodoiska" was being played. Fitzgerald gazed raptly at a young lady sitting with a part in a box near his own. As soon as the curtain fell, he had a friend take him to the party in the next box and introduce him to Pamela. Less than a month after this first meeting, Pamela Simms, the girl from Fogo, became the bride of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. The marriage took place at Tourney, in France, and M. de Chartres, afterwards King of France, was one of the witnesses of the ceremony. On January 2nd, 1793, they returned to London, and three weeks afterwards they proceeded to Dublin where they settled down happily at the homestead lodge at Kildare.

But political intrigue followed upon the heels of Sir Edward. He was an Irish Patriot, and his nature forbade him to remain passive towards the wrongs and oppression in Ireland at this time. He soon found himself in the thick of a revolutionary struggle with England. He was trailed by spies. A warrant was issued for his arrest. He had many narrow escapes. He finally disguised himself. He was in the end taken in hiding by three spies, against whom he fought bravely until one of them shot and severely wounded him. He died in agony at his castle a few days afterwards. In his will, he left all to "his dear wife Lady Pamela Fitzgerald".

Pamela soon afterwards returned to the Continent. In 1800 she met and married Mr. Pitcairn U.S. Consul to Germany. She was subsequently divorced from him, and went to live in France under the name of Fitzgerald.

Back in France she hoped for some recognition from King Louis Phillipe and his family, her erstwhile associates. In this she was bitterly disappointed. The fairy tale life was over.

She finally retired to a convent in Paris where she died at the age of 55 on Nov. 9th, 1831. In 1880 her descendants had the ashes moved from their resting place at Mont-Martre to Thames-Ditton, near London, and placed in the family vault by her grandson, Sir Edward Campbell, and her granddaughter, Lady Selby Smith. In the old days there were the sons and daughters of noble families scattered through the pioneer villages of our rugged Newfoundland, but the Lady Pamela, "Little Nancy" from Fogo, is likely the only illegitimate daughter of the island to leave it for a world of royal friends, noble husbands, and titled children. Pamela surely is the most colourful limb on the Simms family tree.

 

 

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This page transcribed by James Butler, 2000
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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