Patricia Scott (1883-1964), Novelist
Note: Mrs J.M. Scott of ‘Blairgowrie’, Mortlake, joined the Historical Society of Victoria in October 1921. It later transpired that she was the novelist Lindsay Russell, whose novels drew considerable attention when they were published. A century after her first novel was published, Craige Proctor of Mortlake and District Historical Society pieced together her fascinating story.
‘Lindsay Russell’, courtesy Stonehouse family member, Cheryl Timbury of Ocean Grove, Victoria.
Born Ethel Nhill Victoria Stonehouse, Ethel had adopted the nom de plume Lindsay Russell by 1912 and Harlingham Quinn or E. Harlingham Quinn by 1913. Sometimes she styled herself Patricia Lindsay Russell, the name under which she travelled to Colombo and England in 1912. Following her marriage she became, privately, Patricia Ethel Scott – the name under which she died in 1964 – but was known familiarly as ‘Pat’ Scott.
By 1912 Ethel Victoria Patricia Lindsay was making her living as a journalist and living in St Kilda Road, South Melbourne, according to the electoral roll for that year. So by this time she had acquired the name ‘Lindsay’ as well as ‘Patricia’ but had retained two of her birth names ‘Ethel’ and ‘Victoria’.
Ethel did not write under her own name. In fact she was known in the literary world variously as Patricia Stonehouse and E. Harlingham Quinn, Harlingham clearly being a ‘play’ on her mother’s maiden name of Hardingham, although she was best known as Lindsay Russell. She was known familiarly as ‘Pat’ and most personal records following her marriage refer to her as Patricia Ethel Scott.
Smouldering Fires. Image courtesy Craige Proctor.
Lindsay Russell published her first novel, Smouldering Fires, in Melbourne early in 1912, aged twenty-eight. Almost immediately it earned the wrath of some Roman Catholics and one such member of the faith denounced the book – and Lindsay Russell herself in The Advocate, the leading newspaper of Melbourne’s Catholic community. Smouldering Fires was a highly controversial novel about clergy abusing their power over young women. It became a best-seller and over 100,000 copies were sold. However, so salacious was the book that in 1913 copies were publicly burned on Market Square in Mortlake and Lindsay Russell became a household name locally.
About six months after the publication of Smouldering Fires, Lindsay Russell departed Melbourne for London via Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). While living in London she joined the International Modernist Association and the Jeanne d’Arc League and seems to have acquired quite a profile among groups critical of the Catholic Church.
On 23 September 1914 Ethel (that is Patricia), 28, married Dr John McNaught Scott at St Ninian’s Church, Stonehouse, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Dr Scott was a Harley Street specialist who had earlier treated her for tuberculosis. He was also attached to the Australian Army Medical Corps. At the time of the marriage Dr Scott was aged 34 and living at Airdrie while his bride was living in Glasgow. On the marriage certificate she gave her name as ‘Patricia Ethel Lindsay Russell Stonehouse’ and gave her occupation as ‘authoress’.
As Mrs Scott, Lindsay Russell spent most of the years of the First World War living in Ireland where she completed nine more novels. In 1918 she published her final novel, Earthware, the story of a talented authoress who felt crushed by her insensitive Scottish husband. It is this subject matter which has contributed to the view in some quarters that Earthware was largely autobiographical and that the marriage was not a happy one.
To help his wife recover from TB Dr Scott brought her to Australia and they settled, of all places, at Mortlake, where her first book had been publicly banned seven years earlier.
She had written eighteen books in the eleven years between 1912 and 1923 and she was a sensation in her day. Most of her novels were about women rebelling against Catholicism, marriage and the English class system and the settings of her novels included Australia, Britain, India and Indonesia. She also contributed poetry to the Mortlake Dispatch in the 1920s.
Dr Scott remained Mortlake’s doctor – as well as serving as Shire President and a high-profile citizen – from 1920 until his death in 1942.
‘Mrs Dr Scott’ as Patricia Lindsay was known locally, remained in their Boorook Street home after being widowed and died in 1964, although in 1949 she was admitted to Mont Park Hospital in Melbourne suffering from ‘mental enfeeblement’.
Another commentator on Lindsay Russell’s life has written: ‘After World War 1 the Scotts came to Australia and settled in Mortlake and, her writing career behind her, this strong-willed, intelligent woman settled down, with apparent reluctance, to the life of a country doctor’s wife. With little joy in her marriage, and with her virulent anti-Catholicism precluding the possibility of close friendships in the community, the second half of her life must have been deeply unhappy.’ A relative of Lindsay Russell has made the comment that she had been born ahead of her time and that her writing reflects this.
Lindsay Russell’s personal papers at the State Library of Victoria consist of hundreds of pages of poems and drafts of her novels, all hand-written. One piece in particular relates to her life in Mortlake. The seven page reflection titled ‘Life (?) in Mortlake’ was written at the end of 1930 and is clearly part of a much larger biographical piece since it is designated ‘Chapter 12’. It is a piece which betrays her frustration and hostility towards living in Mortlake. The piece reveals that she blamed her husband for taking her to live in an intellectually repressed rural town from which she could gain no stimulation and in which she could see no beauty or optimism. It is clear that by 1930 Lindsay Russell had known much illness and depression and that relations with her husband had been characterised by a conflict of wills.
Lindsay Russell published only one more book after moving to Mortlake, The Caravan of Dreams, a collection of verse, in 1923.
Having burst onto the Australian and British literary scene so dramatically in 1912 and achieving some form of celebrity at home and abroad, Lindsay Russell must have experienced considerable inner turmoil once she had settled in Mortlake. After 1923 there were no more publications and her name does not appear in any newspaper reports after around 1920. After a prolific output – around eighteen books in just six years – Lindsay Russell fell rapidly into obscurity. Given the ‘high life’ she had led during the 1910s she must have found this sudden obscurity in remote Mortlake and playing the role of a local doctor’s wife very confronting.
In her later years Mrs Dr Scott was known for her reclusiveness and eccentricity. In 1949, suffering from ‘mental enfeeblement’, Mrs Dr Scott was admitted to Mont Park Psychiatric Hospital in Melbourne where she died from coronary artery disease on 1 May 1964, aged 80. The inquest papers relating to her death reveal that she had also been diagnosed with schizophrenia and, subsequently, brain disease. Her last few years must have been unpleasant indeed. The name on her death certificate is Patricia Ethel Scott. She is buried in Footscray Cemetery.
Craige Proctor, 2013
Mortlake and District Historical Society
Mortlake and District Historical Society Facebook post, 23 Feb 2013.
Research material collected and held by Craige Proctor.
Mortlake’s notorious novelist: Lindsay Russell, 1883 – 1964 & Dr John McNaught Scott, 1880 – 1942, Craige Proctor, privately published, 2016.
Papers of Lindsay Russell ca 1900-1930, MS 12997, manuscript collection, State Library of Victoria.
Works by Lindsay Russell:
Smouldering Fires, 1912
Love letters of a Priest, 1912
Souls in Pawn, 1913
Kathleen Mavourneen: an Australian Tale, 1913
Sands o’ the Desert, 1913,
The Years of Forgetting, 1914
The Gates of Silence, 1915
The Eternal Triangle, 1915
Sons of Iscariot, 1916
Road of Yesterday, 1916
The Interior, 1916
The Woman who lived again, 1916
That Woman from Java, 1916
Land o’ the Dawning, 1916
The Gates of Kut, 1917
The Caravan of Dreams and other verses of the Grampians Road, 1923.