Two strong women from the Gold Rush days

Clara Saunders and Alice Cornwell look remarkably alike in their portraits

Today I discovered another strong woman from the gold rush days of the 19th century  in Australia. Older than Clara by a quarter of a century, Alice Cornwell became famous in her thirties when she took on the task of rescuing her father from financial ruin after her mother’s untimely death. Alice turned her father’s disastrous Sulky Gully mine in Ballarat into the highly successful Midas Mine. Then, having made a huge fortune by floating the business on the London Stock Exchange, went on to become ‘the Gina Rinehart of her day’ (Claire Wright, Weekend Australian Review, 28/29 January 2017). 

Like Clara, Alice Cornwell was not prepared to sit back and conform to society’s expectations of females. She became fabulously wealthy, famous in both England and Australia for her entrepreneurial business successes, owning not only gold mines but hotels, real estate and fine art. In a slightly spooky twist, these two exceptional women even look alike. In their portraits they are both tall attractive women with dark hair, shapely figures and clear skin. And they both regard the camera with a direct uncompromising gaze. Neither smiling nor frowning they  look out at the world with confidence and self-possession. Both women died in their eighties and, during their lifetimes, were known by several different names. Although they never met, I’m sure they would have got on well and had a lot to talk about.

In his novel, Madame Midas, first published in 1888, Fergus Hume based his main character, Mrs Villiers, on Alice Cornwell. Text Publishing has just re-released it as part of their Text Classics series. Although I am writing Clara’s story for a younger audience, I am hoping that it will be equally successful.

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