Adelaide de la Thoreza (c.1806–1877)
“I have lived to prove
There is darkness in the brightest dream
And sorrow in the deepest joy.”
Adelaide’s epitaph certainly appears to pay tribute to a bittersweet life full of extraordinary episodes. So exceptional was Adelaide’s tale that the Presbyterian minister Reverend James Cameron deemed the toothless, ‘wrinkled’ elderly Spanish female with a bent figure, indistinct speech, and ‘a gleam of intelligence in [her] smile’ a worthy biographical subject and, a year after her death at age 69, published Adelaide de la Thoreza: A Chequered Career (1878).
The Reverend’s biography of Adelaide de la Thoreza had it all; noblemen, precocious displays of manipulative behaviour from one barely more than a toddler, ‘political rancour,’ Spanish assassins, Italian lovers, a dungeon, a captive forced to drink blood from the skull of his murdered brother, a nun mourning the loss of her executed lover, sudden death by orange pip, countesses, an unwanted marriage proposal by a rich ‘Indian Nabob’ visiting London, a dashing soldier, a vengeful young woman, and a lottery scam.
What the biographical sketch did not have was even the merest mention of the Parramatta Female Factory, which, as it turns out, actually was part of Adelaide’s real-life story. Adelaide gave birth to Alfred de la Thoreza, her base-born child with fellow servant George Smith (aka John Smith), at the Factory’s lying in hospital on 13 July 1831 and the baby boy was baptised in the parish of St. John’s soon after on 7 August 1831. (Adelaide’s name was inaccurately recorded in the parish records as Adelaide de Moresa).
Apparently the Factory chapter of her life was not windswept and interesting enough to make the cut; or, more likely, the attitudes of late-nineteenth-century readers continued to be too prejudiced against the inmates of an institution that was well within living memory for the Reverend to be able to include it in Thoreza’s story and still convincingly paint her the way he wanted to.
Or was Adelaide herself the one who invented a whole new tragically romantic life, perhaps in an effort to erase and thereby cope with the one she had actually led? If so, she was by no means the first to do so. As historian Sue Ballyn concluded after years of tracing Adelaide through the records and being utterly baffled by her melodramatic ‘Gothic Fantasy’ story,
‘many [convicts] saw transportation to be the gateway to a new beginning where a new fictionalised ‘self’ could, to a certain extent, be constructed.’
Most, though, were content with what Ballyn calls ‘small deviations’; lying about their marital status in order to marry again in the colony and claiming to have particular trades that would provide opportunities for a more advantageous work assignment — lies, then, for which there was an obvious pay off. But if the large deviations in Adelaide’s tale were her own invention and not the Reverend’s, then she was in a class of her own when it came to imagination. ‘Not a shred of evidence supports’ any of the claims made about her supposed early life in Spain, Italy, and England, nor can any of the players in her saga be positively identified, despite being people of high social status.
Indeed, Adelaide’s epitaph may have been the only true thing in the published biography at all; of this we can be sure, at least, because her headstone at Saint Peter’s Anglican Cemetery, Richmond still bears the inscription to this day [Click here to view a photo of the headstone at Find a Grave]. As Ballyn has noted, ‘the first part’ of Reverend Cameron’s biography is, ‘to all intents and purposes, fiction.’ Even the part which deals with her conviction at the Old Bailey and sentencing to seven years transportation to the colony of New South Wales diverged wildly from the facts. The only grains of truth in the published biographical treatment of the events leading to her transportation was that some household items were pawned and servants were involved. If the Reverend was the true mastermind behind Adelaide’s reinvention, then it seems he could not abide the notion that Adelaide had been a servant; a convict, yes, but only one who had led the romantic life of a high-born woman cast adrift in a cruel world after which she fell victim to a series of increasingly unfortunate events and found herself in circumstances ill befitting a person of her breeding and stature. Little did the Reverend know when he penned this ‘fictionalised biography,’ today The Old Bailey Online makes retrieving and verifying the details of Adelaide’s court proceedings—and any of the other 197, 744 court cases in its database from 1674 to 1913—the work of mere moments.
The exposure of such blatant whoppers raises so many questions: was Adelaide Eliza de la Thoreza even Spanish at all? If not, was the appearance of the passably authentic Spanish surname in her Old Bailey court record merely early evidence of Adelaide Eliza’s vivid imagination and special talent for reinventing herself as someone more exotic than the dressmaker’s thoroughly English servant girl in Finsbury Square? Could a servant turned convict woman even possess enough knowledge of the political context of Spain in the early nineteenth century to concoct such a rollicking good yarn set in that place and time and put it over a learned Reverend?
When it comes to identifying the great pretender in this instance, my money is on the Reverend Cameron (who is, incidentally, no relation to the author). But, don’t take my Cameronian word for it!
Have a read of the Reverend’s published work in full on the Female Factory Online here. Then take a look at an image of the original court proceedings and transcript on the Old Bailey Online here. Follow it all up by reading “The Biography of Adelaide de la Thoreza: Fact or Fiction?” by Sue Ballyn, Professora Emerita at Barcelona University, and the full text of her even more detailed collaborative chapter with Lucy Frost, “A Spanish convict, her clergyman biographer, and the amanuensis of her bastard son.” If you’re really keen, head to the profile page I have created for Adelaide and peruse all the content I’ve found about Adelaide and her family in the “SOURCES” section. Adelaide’s story certainly captured the imaginations of many and must have been fairly widely read in its day. As a child born at the Female Factory, Adelaide’s son Alfred also has his very own profile page in the Female Factory Online database here.
Whichever of the two storytellers chose the lies over the truth, this much is true: what historians have uncovered of the life Adelaide de la Thoreza actually lived was windswept and interesting enough without all the melodramatic Gothic ornamentation. And, if nothing else, Ballyn and Frost—the people who have spent decades chasing the truth about Adelaide—are at least certain that this particular Parramatta Female Factory inmate did indeed hail from Spain.
Michaela Ann Cameron, “Adelaide de la Thoreza: A Factory Señorita? Female Factory Online, (2018), https://femalefactoryonline.org/2018/09/14/a-factory-senorita/, accessed [insert date here]
Susan Ballyn, “The Biography of Adelaide de la Thoreza: Fact or Fiction?” COOLABAH, No. 20, (2016): 38–47
Susan Ballyn and Lucy Frost, “A Spanish Convict, Her Clergyman Biographer, and the Amanuensis of her Bastard Son,” in Hamish Maxwell-Stewart and Lucy Frost (eds.), Chain Letters: Narrating Convict Lives, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2001), pp. 91–104.
Reverend James Cameron, Adelaide de la Thoreza: A Chequered Career, (Sydney: Foster & Fairfax, 1878).
“Adelaide Eliza Masters (1808–1877),” Find a Grave, (2013), accessed 13 September 2018.
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 11 June 1829, trial of ADELAIDE DE THORAZA (t18290611-289), accessed 10 June 2018.
Parish Baptism Registers, Textual Records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia.
 Reverend James Cameron, Adelaide de la Thoreza: A Chequered Career, (Sydney: Foster & Fairfax, 1878), p. 35; “Adelaide Eliza Masters (1808–1877),” Find a Grave, (2013), accessed 13 September 2018.
 Reverend James Cameron, Adelaide de la Thoreza: A Chequered Career, (Sydney: Foster & Fairfax, 1878), pp.3–4.
 Reverend James Cameron, Adelaide de la Thoreza: A Chequered Career, (Sydney: Foster & Fairfax, 1878), p.14.
 Baptism “Alfred de Moreza, 7 August 1831,” Parish Baptism Registers, Textual Records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia.
 Susan Ballyn, “The Biography of Adelaide de la Thoreza: Fact or Fiction?” COOLABAH, No. 20, (2016): 39.
 Susan Ballyn, “The Biography of Adelaide de la Thoreza: Fact or Fiction?” COOLABAH, No. 20, (2016): 40.
 Susan Ballyn and Lucy Frost, “A Spanish Convict, Her Clergyman Biographer, and the Amanuensis of her Bastard Son,” in Hamish Maxwell-Stewart and Lucy Frost (eds.), Chain Letters: Narrating Convict Lives, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2001), p.95.
 Susan Ballyn, “The Biography of Adelaide de la Thoreza: Fact or Fiction?” COOLABAH, No. 20, (2016): 38.