In May 1835 in a Sydney courtroom, a slight, balding man named John Dow stood charged with forgery. The prisoner shocked the room by claiming he was Edward, Viscount Lascelles, eldest son of the powerful Earl of Harewood. The Crown alleged he was a confidence trickster and serial impostor. Was this really the heir to one of Britain's most spectacular fortunes?
Part Regency mystery, part imperial history, A Swindler's Progress is an engrossing tale of adventure and deceit across two worlds—British aristocrats and Australian felons—bound together in an emerging age of opportunity and individualism, where personal worth was battling power based on birth alone. The first historian to unravel the mystery of John Dow and Edward Lascelles, Kirsten McKenzie illuminates the darker side of this age of liberty, when freedom could mean the freedom to lie both in the far-flung outposts of empire and within the established bastions of British power.
The struggles of the Lascelles family for social and political power, and the tragedy of their disgraced heir, demonstrate that British elites were as fragile as their colonial counterparts. In ways both personal and profound, McKenzie recreates a world in which Britain and the empire were intertwined in the transformation of status and politics in the nineteenth century.
A compelling narrative, full of twists and turns, enticing locales, fascinating characters, and strange paradoxes. It spans two hemispheres, traverses the high-life of the aristocracy on the one hand, and the brutal low-life of Antipodean convicts on the other.
McKenzie is a rising star in the historical profession, and this important and original book makes impressively plain why this is so. It is that rare accomplishment: a major work of scholarship that also deserves to reach a broader public.
Aspects of the 19th century, as depicted in this work, could almost be read as a gothic mystery—with a clandestine marriage, anonymous letters, a European countess, and threats of disinheritance not to mention the swindling trickster, whose exploits bear witness to audacity in the face of adversity. However those gothic qualities should not overshadow the more serious aspects of the early 19th-century political power struggle between the abolitionist William Wilberforce and the slave trader Henry Lascelles… While McKenzie's text is based on solid research, it is engaging and offers a new interpretation of the corresponding attitudes, fears, and suspicions in both the metropole and the periphery.
A Swindler's Progress is a highly gripping narrative, its sociological insights conveyed largely through a series of striking human dramas.
- 368 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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