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Mary Fortune Mary Fortune i(A3153 works by) (birth name: Mary Helena Wilson) (a.k.a. Mary Helena Fortune; Mary Davidson)
Also writes as: Waif Wander ; W. W. ; M. H. F. ; Mary Brett
Born: Established: 1833 Belfast,
c
Northern Ireland,
c
c
United Kingdom (UK),
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Western Europe, Europe,
; Died: Ceased: 9 Nov 1911 Windsor, South Yarra - Glen Iris area, Melbourne - Inner South, Melbourne, Victoria,
Gender: Female
Arrived in Australia: 1855
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BiographyHistory

Mary Helena Fortune was born in Belfast, Ireland, but moved with her father, George Wilson, to Canada while still a child. She married Joseph Fortune in 1851. Fortune's father emigrated to Australia to join the goldfields and she followed with her son, George or 'Georgie', on the Briseis on the 3rd of October 1855; likely leaving Joseph Fortune in Canada (who later died in 1861). In Australia she married a mounted constable, Percy Rollo Brett, but the marriage did not last.

Mary Fortune supported her family with proceeds from her writing. Beginning in the 1860s, she wrote mainly for the Australian Journal, continuing for the next fifty years. Often writing under the pseudonym 'Waif Wander', Fortune contributed poems, short stories and articles. Her most significant contribution, however, was a long series of detective stories, entitled The Detective's Album. This series was framed around Fortune's key detective Mark Sinclair, each narrative corresponding to one photograph in Sinclair's 'album' of arrested criminals. While seven of these were published in one book, The Detective's Album: Tales of the Australian Police (1871), over five hundred detective stories are found in the pages of the Australian Journal. This gives her the distinction of being one of the first female writers of detective fiction in the world. Fortune was commissioned by the English Magazine the Ladies' Companion to write an account of the time she spent on the Victorian goldfields; it was eventually published as Twenty-Six Years Ago but appeared instead in the Australian Journal (1882-83).

She was also the author of the poetry broadsheets A Sister of "The King's Guild" [190-?] and To Dear Mrs. Furlong in Memory of a White Dove [190-?]. With J. P. West she wrote the pantomime 'Harlequin Little Bo Peep, King Sing a Song of Sixpence ...' which was produced in Sydney in 1868, but it does not seem to have been published.

The exact date and place of Mary Fortune's death is not known. But her long career with the Australian Journal was rewarded with an annuity after her eyesight began to fail. It is also believed that the Australian Journal paid her funeral costs.

Update 8/7/15: On the 7th of July, Victorian studies scholar Lucy Sussex located and visited Mary Fortune's unmarked grave in Springvale, Victoria. Though scholars have searched for record of Fortune's death since at least the 1950s, she was recorded under her name, albeit with a clerical error as Mary Helena Ffortune. (Australasian Victorian Studies Conference, Ballarat 2016)

Most Referenced Works

Last amended 9 Aug 2018 18:20:06
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