Another deleted scene from The Red Witch – when Katharine was working at Tarella Station as a governess in 1905, there was a visit from a young Anglican minister which found its way into the serial she wrote based on her time there.

Katharine’s father, Tom, had given her a commonplace book for Christmas in 1904, inscribing it, “‘Kattie’s album: Let here be written thoughts that live and burn.” Few of the thoughts written in it are her own, but the accretion of sayings and signatures from friends and family over the next couple of years contain a number of biographical clues.

In June, a young Anglican minister, Reverend Fred Newton, who had begun a church at Ferntree Gully near the Quins’ Melbourne residence, arrived at the station for a holiday to improve his health. He was one of five people to leave answers to a survey Katharine started in her commonplace book. To the question “What is life?” he responded in the negative, “Without God—a failure.” To the question “What is love?” he responded, “The summit of human happiness.”

In “City Girl,” Katharine plays out a strange flirtatious relationship between “Mollie, my eldest pupil” who is “all sunshine and storms” and the “young parson who is here with a lung.” Kit chaperones the pair on an excursion one weekend. When they stop and talk, Molly says she is possessed by seven devils and wishes she was dead; when the parson tries to console her she turns on him. “‘Be quiet!’ she chided strenuously. ‘You just want to catch cold and die—or go to Melanesia or some other black place. You’re a wicked man!’” As it turns out, the parson is sent to the Pacific Islands and Mollie is heartbroken. In real life, Newton returned to Ferntree Gully in September, his health much improved; he married in 1912 only to die in 1919 after a relapse.

One reason I find the Rev Fred Newton intriguing is because later in London Katharine spends the whole trip entangled with his brother, a singer. She kissed him once in a cab, then agreed with him there should be no more nonsense like that.

  • Glimpses of KSP series: this month is the first birthday for The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard and I’m marking the occasion with some posts throughout May offering random glimpses of KSP. During May you can buy a signed copy of The Red Witch directly from me at the discounted price of $45 with free postage (usually $10) to anywhere in Australia – the online shop is here.