Mystery Of "Australia's Miss Havisham" Solved

Illustration for article titled Mystery Of "Australia's Miss Havisham" Solved

In 1981, a hiker came across her corpse in a cave, surrounded by cutlery, a toothbrush, jewellery, and a vinyl record of "The Last Waltz." Police deduced that she'd been dead 12 years. Now, the case has been reopened.


It seems the mysterious Jane Doe was one Audrey Mountford, 49. As the Independent tells it, shortly before her disappearance, she'd been "jilted" by the fiance for whom she'd recently converted to Catholicism. When she disappeared, her family assumed she was traveling to assuage her heartbreak. Now, investigators believe she instead fled to the remote cave, where she lived for two years before probably dying of exposure. Scraps of letters found on her person suggest she'd planned on doing some painting in the wilderness. Contrary to all descriptions, there's no indication that she clung to anything wedding-related, whatever the motivation for her flight.

Her nephew, now 65, described her as

an adventurous person who had travelled to Africa and New Zealand. Somewhat "flighty", she would "breeze in and out" of their lives. "I know that being left by a man would have affected her very badly. She was a dreamer and a bit unrealistic, so for her to go and live in a cave is something I would believe suited her personality."

It also seems that none of her family ever bothered to report her disappearance, figuring she'd show up when she felt like it.

Perhaps it's merely a coincidence, but today we also ran across a rather appalling Australian government memo from 1968, via BoingBoing, right around the time the "flighty," "jilted spinster" would have disappeared. In it, the Director of the Trade Commission explains why women are ineligible for postings. "A woman could not stay young and attractive for ever, and later on could well become a problem...a spinster lady can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years. A man usually mellows." He goes on to explain that, as such, "I've already begun to regretfully decline my daughter's requests for education and social opportunities, explaining to her that "she could not be regarded as a long-term investment in the same sense as we regard" her brother." Again, this is merely coincidental, but it does point to a distinct attitude towards unmarried ladies of the time: and it somehow seems less bizarre that this woman, and her family, should regard her "jilting," and the prospect of life alone, as a tragedy. In some ways, the story's reminiscent of that of Connie Converse, the folk singer whose disappearance (again, around this same period) seems to have been accepted as the natural consequence of being, presumably, lonely, unmarried, and unfulfilled. When invisible to society, it seems, some people preferred to make it a reality.

Australia's Miss Havisham: The Jilted Lover Who Spent Her Dying Days In A Cave [Independent]
Australian Govt Memo, 1968: Women Become "Spinster Battle Axes;" "Men Usually Mellow" [BoingBoing]
Related: Converse All-Star



Hey as long as there aren't too many bats in the cave, it sounds cool to me. I find caves fascinating.

But can we please kill the word "spinster"? It's pretty dreadful.