It is a glorious name, Molly Fink, isn’t it? And a pretty special name too, given that its owner had an incredible time on this planet. And she had a connection to this island – her mother being one Elizabeth Fink, nee Watt, from Tassie. She married Wolfe – Wolfe Fink – a Channel Islander who practised law in Victoria and was a noted Shakespearean authority.
Molly was born, to the above, in Melbourne back in 1894. They named her Esme Mary Sorrett Fink – but she was always Molly. She went on to have an even grander appellation attached to her. She became the rani of Padukota. Later in Molly’s life she became a habitué of the French Riviera where, on certain occasions, she could be spotted, dressed to the nines in Chanel, walking her pet tortoise along the seafront. With its shell encrusted in diamonds, whenever the little creature would flag on its excursion, from her handbag, Molly would produce the most delectable of asparagus tips with which to revive it. In between her growing up on the Yarra and the tortoise towards the end she had quite a story to tell, did Molly. Let me present you with it.
Now some of us are familiar with another Australian abroad in the wide world at the same time as Molly. I refer to Sheila Chisholm – that amazing woman from Oz who outraged Buckingham Palace by taking young Bertie Windsor in hand and teaching him a thing or two about the delights of the fairer gender. He fell head over heels in love with her, but caused such consternation to the Firm that they quickly found unsullied, so they thought, eighteen year old Elizabeth Bowers-Lyon for him to woo and wed for the good of the country. We’ll hear more about young Lizzy anon. Maybe she wasn’t so pure – with a Tasmanian to blame. I do wonder, though, how the course of history could have been changed if Bertie had stuck to his guns, as with his elder brother? It was reading an article on SC that I encountered the name Molly Fink as another Down Under sheila who became embroiled with a royal around the same time, but with a more satisfactory, for a while, outcome. And this girl’s journey was no less fascinating than that of Sheila C’s with the capital S. A name like Molly Fink just yelled out for further investigation.
Molly grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne and, on attaining her ‘coming out’ in local society, quickly became the talk of the town for her beauty. Golden-haired with dazzling blue eyes, she had an ‘…oval, ivory-skinned face…’ and ‘…pouting pomegranate lips.’
Her life commenced its uniquely curious journey when, in 1915, she journeyed north to Harbour City. Up in the Blue Mountains – at the Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath to be exact – the nineteen year old found a glorious male specimen also taking the air at that resort for the well-to-do. He was the dashing, cricket-mad Marthandra Bhairava Tondiman, who also happened to be Indian royalty. He was the rajah of the southern sub-continental principality that was to later become part of Molly’s official title. That was in April – soon, as with Sheila and Bertie, they were totally enamoured of one another. But their out come was far more romantic if none-the-less fraught. Nobody stopped them and by August in that year of war they were married in a Sydney registry office.
After the unadulterated bliss of an American honeymoon, the real world started to hit back at the besotted couple – the real world back then not quite so ready for a ‘mixed marriage’ of such import as in more enlightened times. This soon became obvious when the rajah took his rani home.
There are mixed reports about how the inhabitants of Pudukota reacted to their nominal ruler bringing home an Aussie missus – and a Catholic to boot. The ordinary people were bewitched by her, so it has been said, but the palace movers and shakers were mortified. They began plotting. With their diabolical scheming they found an ally in the British authorities. The latter assumed, being an antipodean, she could only be a gold-digger. There was no evidence at all this was fact, but that didn’t stop them. It was decided poisoning was a good option and the now pregnant Molly was fed doses of oleander. The rajah was a wake up to this and spirited her to a safe haven away from court. His wife duly produced the wished for heir. But, because of his mixed heritage, it was proclaimed that young Martanda Sydney would never sit on an Indian throne.
The rajah was not about to desert his Aussie belle on news of this. He figured the best way to deal with it was to escort her back to Oz. He’d determined to seek restitution from King George and he would state his case from Sydney. Having had issues with unsuitable matches for his own sons, George was not inclined to give this minor Indian prince much of a hearing. That was seemingly the sealer and Molly never set foot in her hubby’s homeland again.
In the Emerald City the couple cut a swathe through the high end of town. The rajah was heavily into the sport of kings. One of his steeds won the Grand National to entrench them as darlings of the turf. Molly became bosom buddies with Ada Holman, the Premier’s wife and an interesting woman in her own right – stay tuned. But the rajah was getting antsy for what was rightfully his. By 1919 he had deduced he’d do better stating his case from London, so Molly agreed to pack up and head for Old Blighty.
As the twenties wore on, though, it was obvious that their cause was dead in the water, but in recompense the British government did award the couple a healthy stipend. 1922 saw them quite taken with the French Riviera so they moved to Cannes. Here friendships were formed with such notables as Cecil Beaton and Anita Loos. Sadly the exiled rajah died in 1928. His Molly, at the time described as a ‘…very generous woman, madly extravagant.’ decamped back to London where, bejewelled and glittering, she attended all the right parties and performances. She also became a frequent visitor to the US and across the Channel.
Her story continued on with more twists and turns as the world again plunged into conflict. This saw her stranded in NYC with, oh dear, no access to her fortune on the other side of the Atlantic. And, quelle horreur, she was obliged to take a job. It was in an up-market fashion house so it wasn’t too much of a strain. She also involved herself in raising money for the war effort. This caused the FBI to come calling – they had proof she was embezzling much of what she inveigled out of the society types she consorted with. Eventually it turned out they couldn’t make the charges stick, so as soon as VE Day was celebrated, back to London she scampered. Tellingly, her son, the would-be rajah, later served time in Sing-Sing for stealing jewellery.
With her looks fading, the fifties witnessed her becoming reclusive, surrounded by her pekingese dogs and a certain tortoise. She became estranged from her son due to his criminal activities and sought solace in the bottle. In 1967 she donated all her worldly goods to the British public and in November of that year she was claimed by cancer.
Molly Fink – such a ‘common’ name. But, even with that handicap, she escaped the snooze of Melburnian suburban torpor to live a life large, mainly on the opposite side of the planet, Even with that name, she should not be forgotten. Hopefully a better wordsmith than I will bring her out of the shadows and place her in the same light as her contemporary, Sheila Chisholm, has been in recent times. I wonder if they ever met? I wonder what they would have made of each other?