Thursday 10 September 2020

The hidden years of a prominent Melbourne citizen

Frank E. Paice was a prominent and respected citizen in Melbourne, Australia, for three decades, having been, among other things, a suburban councillor and mayor, a justice of the peace, a commissioner of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and an executive in Hume Engineering Limited. But hardly anyone knew that he had been an ordained clergyman and Baptist missionary in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) from 1912-1918. He also kept secret the fact that he had been in a tragic marriage to Florence M. "Florrie" Cox and that fellow-missionary A. Olga Johnston was his second wife, with whom he'd had an affair while still a married missionary. 

The sad story of Florrie Cox and the establishment cover-up that followed can be found in my book God's Triangle. Here is an extract from Who was Who in the book, plus photographs: Frank_Paice_book_extract.pdf (

The secret past of former missionary A. Olga Paice

This is from the Who was Who chapter in my non-fiction book, God's Triangle, about my investigation into the scandal and cover-up surrounding Florence M. "Florrie" Cox and her disastrous marriage to the Australian Baptist missionary, the Rev Frank E. Paice, who later married fellow missionary, A. Olga Johnston

Alvina Olga “Olga” Johnston (later Paice) 1884-1966

Olga Johnston was the child of immigrant parents. Her father, Abraham Johnston, was an agricultural labourer in Southern Ireland. Her mother, Maria Dorothea Juliane “Julia” Holzgrefe, was born near Hanover in Germany. It was a double wedding for Julia and her elder sister, Wilhelmina. It took place in November 1869 at the home of the girls’ father, Christoph, near Carapook, a farming area between Coleraine and Casterton in Victoria.

The service was conducted by an Evangelical Lutheran clergyman, but the Johnston family were Church of England. Julia was just 17 when she was married. Her sister was 20. The wedding register gave Abraham’s age as 31, but other records make it clear that he was 38 or 39.

It seems likely that Julia was pregnant at the time of her marriage, as the first-born arrived less than seven months after the wedding. In all, Julia bore Abraham eight children, the last of whom was Olga, born on September 20, 1884, at Carapook.

Not much is known about Julia (sometimes also called Julia Anna), other than that she died aged just 37 in July 1889 when Olga was only four years old, leaving her and some of the other younger siblings to be brought up by their father and eldest sister, Dora.

Quite a bit of information is available about Abraham, thanks chiefly to an obituary in the Portland Guardian of May 16, 1921. From this, we discover that he was a tough and resourceful character.

The obituary reports that when Abraham was setting out for Australia from Liverpool on the City of Lincoln in 1852, the ship’s owners went bankrupt. Abraham and his fellow passengers seized control of the ship with the intention of sailing it to Melbourne, where they hoped to sell it to recover their expenses. This escapade, with its unpredictable consequences, became unnecessary when the vessel was bought by another firm of ship owners and the voyage took place without further incident.

Before establishing himself as a farmer at Carapook, Abraham unsuccessfully sought riches on the goldfields of Bendigo, Ballarat and Dunolly, among other places. For a time, he went into business using a horse and dray to transport flour around the Bendigo and Ballarat areas.

There are no records of how the Johnston family coped with the death of Julia. Nor is it clear whether religion played a major part in their lives.

At some point, Olga switched from the Church of England to become a devout Baptist. Those who might have been able to tell me about Olga’s time as a young woman have long since died. What is known is that Olga trained as a nurse at Melbourne’s Women’s Hospital—later renamed the Royal Women’s Hospital— before moving to Geelong to be with her sister Dora and other members of her family.

While in Geelong, Olga began attending the Aberdeen Street Baptist Church, which had a reputation for evangelical fervour. It is there that she would have met and come under the persuasive influence of Hedley Sutton, who preached there from time to time while on furlough in Australia.

Church records show that Olga was accepted for missionary training in September 1911. It is not known whether Olga had any marriage prospects before becoming a missionary, but by the time she arrived in East Bengal in 1912, she was already 28—very late for most women of that era to get married.

As there would be few suitable Christian men available for marriage in East Bengal, she had no doubt resigned herself to spinsterhood.

Olga’s nursing skills would have been much valued on the missionary field, not just by the mission staff, but also as a means of drawing in the local population to expose them to the Christian message as they were given medical assistance and advice.

Being a former farm girl would also have helped her cope with the physical adversities she would face in East Bengal. A photograph taken of Olga as she was about to set out for East Bengal showed her to be pretty and having a pleasant demeanour. But as the years went by, she gained a reputation as a forceful, rather intimidating and bitter character who didn’t enjoy living in Australia and had abandoned any religious affiliation. She had strong views on many subjects and was not inhibited from expressing them.


Paperback, Kindle and eBook copies of God's Triangle are HERE.
Read reviews of God's Triangle HERE.

Learn more about Frank E. Paice by going HERE.

Learn more about Florence M. "Florrie" Cox by going HERE.

Tuesday 8 September 2020

The sad and troubled life of Florence "Florrie" M. Cox

An extract from God's Triangle, my investigation into what happened to Florence Martha "Florrie" Cox of Melbourne, Australia, after she married the Baptist missionary, the Revd Frank Ernest Paice, who was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, but was brought up in Australia:

Florence Martha “Florrie” Cox (later Paice) 1887-1950 

Florrie Cox was born at home in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond on November 5, 1887, the third of six children born to Arthur and Amelia Cox. It was a very religious family—extremely so in the case of some members. 

Amelia was very strict, with church-going, hymns, prayers and reading the bible being the only activities permitted on Sundays. Even the meals were prepared the day before. There were complaints in the family about the time Amelia devoted to church activities, often to the detriment to her perceived responsibilities as a mother and housewife. It was as though she were acquiring credit points to ensure her place in Heaven. 

I have not been able to learn anything significant about Florrie’s father, Arthur, as he had died before any of his surviving descendants were old enough to absorb impressions of him. 

Florrie had two brothers, Arthur and Charles. Her sisters were, in order of birth, Amelia (known as “Minnie”, perhaps to differentiate her from her mother), Alice and Lois. 

The two brothers could hardly have been less alike. Arthur was my grandfather and was a forceful, intolerant, humourless, status-conscious, hypocritical and sometimes-violent man with few friends. His religious fervour led him into several bouts of insanity that required hospital treatment. During the Second World War, he was diagnosed with religious mania and dismissed as a major in the Australian Army after declaring to his men that he was Jesus Christ’s second-in-command. 

By contrast, his younger brother Charles—universally known as “Charlie”—was a polite and placid businessman who never forced his views on anyone. He had no interest in religion and attended church very rarely and only when pushed to do so by his wife. By all accounts, he was widely liked and admired. 

Florrie Cox’s sisters, Minnie and Alice, were both married with children, while her sister Lois battled tuberculosis throughout her teenage years before dying when just 22. Little else is known of the three sisters, nor has it been possible to establish exactly what Florrie Cox was like in her early years. She was, though, sufficiently religious to become a Sunday School teacher and later to take on the considerable burdens of a missionary wife in one of the more arduous and remote postings the Baptist Church could offer. 

Florrie was unusually tall for a woman in that era—about six feet or 183cms. She became engaged to Frank Paice when she was 24, which would have been considered rather late. In those days, women who weren’t “fixed up” to be married by their early twenties were usually fearful of being left “on the shelf”, and as spinsters, were often viewed as unfulfilled persons. 

On the other hand, men who did not marry would be referred to, often with affection and respect, as “confirmed bachelors”. The strong possibility that many of these men were closet homosexuals did not seem to be considered. 

In the light of what we know about Florrie’s mother and other conservative members of that family, there must have been great joy that she was to be married—and not just married to anyone, but married to a Man of God and a missionary. 

There is no precise record of when Frank and Florrie were engaged, but the indications are that it was not long before Frank sailed for India in October, 1912. 

Though society contained pockets of uninhibited licentiousness in the early 1900s, sexual attitudes for most people—particularly staunch Christians—were very rigid and oppressive. Married women could expect to have many pregnancies in their reproductive life, but they would be told little about the “facts of life”, as sexual knowledge was euphemistically called. 

The more liberal-minded families might offer a newly-married woman a book on “married women’s health”. These books touched on reproductive matters, but were usually very coy and often ill-informed. (One such book included the “fact” that the best way to avoid pregnancies was to engage in conjugal relations midway between the monthly periods.) 

It was widely felt that wives should simply follow the lead of their husbands in the marital bed, though in the majority of cases, their husbands were almost as anxious and sexually ignorant as their wives. The only truly effective form of contraception was abstinence. This was not seen by devout Christian women as a burden, as it was considered very unladylike to enjoy sex, or at least to admit to enjoying it. 

I remember overhearing elderly female relatives declaring that it was important for married women to “maintain Christian standards in the bedroom”. I took this to mean that any sexual activity should be confined to the so-called “missionary position” with the man always on top in the traditional manner. 

These standards would also require that any nudity be as discreet as possible. (One of my Cox family aunts once proudly declared that her husband had never seen her naked.) 

The accepted attitude of married women towards sex—not helped by the fear of yet another pregnancy—often had a discouraging impact on their husbands. Even in my youth in the 1950s, it was quite common for married men to scornfully dismiss sex as “an over-rated indoor sport”. 

To avoid being carried away by sexual desires, courting couples in the early 1900s were normally not allowed to be alone together until such time as they became engaged. When they went out together on a date, they would be required to do so with a chaperone. 

Keeping this in mind, Florrie and Frank would have had few opportunities for sexual encounters before Frank left Australia. Even when Florrie joined him in Calcutta two years later, she and her fiancĂ© would have been allowed little or no time together. Nor, as devout Christians, would they have wanted it any other way. 

If the social and sexual climate had been more relaxed—dare I say, enlightened—it is quite possible that the marriage between Frank and Florrie would never have taken place. However, given their status in the community and the laws of that time, breaking off an engagement was almost as difficult as a divorce is today. One or other of the parties could have sued for “breach of promise”. This was something not treated lightly by the courts and often ended up with public humiliation in the newspapers and the payment of financial compensation by the offending party. 


Paperback, Kindle and eBook copies of God's Triangle are available HERE.  

Read the reviews HERE.