Everyone loves a good storyteller, but sometimes the stories they tell are just too good to be true. Such was the case with the great 19th Century hoaxer, Louis de Rougemont. Originally known as Henri Louis Grin, he was born in Switzerland in 1847 where he worked in his father’s wagon business. At the age of 16, he became a footman to the actress Fanny Kemble, touring extensively and learning fluent English. Becoming restless in 1875, Henri bravely acquired a pearling ship, which was tragically posted as missing just a year and a half after its acquisition. Grin claimed that he had sailed a 3,000-mile journey and was the sole survivor of an Aboriginal attack on Lacrosse Island, Australia. He arrived in Sydney in 1880 where he became a dishwasher, doctor, real estate and mining shares agent, but mostly he was a “spirit” photographer. In 1882, Henri married Eliza Ravenscroft and they had seven children.
Restless yet again, Grin deserted Eliza and their seven children in 1897 and fled with a copy of renowned bushman Harry Stockdale’s diary. Grin surfaced in New Zealand as a spiritualist and worked his way to England in 1898. There, Grin changed his identity to Louis de Rougemont. Shortly thereafter, he was introduced to the editor of the Wide World Magazine, an illustrated magazine purported to feature “true-life” adventure and travel stories gathered from around the world. In August 1898, it published the first in a number of installments of “The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont,” billed as “The Most Amazing Story a Man Ever Lived to Tell.” These captivating tales told of de Rougemont’s adventures while living as a castaway for 30 years with the aboriginals of Northwest and Central Australia. His accounts of a monstrous man-eating octopus, flying wombats, riding on giant sea turtles caused such a sensation among its readers that new installments of The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont’s were published each week until May 1899.
Remember poor Eliza? She was able to get her revenge by informing London’s Daily Chronicle that she had identified Grin (Grein) from a copy of Wide World Magazine, ultimately leading to the demise of his reputation. Grin tried to defend himself by writing a letter to The Daily Chronicle, using his original name, in which he expressed his consternation that anybody would confuse him with Louis De Rougemont. In 1899, Grin travelled to South Africa as a music-hall attraction, billed as “The Greatest Liar on Earth.” When he took his act to Australia, he was booed off the stage. During the First World War he reappeared as an inventor of a useless meat substitute. He died a poor man in London June 9, 1921.
The adventurous Louis de Rougemont invites you to hear his amazing story of bravery, survival and celebrity this summer at The REP Theatre in SHIPWRECKED! An Entertainment, The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by himself!) Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Wednesday matinees at noon beginning June 9. For more information and tickets visit LoveTheREP.com.
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