Serendipity has always played a role in research, and today the availability of digitised newspapers through Trove offers new opportunities for chance discoveries. A couple of years ago, Glenn R. Cooke — then Research Curator of Queensland Heritage at the Queensland Art Gallery — referred me to a snippet from The Queenslander of 15 October 1892, where the Melbourne correspondent writes:
My attention was recently drawn to ‘Drifting’, a novel by a Queensland lady who uses the nom de plume of ‘Ellerton Gay.’ She lived, I believe, for eighteen years in Toowoomba, and is the wife of Mr. J. Watts-Grimes, who is well known in squatting circles. She has lived in England six years, and there she has embalmed her memories of the Queensland which is so dear to her. ‘Drifting’ is much admired here.
‘What's in a name?’ asks the title of one of Ellerton Gay's short stories. The pseudonym, which was evidently an open secret in her lifetime, has subsequently obscured ‘Ellerton Gay’ and her creator, Emma Watts Grimes, from the view of literary historians: Patrick Buckridge and I, for example, overlooked her in our historical survey of literature in Queensland, By the book
(2007). Until very recently, the AustLit Database listed her as male, with no further biographical details, and — despite its recent facsimile republication of her novel, Drifting under the Southern Cross
(1890) — the British Library fails to make the link between Ellerton Gay and Emma Watts Grimes in its catalogue entry. The reissue of this novel, justifiably ‘much admired’ in its own time, suggests that its elusive author is worth a reappraisal. Since Ellerton Gay's oeuvre
draws extensively on the lived experience of Emma Watts Grimes and her extended family, this article provides a biographical sketch before discussing the fictional works.