Point Ellice House and the families that lived here have inspired a number of authors over the years. The latest writer to draw inspiration from the historic house and the O’Reilly family is Edeana Malcolm; she has contributed this guest post about her latest book, House of Crows.
The inspiration for my historical novel, House of Crows, came to me while I was visiting Point
Ellice House some years ago. I was fascinated by the story of Kathleen O’Reilly, the young
woman who lived there. In 1891, she was engaged to marry a naval officer who was the son of
an Earl. However, Kathleen soon called off the engagement when she realized she couldn’t bear
to leave her family and her hometown of Victoria.
I thought to myself, “What would her maid think of this decision?” How would Kathleen’s
choice have seemed to an ambitious young maid with few prospects, a girl who would do
anything for a chance to marry well and see the world beyond her own little hometown. This was
the germ of the idea out of which the novel grew.
House of Crows is a story of three generations of women — the maid Maggie, her mother and
grandmother. While the O’Reillys are a real family who lived at Point Ellice house, Maggie and
her family are entirely fictitious. In the novel, Maggie worked for seven years at Point Ellice
House, but no maid worked for there for such a long period of time. They usually found a
husband for themselves rather sooner than poor Maggie did.
The house in the title House of Crows is not Point Ellice House but rather the house where
Maggie lived with her mother and grandmother. The word “crows” refers to the black clothes
that they wore, the two widows’ weeds and Maggie’s maid costume. Nevertheless, Point Ellice
House is an important setting in the novel.
It was a great privilege for me as a writer to be able to visit the House and see it much as it was
during the O’Reillys’ time there. I didn’t have to imagine the knick-knacks that Maggie dusted,
nor the hearths where she lit fires in the morning, nor the dishes she washed. There they were for
me to see.
Point Ellice House is a great treasure for the people of Victoria, a place where history comes
alive on a human scale. I hope House of Crows helps in some small way to make it
better known and appreciated.
House of Crows will be launched in July, 2020. It is available through Three Ocean Press and
will soon be in bookstores.