Félix Charles Edmond de La Panouse
Félix Charles Edmond de La Panouse
Félix Charles Edmond de La Panouse’s family was one of the oldest and most distinguished in France and he had distinguished himself in service with the French Navy and as A.D.C. to the Count de MacMahon, Marshall of France.
La Panouse had a relationship with the famous French opera singer, Marie Heilbron, which caused his family to disinherit him and after several speculative financial investments, he realised he was heavily in debt. The solution seemed to be to leave France quickly and recover some money in a new venture and the news in 1890 was that Mashonaland offered great opportunities for finding gold in “ancient workings.”
La Panouse travelled to London to raise funds to form a mining syndicate in Mashonaland. It is here he met Fanny Pearson. Pearson had moved to London as she obtained a job as a parlour maid at the Albany Chambers, now part of Piccadilly Underground Station. When the two met, they fell passionately in love and decided to head to Cape Town and elope. When they arrived, they learned that the British South Africa Company had imposed a strict rule that women and children were not allowed to enter Mashonaland as it was considered too dangerous.
Not being put off, Fanny travelled into Mashonaland masquerading as a man and changed her name to Billie. The story is that she travelled in a railway truck to stay out of sight, but got shunted off into a rail siding and then had to walk to the railhead to catch up with her husband before they travelled together by ox-wagon and reached Salisbury in November 1890.
Edmond and Billie spent a lengthy period of time gold prospecting for the La Panouse Exploring Syndicate and then mining on the Tatagura River in the Mazoe Valley, during which period they found little gold and came to realise their speculative venture was a dream.
In early 1894, James Hutchinson Kennedy, chief accountant for the British South Africa Company, and later Master and Registrar of the High Court of Southern Rhodesia, leased the Avondale Farm to Count Edmond de la Panouse. Over the next few years they gradually built up a thriving dairy herd of over three hundred head and began supplying Salisbury with milk, butter, eggs, chickens and bacon.
Soon, a Dramatic Society had been formed and Edmond’s name had been put forward for election as President of the Salisbury Club. But in order to avoid scandal, it was essential that Billie and Edmond be married, so in July 1894 they were married by Father Nicot at the Jesuit Mission Church at Chishawasha Mission and Hugh Marshall Hole recorded their marriage ceremony as the first in Salisbury.
But in 1896 a Rinderpest outbreak broke out which affected their farming activities. Edmond and Billie were left penniless and with their dairy herd wiped out, they could do little other than sell the livestock and look for other employment. Edmond was offered work as a transport contractor. About 16 June 1986 the First Chimurenga broke out and within four days all the Europeans to the east of Salisbury had either been killed or fled, with the exception of the Catholic fathers at Chishawasha Mission. Edmond narrowly escaped being killed as he travelled through Marandellas.
Late 1896 Edmond and Billie gave up their lease at Avondale farm and for a time managed Sofala Lodge, a boarding house near Pioneer Street in Salisbury. On August 27th, 1899, Fanny gave birth to a daughter christened Alice Rhodesia; but sadly eighteen days later the child died and it may have been this event which prompted them to leave the country where they settled near Paris.
- Countess Billie: The Intriguing Story of Fanny Pearson and Edmond, Vicomte de la Panouse – Robert Cary