Few knew the secret of popular former Rabaul character Arthur Savage: he was the son of English nobleman, the Earl of Chichester.
Fewer people still knew that one of Rabaul’s most beloved identities – Father Bernard Franke – ignored strict Catholic rules to give Arthur a proper funeral and burial after he committed suicide thinking he had cancer.
He didn’t have cancer. But tragically his “all clear” medical advice arrived a week after his burial.
The revelation about Arthur Savage being of noble blood and his tragic end came from my mother Mary Louise Uechtritz before she passed away last year.
Arthur was a close family friend. He’d had walked Mum down the aisle and given her away at her wedding to Dad (Alf) at Rabaul’s Francis Xavier church on April 26, 1952. He was godfather to their first child, my eldest brother Peter. In a favourite family photo, a grinning Arthur is pictured with Mary Lou and Alf at the Frangipani fancy dress ball. Typically, the passionate art lover and thespian dressed as a French artist at Montmartre .
Arthur also wrote plays and performed in them for the Rabaul Dramatic Society. The production pictured in the title photo above was ‘Ghost Train’ and features Arthur (far right), my mother , Keith Armistead in the group.
“He was extremely well educated and had a real love of literature and the fine arts,” Mum told me. “Arthur was the ‘illegitimate’ son of the Earl of Chichester, who was very fond of him and insisted he had the very best education.”
Arthur went to Beaumont College and then the famous Ampleforth College in Yorkshire (left)
It’s not certain how he ended up in New Guinea but he eventually ran the plantation Asalingi on the north coast for my Dad’s stepmother Rita (Uechtritz then Roberts ) and her second husband Tex Roberts.
Mum recounted with great merriment – for a lady herself raised by nuns in a French convent in Wales – how Arthur and his great friend Ned Shields were particularly fond of a drink and stayed up all night imbibing and carrying on.
“He and Ned would be up at dawn, whiskies in hand, wandering down the beach and into the sea fully clothed quoting Shakespeare,” she said.
Then came tragedy. Arthur contracted cancer of the oesophagus. I am not sure whether it was a false diagnosis, or he had an operation to remove the cancer. Anyway, Mum said Arthur couldn’t bear the thought of dying a slow, horrible death with chemotherapy and took his own life. His ‘all clear’ message from Sydney sadly arrived in Rabaul a week later.
Father Franke was in every sense the ‘people’s priest’. He ignored the Catholic ruling that those who had committed suicide were unable to be buried on sacred ground or receive a funeral Mass. He performed what can only be presumed was a clandestine funeral and Arthur was buried in Rabaul cemetery.
Arthurs father was the Sixth Earl of Chichester, Jocelyn Brudenell Pelham (correct spelling) who died in 1926. He was awarded an OBE in 1918. It is unknown whether Arthur maintained correspondence with him during his New Guinea years. Given Mum’s account of him, somehow I think he did.