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Suspected murderer had an artistic talent

There is no grave for Thomas Griffiths Wainewright. No way for future generations to know he existed, other than from his body of artistic works and a dark history of murder and greed.

Thomas was born into an affluent family in London, in October 1794. Sadly, his mother died in childbirth and his father followed soon after. He was raised by his elderly grandparents in Chiswick, on the outskirts of London town. He became a well educated young man.

Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, self portrait, 1825. Courtesy Wikipedia

In 1814 Thomas bought an officer's commission in the yeomanry regiment, but it only lasted for a year. It was believed a mental illness was the reason for the short service, a possible warning of things to come.

By 1819 Thomas had taken on a literary career writing for publications such as The Literary Pocket-Book, Blackwood's Magazine, The Foreign Quarterly Review and The London Magazine. He contributed stories from 1820 to 1823 under the pen names Janus Weathercock, Egomet Bonmot and Cornelius van Vinkbooms.

Thomas married Eliza Frances Ward in 1817 after receiving an inheritance of over 5,000 pounds from his grandfather. However, he received the money in small dividends, and as his lifestyle saw him living beyond his means, he started forging signatures so he could access the bulk of his money until the account was empty.

Soon the Wainewrights were without money and had to move back home to live with Thomas' uncle, George Griffiths, who mysteriously died in agony a short time later. When Eliza's mother settled her will in favour of her daughter, she died shortly afterwards.

Debt still hounded Thomas, so he and Eliza came up with the idea of insuring her sister, Helen's life for 16,000 pounds. In December of the same year, Helen died showing signs of strychnine poisoning. The insurance companies investigated and although Thomas was never charged with any murders, his bank forgeries were discovered.

Thomas was charged and sent to Hobart in Van Diemen's Land for bank forgery, arriving on the convict ship Susan in November, 1837. He became well known as an artist in the young colony, having completed more than 100 portraits on paper using coloured wash, pencil and ink during his years in Hobart.

While he was given a conditional pardon in 1846, he died of apoplexy in November 1847. Many of his works are held in private collections and some public museums.


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