Eliza Fraser

Other names: 
Born Eliza Anne Slack, married names Fraser, then Greene
Dates: 
Born 1798, died 1858

Much mystery surrounds the story of Eliza Fraser. The plaque on a house in Stromness, Orkney claims to be on the site of her home, but there is no evidence to back-up the claim that she ever lived there, or was even Orcadian. She was born in 1798 with the name Eliza Anne Slack, possibly in Derbyshire (according to The Australian Dictionary of Biography).
She married a sea captain, James Fraser, and in 1835 they left their two sons and a daughter in the care of a Presbyterian minister in Stromness from where they sailed to Australia in the Stirling Castle. It is possible that the house with the plaque is that of the former home of this minister, and that Eliza Fraser and her husband resided there briefly en route for Australia.
Shipwrecked in May 1836 off eastern Australia, the Frasers with other crew members survived until the end of June, when they reached Great Sandy Island – later renamed Fraser Island. Some accounts suggest that she gave birth to a child who died while they were adrift. Exhausted, hungry and ill, the party encountered the native people, the Badtjala. The survivors later claimed to have been captured, stripped and forced to work, alleging that the Captain was murdered and the first mate died of burns inflicted by their captors.
After their rescue in August, Eliza Fraser, now widowed, became a celebrity, gaining sympathy and financial help from a subscription fund. She and the second mate had both given official reports of their experiences which were retold repeatedly in newspapers and books. It became hard to establish what actually happened on the island and later consideration of the accounts suggests that colonial attitudes, as well as misunderstandings between the castaways and the Aborigines, may lie behind stories of cruel treatment. Eliza Fraser also probably exaggerated her claims to attract attention and financial aid. The story has remained part of Australian popular culture, inspiring paintings (Sidney Nolan), films, a novel (Patrick White) and poetry.
Eliza Fraser remarried in 1837 and returned to Britain with her new husband, Captain Alexander Greene. Initially they kept the marriage secret, while she continued to plead destitution. Records show that in 1838 the couple were living somewhere in Stromness, and that they were threatened with violence there. They soon returned to Australia (perhaps with the children) and Eliza Fraser lived there until her death in 1858.