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God's Triangle - Ian Richardson

15 May 2012 by Nicky

by Mike Popham

God's Triangle is a fascinating account by a former BBC journalist of a missionary marriage in the early part of the twentieth century that went mysteriously and scandalously wrong. The triangle of the title refers to three Australians - the Rev Frank Paice, the author's great aunt Florence Cox, known to her family as Florrie, and one of their bridesmaids, Olga Johnston.

In October 1912, Frank Paice sailed from Melbourne to become a Baptist missionary in India. He had recently become engaged to Florrie, then aged 24 and 'unusually tall for a woman in that era - about six feet'. It was two years before Florrie was finally able to join her fiance in Calcutta and, although their wedding took place soon after, the marriage failed within 5 years, leading to one of the most unusual divorce cases of its time.

Ian Richardson's interest in all this was aroused one day in Melbourne in 1997 when he happened to be going through some old family photographs with his widowed mother. They came upon a picture of a family group taken, they estimated, just before the Great War.

His mother 'dismissively identified' one of the three women in the group as 'oh, that's just Aunt Florrie'.

What particularly aroused Richardson's journalistic curiosity was his mother's reluctant admission that the reason the family didn't talk about Aunt Florrie was because of the failure of her marriage and the scandal that, she claimed, had resulted. She added that Florrie had died many years later in a Melbourne mental home.

God's Triangle largely consists of transcripts from Richardson's diary as he travels to Calcutta and Bangladesh, trawls through the records of the Baptist Foreign Mission, and writes persistently to the Freedom of Information office in Melbourne with various requests, painstakingly trying to fit what he calls the pieces of the jigsaw together.

In the course of his research, Richardson discovers Paul, Frank's son by Olga, whom he married after his divorce from Florrie. Although Paul tells Richardson he knew his father had been married before, he was surprised to learn that his father had once been a missionary in India.

Subsequently, Richardson discovers that, though the divorce hearing between Frank and Florrie had been held in public, and that, contrary to what his mother had said, there had been no press reporting of the case in the Melbourne press, the court had ruled that the papers in the case were never to be released.

Richardson puts this down to pressure from the Baptist Church and possibly the Freemasons.

In his dogged, determined way, and with the important moral support of Paul Paice, Richardson gradually wears down the legal authorities in the Victorian Supreme Court. Eventually his persistence is rewarded. To reveal why the marriage between Frank and Florrie did break down would be a serious spoiler. But Richardson's uncovering of the real reason for the divorce more than makes up for the inevitably one-dimensional depictions of the characters of Frank, Florrie and Olga. After all, Richardson never met them, and as the only witness to the triangle of the book's title was a centenarian who died in Brisbane during the course of his research, Richardson's ambition to make a film from his material should make the main characters come to life once more - on celluloid at least.

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