A Scandalous Love Affair

Today we are accustomed to scandals in the news, but this was not case in early Victoria. Rumours surrounding one young woman during the 1890s, for instance, were therefore thought to be quite shocking.

The lady in question was Bertha de Miranda Genn who led a very unorthodox life. Born in England on June 24, 1868, to Eliza MacGregor and Diogo Madison Genn, her father’s prosperous import/export business provided a grand lifestyle for his family. However, when he died in 1877, he left no one to take care of his wife and five children and the family fortunes rapidly declined. As the children grew up, they all left England for greener pastures.

Bertha’s older sister, Emily, came to Canada in 1882 to become governess to the Walbey family on Blanshard Street in Victoria. Mr. Walbey was a well- established real estate accountant in business with Francis Bourchier.

At the age of 21, Bertha sailed around the Cape in a “windjammer”, to join her sister and arrived in Victoria in 1890. She also worked as a governess taking care of six children which was not quite the lifestyle she had anticipated— so she began to broaden her horizons. 

Francis Bourchier, the man in partnership with her sister’s employer, caught her eye and she decided that Bourchier could be her ticket to a better life as he was a man of considerable means. There was only one problem – Bourchier already had a wife!

Undaunted, Bertha fell for his charms, and they began a torrid affair.  Bourchier, born Sydney Francis Bees in England, had changed his name when he arrived in Victoria with his wife Clara. He then made a great deal of money in real estate.

Bertha, however, was determined to have him and, being the rogue that he was, Bourchier welcomed her advances.  The adulterous couple were often seen together in “compromising situations” such as camping together at Cadboro Bay where they were reported, heaven forbid, to have “occupied the same tent!”

They also openly lived together in Bourchier’s Rockland residence while wife Clara was away in Banff.  Eventually Clara divorced her husband citing Bertha as the co-respondent but the shocking affair between Bertha and Bourchier continued to cause tongues to wag.

Bourchier was also far from honest and had many brushes with the law. He changed his name again (to Sydney Gray) to escape a conviction and then left town with Bertha in tow, absconding with $50,000 in cash and $10,000 worth of diamonds. The money came from a short-term partnership he had formed with Harry Croft, a land speculator connected by marriage to the Dunsmuir family. Poor Croft never saw his money again.

Bertha and Sydney eventually married, and a daughter was born to them followed later by a son. They moved to Langley to manage a farm for a wealthy man who was away in England. However, in the owner’s absence, Sydney Bourchier/Gray disposed of the man’s property and pocketed the money. Once again, he managed to escape the law and the couple headed next for New York.

A born con artist and swindler, news reached Victoria that Gray was in trouble with the law yet again in Poughkeepsie, New York State. He served time in the county jail for conning his landlord out of a hotel bill by forgery and later spent time in Sing Sing Prison. He left Bertha and the children penniless, and Bertha was reported to have died in poverty and buried in a potter’s field.

But was that yet another scam to escape the law?  It was obviously not true as both Gray and Bertha later returned to BC where Gray eventually abandoned her. She then worked as a hairdresser in order to support her children and died in 1907 at the age of 38 from kidney disease and heart failure.

The scandalous affair between the con artist and the girl looking for a better life was long remembered in Victoria. They were often referred to as “a pair of sanctimonious hypocrites” while Bees/Bourchier/Gray became known as “the prince of scamps.”

A scandal for the times indeed!