Imagine yourself dining at a beautiful fund-raising gala in Ballarat, hosted by the beautiful and exotic Lady Diamantina Bowen, wife of the Governor of Queensland.
Witty, cultured and talented, the Ionian-born Diamantina is hoping to fund the expansion of the newly-built Ballarat hospital. She's invited wealthy grazier Thomas Learmonth to the dinner, and somehow bushranger Kitty Morgan has found her way in.
Also in attendance is miner and fraudster William Bailey. He's tricked the Learmonth family out of the ownership of a profitable mining venture.
Not everyone will survive the night.
This is the premise for one of the most entertaining events of the Ballarat Heritage Festival, an1870's Murder Mystery Dinner Party held at the Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute.
In 1873, squatter and magnate Thomas Learmonth was outwitted by his former employee Bailey, in a deal that cost the Learmonth family millions. The ensuing court battle was one of Victoria's longest and involved accusations of threats, bribery and even beatings.
But, asks Federation University's Dr David Waldron, what if Thomas Learmonth's fury drove a man to murder?
Presented by the Mechanics' Institute and created by Tales From Rat City, the story is woven around historical characters from Ballarat's history.
"I had always been inspired by the story of William Bailey and his conflict with the Learmonths - it was the fodder for a great murder mystery," Dr Waldron said.
"While the story is fictional, the accusations of death threats, violence and bribery accusations were very real, and Bailey himself reportedly took to patrolling the grounds of his mansion at night with a loaded firearm, anxious men working for the Learmonths were coming to kill him. The notion of murder and revenge were very much in the public eye, and certainly on Bailey's mind."
Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute venue and events manager Sam McColl says the event is just one of several the BMI is presenting after a year of uncertainty.
"The Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute is excited to be presenting a number of deeply researched and well written performances," McColl says.
"The BMI is engaging a number of local actors, musicians, and other specialists, including gamers, martial artists, and production staff, and comes after a year of uncertainty within the live entertainment industry. The research that Dr Waldron has done to help create these shows has been extraordinary. Every show has been based on real events and stories that are published in The Courier and other newspapers of the time."
Held as both luncheon and dinner as part of the official Ballarat Heritage Festival program, tickets for the event are limited. The murder mystery dinner will be held next Saturday, May 8 from 6-8pm, and again on May 23. Bookings close May 6th for the May 8 dinner; $165 pp includes an 1870's inspired, gourmet 3-course meal and glass of wine. Book via https://williambaileymystery.eventbrite.com.au
Promoter Emma Hall says anyone attending who wants to continue the 1870s experience with a luxury accommodation can stay at Craigs Royal Hotel, where attendees will receive up to $100 off hotel booking (breakfast included). You are invited to dress in 1870's inspired costume, or cocktail dress.
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