Minnie Warren Jones was born in 1868 in New South Wales, Australia, the daughter of James Jones and his wife Eliza (nee Warren). She had at least one sister, Ruth Jones, who was an artist.
After leaving school at 19, and using the name Cora Minnett Vane (mis-reported in The Times as Baynes), she took to the stage in 1888. She was married to Adolphus J. Braggett (1864- ) in Sydney in 1892, whom she left a few years later. She returned to the stage as Cora Minnett and "took companies round in Australia". Her advance agent for her theatrical companies was a Mr. Cowell and he subsequently became her secretary and manager.
Cora came to England in January 1910 and was listed in the London telephone book as a Journalist and Author living at 117 St. George's Square. In England she began writing novels under the names Cora Minnett and Pellew Harker and articles for Answers, the Ladies' Home Journal and the Ladies' Home Companion.
A subsequent newspaper report during a court case in which Minnett was accused of receiving stolen money noted:
She had views with regard to emigration, and she conceived the idea of forming a company to buy land in Australia and induce people who had not much capital to settle out there. When she arrived in England she began writing about the subject. She took offices at 110, Strand, intending to take larger offices later. She got many eminent people interested in her schemes, some of whom found money for them.When Miss Minnett came to England her profession was as a writer and society entertainer. She placed an advertisement in the Daily Telegraph as a clairvoyante. She had cards prepared which described her as a mystical and dramatic entertainer and an aurapathic delineator—an occult study involving the aura emanations from the human body.
In April 1911, she opened a banking account at the Bank of England. She was in Australia for seven months to take up land in anticipation of forming her companies. She arranged for options over sugar-cane lands in Queensland and oil concessions near the Blue Mountains. At that time she opened an account at the Sydney office of the plaintiff bank [Commercial Bank of Australia] in the name of Pellen (sic) Hawker. When she returned to England in May, 1912, she transferred that account to the London office of the plaintiff bank. She continued to write books and pamphlets on the subject of her schemes. In September, 1912, she went to Canada to compare the prospects in Canada and Australia.(It was later revealed that she had travelled to Canada with an introduction from Lord Strathcona for, she said, the purpose of studying life in Canada and writing a novel about it.)
Minnett produced a pamphlet entitled Australia, the Land of Golden Opportunity, and had plans to set up a company to be called The Anglo-Australasian Development Company. However, eventually only one company appears to have been established, The Federated Mining Development Company (West Africa) Ltd., in September 1913, which owned a £25 option in West Africa. An advertisement stated "Full security offered in land, palm oil, and concessions." Minnett claimed she had received many replies when she advertised for financial assistance and for gentlemen with capital to invest. One advertisement said "north country men preferred." That was not, she would later say, because she found north country men more likely to part with their money. She also took advantage of the women's suffrage movement by inviting women to her house, talking about the vote and then turning the conversation to business and persuading them to put money into her companies.
She received £400 from a Miss Miles and £500 from a foreign countess. A Mrs. Dale paid £250 on the promise that she would be made a director of one of Minnett's companies. A further £700 came from the Hon. W. G. Spence, an Australian M.P., who was a friend of her father.
A Mr. White invested £373 and subsequently sued her for the return of his money. Letters from Minnett to White referred to him as "Dearest"and "Darling", although she denied having done so in court. Nor did she recall signing herself "your loving partner, Cora" nor writing "Yet, dearest, in the interest of our mutual business and actual future happiness, I must ask you for more money, and a considerable sum—at least £350."
Another investor was to prove Cora Minnett's downfall. Walter Robson was a cashier in the London office of the Commercial Bank of Australia. In 1912, Miss. Minnett loaned him one of her books and, as they later talked, she told him about her proposed company. In February 1913, Robson loaned her £500, expecting the money to be repaid in 1914 along with a share of the profits from her company; he then provided her with other sums of money in bank notes—£700, £1,000, £500, and £100.
What Cora Minnett was seemingly unaware of was that Robson was stealing the money and, despite Minnett and Herbert Cowell moving the money to various accounts, one in the name of Cora and Bertie Minnett, the money was tracked down. When confronted with the fact, Cora and Herbert, still presenting themselves as brother and sister, claimed that they had spent all but £100 (which Herbert wrote out a cheque for). The Commercial Bank of Australia took them to court in February 1914 in order to bring an injunction restraining the defendants from dealing with the accounts.
In deciding the case, Mr. Justice Pickford noted that Robson had been stealing from his employers before meeting Cora Minnett; however, she must have known that something was wrong but refrained from making any inquiry. When asked to attend a meeting by the Commercial Bank of Australia, the couple had immediately withdrawn £500 and deposited it in Herbert's name at another bank. The day after, they had withdrawn another £500 from another account and tried to set up an account in a company name, without success. The accounts were frozen.
The Judge also noted that it was not part of the case to decide whether the defendant's schemes were only intended to get money out of her friends, although Mr. Shearman, K.C., for the plaintiffs, was of the opinion that the whole of Minnett's career in England was on the borderland of criminal enterprise. Minnett subsequently went to the Court of Appeal but her application was turned down as she could not offer security for the costs of her appeal and a request for an extension of time was refused.
Cora Minnett was listed at her London address until 1918. What became of her after that I have no idea.
Books as Cora Minnett
The Haunted Selection and other verses (verse). Melbourne, Victoria, McCarron, Bird & Co., c.1900.
The Day After To-morrow. London, F. V. White & Co., 1911.
Lucky, with Pellew Hawker, illus. A. MacNeill-Barbour. London, F. V. White & Co., 1911.
The Model Millionaire. London, W. J. Ham-Smith, 1911.
Fortune-Telling by Numbers. London, C. Arthur Pearson, 1912.
The Girdle of Kaf (verse). London, W. J. Ham-Smith, 1912.
Books as Pellew Hawker
God Disposes. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1911.
Lucky, with Cora Minnett. See above.