Mrs. C. J. Carleton: Songstress of Australia [9 September 1922]

[Editor: Article about the life of Caroline Carleton.]

Mrs. C. J. Carleton.

Songstress of Australia.

By Mrs. Willettt Bevan.

In 1831, when men of State in England were discussing the establishment of a chartered colony in South Australia, did the daughter of William Baynes (or Baines as was the old spelling of the name) dream that her name was to be linked up with that of the new colony? Did she, sitting at her sewing, or reading the poets she loved, have any drawing to that unknown land? Did her own poetic fancy picture a life, fairy-like and wonderful, away across the sea, in the land of sunshine and beauty Perhaps she had her visions! She kept some of them through the life ahead, in which she experienced not only the hardships of a delicately nurtured woman facing pioneer life, but also unexpected sorrow. Married to a young medical student of artistic temperament, somewhat delicate health, and sweet disposition, Caroline Baynes, now Caroline Carleton, set sail with her husband and two little children for the wonderful land which was to give health and prosperity. Mr. Carleton did not wait to finish his course and take his degree, intending, no doubt, as other young students intended, to return from this El Dorado in a few years, and complete his medical course. Sorrow met this young couple on the voyage. Their two children died, and with this shadow upon their lives they landed in Australia. Mr. Carleton practised as medical officer in the new city, Adelaide, and later at the Kapunda mines. He bought up land, up doubt at heavy prices, and he opened a chemist’s shop. Things flourished, children came, and hope and courage grew stronger.

— Hard Times. —

Then came the reaction in the new colony. The effects of the land boom and the general state of the colony in the early forties found Mr. Carleton, as they found so many brave pioneers, with liabilities on every hand, and very little to meet them with, save the spirit and determination to “hang on” at any cost. While this state of affairs was sapping Mr. Carleton’s none too robust health, the woman who wrote “Song of Australia” cheered her husband, looked after her children, and quietly bore her own worries and forebodings. When the position of Superintendent of Cemeteries was given to. Mr. C. J. Carleton, it was Caroline, the gifted, delicately nurtured girl, who made it possible for the position to be held in his name, by doing the clerical work which he, in time a complete invalid, was quite unable to do. I seem to see that family— the invalid husband, uncomplaining, drawing his pen and ink sketches, when able, in order to keep his mind from dwelling on the awful fact of his inability to work for his family; the two elder girls, growing up under the training and example of their devoted and unselfish parents; the three little ones (death had made another gap here) as yet unaware of the struggles about them; and Caroline, bread-winner, joy-giver in that household. Was it in the evenings, when all were asleep, that she eased her own weariness and fears by putting her thoughts into verse, or by writing of bright skies and sunshine, of brave men and women? I wonder!

— Clever and Courageous. —

The two elder girls, desirous of helping and relieving their mother, became governesses. Mr. Carleton, oppressed by thoughts of leaving his wife and little ones unprovided for, died in July, 1861. The clergymen of Adelaide petitioned the Government to allow this capable, brave woman to keep in her own name the position she had virtually filled. The petition was refused, although, had Mrs. Carleton’s son, then a boy of seven, been old enough for the position to be held in his name, the mother might have continued to support her family by doing the work. She now began teaching, and continued until the effect of long and many anxieties, and the amount of mental and physical work done in so fine a spirit, began to show itself. Rising from a sick bed, she caught a chill, from which she never quite recovered. Unable to teach any longer, she went to Wallaroo, where her daughter, Miss Carleton, had opened a school, and it was there, in July, 1874, that she died, to be remembered by those who knew her not only as a clever and courageous, but also as a kind and courteous gentlewoman. This, in brief, is the story of Caroline, Mrs. Charles James Carleton, who won in 1859, the prize awarded by the Gawler Institute, for a poem which is sung to-day in our schools, at our community singing afternoons, and on various public occasions. Mr. Cyril Pollitt of Tanunda, Miss Carleton of the Grange, and Mrs. J. J. Rhead of Western Australia, relatives of our poet have kindly given me facts concerning Mrs. C. J. Carleton. A book of verses by Mrs. Carleton was printed many years ago for private circulation. A second edition was published later and sold in Adelaide. Mrs. Rhead, Mrs. Carleton’s daughter, is I believe, bringing out a third edition of these poems. The following is one of the shorter poems from the first edition: —

Wild Flowers of Australia.

By Mrs. C. J. Carleton.

Oh, say not that no perfume dwells
The wilding flowers among;
Say not that in the forest dells
Is heard no voice of song.

The air is laden with the scent
Borne from the clustering flower
With which the wattle is besprent,
Like Danae’s golden shower.

And silvery wattles bending low
Sweet incense scatter far,
When light winds kiss the pensile bough
Beneath the evening star.

And forest flowers of varying dye,
Now white, now blushing red,
In modest beauty charm the eye,
And fragrant odours shed.

There’s perfume breathed from Austral flowers,
And melody is there —
Not such as in far Albion’s bowers,
Falls on the accustomed ear.

But thrilling snatches of wild song,
Poured forth from lonely glen,
Where winds the hidden creek along,
Far from the haunts of men.

And hoarser notes in wild woods heard
Sound like strange harmonies,
As flashes past the bright winged bird,
Gleaming in azure skies.

Then say not that no perfume dwells
The wilding flowers among.
Say not that in the forest dells
Is heard no voice of song.

The Register (Adelaide, SA), Saturday 9 September 1922, page 4

Editor’s notes:
Danae = in Greek mythology, Danae was a daughter of King Acrisius and Queen Eurydice of Argos; prophecy had foretold that Acrisius would be killed by his daughter’s son, so Acrisius locked Danae up in a tower so that she would never have a child, but Zeus appeared to Danae in the form of golden rain and made her pregnant

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