Menie Parkes

A photo of Menie Parkes, from the frontispiece of her book, Poems (1867)

Clarinda Sarah Parkes, known as Menie, was an author and poet. She was born at sea, off Cape Howe, on the ship Strathfieldsaye, on 23 July 1839, just two days before her English immigrant parents arrived in Sydney, New South Wales.

Her father was Henry Parkes, who, like Menie, was a poet and author; he became the owner of The Empire, one of Sydney’s main newspapers, and entered into politics, eventually becoming Premier of New South Wales five times between 1872 and 1891. Her mother was Clarinda (nee Varney).

Menie was her parent’s third child, although her two preceding siblings had died soon after birth (Thomas Campbell Parkes died when 17 days old and Clarinda Martha Parkes died the day after she was born). Like her first-born sister, Menie was apparently named after her mother.

Her first published poem was “The Dream”, which appeared in The Empire (her father’s newspaper) in 1855. Her later poems and stories were published in various periodicals, such as The Australian Town and Country Journal and The Australian Home Companion and Band of Hope Journal, with many of her works being written under pseudonyms, such as “Patty Parsley”, “Alethea”, and “Ariel”.

For Christmas 1866, Menie presented a number of her poems, with an introductory note, to her father, who was impressed with her work. Subsequently, her father had the poems published in book form, simply entitled Poems (by “Menie Parkes”); the volume carried the notation “Printed for private circulation”, so it was presumably intended just for friends and family. The poems show that Menie was a very religious person; however, they also demonstrate a decided melancholy side to her personality, an inclination presumably not helped by her chronic poor health.

Much of her poetry is a product of the time, both in style and subject. However, some of her work is of a style that renders it accessible by modern readers.

Her poem “Our Darling’s Lover” was included in The Oxford Book of Australian Women’s Verse (1995). It is about a young girl taken by Death, and may have been prompted by the death of her sister, Lily Maria, who died at home on 25 March 1854, aged two years and five months old; although it is also possible that it could have been written about her other younger sister, Mary, born 16 February 1846 and died 5 December 1846. A high mortality rate for infants was not uncommon at the time (her brother Milton also died in his infancy, at thirteen months old, on 19 January 1851).

On 30 March 1869 Menie Parkes married a newly-ordained Presbyterian minister, the Reverend William Thom. They moved to Victoria, to Ballan (east of Ballarat), where he ministered for the church. Coming from Scotland, William Thom had no immediate relatives in Australia (a letter from Menie to her father reported that all of his parents and siblings were deceased); however, a young female relative (his orphan niece) was living with him. Curiously enough, this was a similar situation to that of a short story written by Menie some ten years earlier, in “Pet Perennials, No. 1” (by “Patty Parsley”, published in The Australian Home Companion and Band of Hope Journal in 1859), about a young woman who falls in love with a minister (a widower), whose young daughter was living with him.

Menie gave birth to seven children: Henry Gilbert, born 28 December 1869; William Stronach, December 1871; John Gibson, July 1873; and Norman Parkes, 6 March 1875, although unfortunately Norman passed away on 10 August of the same year. Then in July 1876 she gave birth to twins, Robert Varney and Clarinda Jean. Her seventh child was born after the passing of her husband.

Her husband, the Rev. William Thom, had a terrible accident on 23 July 1877, when he was thrown out of a buggy when his horse bolted. As a result of his injuries, he died on 28 July 1877.

Menie was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death, and she moved back to New South Wales, to Ashfield, where she had a daughter, Martha Wilhelmine Thom, on 25 January 1878; however, sad to note, Martha passed away three months later. Menie’s maternal instincts were not inhibited by her role as a single mother, as shown by her decision in 1891 to adopt a four-day-old baby, Dorothy Macdonald Barnes (born 17 April 1891).

Menie was patriotically proud of Australia. In a letter to her father, dated 5 August 1870, she notes how she was upset by her immigrant husband denigrating her country: “William depresses me by a constant depreciation of my native land, but I love it and pray and hope for it. God bless and govern it”.

Menie Thom (nee Parkes) died of heart failure at her home, in Hampden Street, Ashfield, New South Wales, on 11 October 1915.

Selected poetry by Menie Parkes:
The Dream [19 June 1855]
A True Love [14 January 1860]
Poems [1867]
A book of poetry by Menie Parkes.
In Memoriam: Lady Parkes [11 February 1888]

Selected short stories by Menie Parkes:
Pet Perennials, no. 1, chapter 1 [24 September 1859]
Pet Perennials, no. 1, chapter 2 [24 September 1859]
Pet Perennials, no. 1, chapter 3 [24 September 1859]

Selected articles by Menie Parkes:
Sydney sixty years since [13 April 1910]

References, general:
John Arnold and John Hay (editors), The Bibliography of Australian Literature: P-Z to 2000, St Lucia (Queensland): University of Queensland Press, 2008, pp. 16-17 [lists pseudonyms]
Susan Lever (editor), The Oxford Book of Australian Women’s Verse, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 8 [publication of “Our Darling’s Lover”]
Charles E. Lyne, Life of Sir Henry Parkes G.C.M.G.: Australian Statesman”, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1897, p. 4 [Menie born off Cape Howe]
A. W. (Allan William) Martin (editor), Letters From Menie: Sir Henry Parkes and His Daughter, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1983, pp. xiii, 63, 66, 69, 93, 116-117, 120-122, 168-171, 183, 186, 188
A. W. Martin, “Parkes, Sir Henry (1815–1896)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (accessed 5 August 2012)
Death certificate for Clarinda Sarah Thom (registration number 15215/1915), Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages (NSW), 21 May 2019

References, periodicals:
Births / Died”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 20 January 1851, p. 3 [death notice for Milton Parkes]
Died”, The Empire (Sydney, NSW), 27 March 1854, p. 2 [death notice for Lily Maria Parkes]
The Dream”, The Empire (Sydney, NSW), 19 June 1855, p. 5
Pet Perennials. — No. I.”, The Australian Home Companion and Band of Hope Journal (Sydney, NSW), 24 September 1859, p. 1
Saturday, November 2, 1867” [news items], The Empire (Sydney, NSW), 2 November 1867, p. 4 [the ordination of Rev. W. Thom]
Marriages”, The Empire (Sydney, NSW), 7 April 1869, p. 1 [Clarinda Sarah Parkes married to the Rev. William Thom]
Latest news: Sydney correspondence”, The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (Maitland, NSW), 10 April 1869, p. 2 [Clarinda Sarah Parkes married to the Rev. Thom]
Births”, The Empire (Sydney, NSW), 19 January 1870, p. 1 [the birth of a son to Mrs. and Rev. Thom]
Monday, August 31, 1874” [news items], The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 August 1874, p. 5 [Menie’s marriage to a Presbyterian minister; Henry Parkes to visit her at Ballan]
Births”, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 12 March 1875, p. 1 [birth of a son to Mrs. and Rev. Thom]
Deaths”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 23 August 1875, p. 1 [death of Norman Parkes Thom]
Ballan”, The Bacchus Marsh Express and General Advertiser for Ballan, Melton, Myrniong, Blackwood, Gisborne, Wyndham, Eggerton and Gordon (Bacchus Marsh, Vic.), 4 August 1877, p. 3
Funeral of the Rev. W. Thom”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 14 August 1877, p. 4
Births”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 29 January 1878, p. 1 [birth of a daughter to Mrs. Thom]
Deaths”, The Australian Town and Country Journal, (Sydney, NSW), 27 April 1878, p. 41 [death of Martha Wilhelmine Thom]
Sir Henry’s family”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 28 April 1896, p. 8 [brief details of the children of Henry Parkes]
Deaths”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 12 October 1915, p. 8 [death notice for Clarinda Sarah Thom]
Deaths”, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 12 October 1915, p. 6 [death notice for Clarinda Sarah Thom]
Personal”, The Northern Star and Richmond and Tweed Rivers Advocate (Lismore, NSW), 19 October 1915, p. 4 [death of Clarinda Sarah Thom]
Merely personal”, The Australian Worker (Sydney, NSW), 28 October 1915, p. 12 [death of Clarinda Sarah Thom; born at sea; however, gives her birth date as 25 July 1839]
Thomas R. Roydhouse, “Sir Henry Parkes’s womenfolk: They helped him in his career”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 24 July 1939, p. 6 of the “Women’s Supplement”
James Cleary and Catriona Mills, ““Ariel” and Australian nineteenth-century serial fiction: A case of mistaken attribution”, Script and Print: Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand (Melbourne, Vic.), 2010 [republished on the website of Griffith University (Qld.)]

Further reading:
Henry Parkes”, Wikipedia

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