Some Australian women. Part I. [11 April 1891]

[Editor: This is part 1 of “Some Australian women”, a series of articles on the achievements of women in Australia. Published in The Illustrated Sydney News, 11 April 1891.]

Some Australian women.

Part I.

The lives and achievements of Australian women will, I feel sure, furnish a rich theme for many articles and books yet to be written in the centuries to come, when that history has been lived and won, for the absence of which, lusty young Australia is so often twitted and almost scorned ; in common with other striplings, having often to bear with its elders for the irresponsible and withal daily-amending fault of its juvenility. In the meantime the women of the present are giving most fair and gracious promise that neither now, nor in the future, will they do discredit to their sisters of the old sects of civilisation and culture.

A few of the pioneers of our new nations’ women, in the spheres of literature art, music, science, and last, but not least, a trio of the advance-guard in the field work of sweet Christian charity, will form the subject of these fugitive sketches.

Of all those arts in which the wise excel,
Nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well.

Among the great novelists of the day, Tasmania has the honour of claiming Mrs. Humphrey Ward, whose fame as the author of ‘Robert Elsmere’ has become wide as the speech of the English tongue. This talented and earnest-minded lady was born in Hobart, and her mother, Mrs. Arnold (nee Sorrell), was also a native of the island colony, and a very clever and beautiful woman. Port Sorrell bears her family name.

To Mrs. Ward’s literary abilities are added great linguistic gifts. She is now, in conjunction with the Rev. Stopford Brooke and Mr. James Martineau, engaged in establishing a college at University Hall London, for the promulgation of her new Elsmerean gospel as to the merits or demerits of which, this being no paper on religious dogma, nothing need be said.

Among Australian novelists who have attained an extensive reputation is Mrs. Campbell Praed, whose voluminous and clever writings (though their tenor may sometimes be open to stricture) exhibit an undeniable talent for character analysis, combined with considerable power in the presentment of intense dramatic situation. Mrs. Praed is the daughter of Mr. T. L. Murray-Prior, a prominent politican of Queensland. Miss Rosa Murray-Prior was born at Bromelton Station, on the Logan River, near Brisbane. Mr. Campbell Praed, whom she married in 1872, is the nephew of the poet, Winthrop Mackworth Praed. A few years after that marriage Mr. and Mrs. Praed went to live in London, and it was there that the latter began to write bringing out her first novel, ‘An Australian Heorine,’ in 1880. Including this story she has, since that time, published fourteen books. In ‘Policy and Passion,’ or Longleat of Kooralbyn,’ according to its Australian title, and ‘Miss Jacobsen’s Chance,’ the authoress has utilised the knowledge of political life which she gained while living under her father’s roof in Queensland. In ‘The Romance of a Station’ she found materials in her experiences whilst living on an island off the north coast of Queensland. Mrs. Campbell Praed has written in collaboration with one of England’s eminent authors, Mr. Justin McCarthy, M.P., their joint productions being ‘The Right Honorable’ and ‘The Ladies Gallery,’ the latter being dramatized by Mrs. Praed and interpreted on the stage by Mr. and Mrs. Kendall. ‘Ariane,’ the rôle of whose heroine was sustained by Mrs. Bernard Beere, was developed by the subject of our sketch from another of her novels, ‘The Bonds of Wedlock.’ ‘The Rival Princess’ is said to be the title of a forthcoming story on which this indefatigable writer is engaged.

‘Tasma’ (Madame Auguste Couvreur) is another of our fiction writers who is fast gaining a name in literary circles. She is a native of Tasmania, her maiden name being Tessie Huybers. As we are publishing her portrait and an account of her home in Brussels in a future issue, we will not now allude at greater length to this
talented writer.

The highly esteemed and talented Mrs. Heron is the only one of this little gallery of whom her recent lamented decease compels reference in the past tense, all the rest being living actors in the present. The death of Mrs. Heron familiarly known under her nom de plume of ‘Australie,’ (one of her Christian names) has left a gap in the literary circles of Sydney which will not easily be filled. This clever writer was the daughter of Sir William Manning, Chancellor of the Sydney University, and was a native of New South Wales. She owed much of her taste for literature to the late Dr. Wooley. During a two years’ sojourn in England this lady was thrown much into literature society, and contributed to ‘Golden Hours,’ and Miss C. E. Yonge’s ‘Monthly Packet.’ For upwards of twenty years Mrs. Heron was a contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald, part of that time being one of its leader writers. For the last thirteen years her productions, consisting of poems, tales, reviews, etc., have appeared in various journals, her reputation extending throughout the colonies. Her volume of poems entitled ‘The Balance of Pain’ was published in London as far back as 1877. As associate editress on the staff of this paper for a year before her death she was distinguished for critical and painstaking work. Her writings are noticeable for earnestness of purpose and deep religious feeling. Being pure in style and lofty in purpose, they will live and preserve the name of ‘Australie’ fresh in the memory of her compatriots and be an incentive to young Australians to emulate her in the dedication of their talents to high and noble aims.

Mrs. G. F. Cross, (‘A.C.’), whose stories have attracted wide attention, as they have appeared in the various leading colonial newspapers, is the wife of a Victorian clergyman. Her productions are marked by much literary talent and considerable independence of opinion. Mrs. Cross is an Australian writer in the sense that she has spent nearly all her adult life and done almost all of her work in this country, having arrived a young, newly-married woman twenty years ago, and she considers herself entirely identified with it. ‘I have every reason,’ said this lady on one occasion, pecuniarily and otherwise, to feel that it has treated me well.’

‘A.C.’s ‘ first Australian novel ‘Up the Murray,’ was published in serial form in 1875. Since that time, thirteen others have appeared in leading journals of Australia and New Zealand, besides short stories, poems, etc. Trübner and Co., and other London publishers, have brought out her novels in book form, and one shortly to appear will make the eighth of her works published in England. She will probably be best remembered in Sydney by her story entitled ‘A Little Minx,’ which came out in the Sydney Mail a few years ago. Her poem ‘Unspoken Thoughts’ is considered by competent critics to stand in the front ranks of modern poetry.

Among the women poets of the South, who have attained to repute, besides those already cursorily reviewed, as combining verse with prose writing, are Miss Jennings Carmichael, ‘Agnes Neale’ (Mrs. Alicane), ‘Austral’ (Mrs. J. G. . Wilson), Frances Sesca Lewin, ‘Lindsay Duncan’ (Mrs. T. C. Cloud), ‘Philip Dale’ (Mrs. C. Haviland), and Miss Alice Ham, whose name appears under very delightful little poems in the Centennial Magazine. But —

No real Poet ever wove in numbers
All his dream ; but the Diviner part
Hidden from all the world, spake to him only
In the voiceless silence of his heart.

Miss Jennings Carmichael ranks high among the verse writers of Australia. She wrote her first poem, ‘Tomboy Madge,’ published in the Melbourne Weekly Times, at the age of sixteen, though her prose writings date from two or three years earlier. Becoming a contributor to the Australasian in 1885, she has so continued as a writer, of both verse and prose, ever since. It was in the far wilds of the Croajingolong Bush, in North Gippsland, that Miss Carmichael received her first inspiration to write. She used to take long, lonely walks, with paper and pencil as her only companions, and there, in the silence and stillness of the forest, most of her early poems were composed. ‘A Wreath from Adam’s Garden’ was written with her paper placed against the bole of a great forest tree, and the scene described lying around her. Going to Melbourne, she took up the noble work of nursing the sick, which occupation she has combined with her literary efforts. For some time after taking up her abode in the city, Miss Carmichael found it very difficult to compose without the familiar sounds of the bush and the open-air stillness. Many of the figures in her poems are more real than ideal. ‘Little Jim’ was her own patient, as was also the child in ‘When I Grow a Man.’ ‘A Spray of Gippsland Wattle Bloom’ was given to the poet nurse by a lady of the ‘Flower Mission,’ while the former was in the Children’s Hospital. ‘A City Sparrow’ was an old friend who used to keep her company when she was engaged in nursing a case of diptheria, whilst the hero of ‘The Wooden Leg’ is the little boy-patient whom the author of the poem has at present in her charge. ‘In the Nursery,’ is a sketch of her own beloved step-brothers and sisters. Her article on Adam Lindsay Gordon, entitled, ‘The Grave of an Australian Poet,’ published in the Australasian, was written in the Brighton Cemetery before the monument of the man whose name it commemorates. It will be seen that Jennings Carmichael draws her inspirations from the true sources of all real poetry — nature and the deep, sad sea of human emotion. She, herself, disclaims much technical knowledge of poetical composition, and trusting wholly to her ear, refers to her passion for music, not a little, the manner in which her metres are written. In speaking of the literary friends from whom she has received encouragement and appreciation, Miss Carmichael says: ‘Of all those to whose interest and loving friendship I owe much, Mrs. Cross ( ‘A.C.’ ) is the nearest and dearest.’

The editor of ‘Australian Ballads,’ Mr. Douglas B. W. Sladen, in his introduction to the volume, states that :— Nearly all Antipodean poetesses are native-born, and that most of them exhibit the influence of Adelaide Proctor very strongly, and he considers that ‘Agnes Neale’ (Mrs. Alicane), who is a resident of Adelaide, may fairly be called the Australian Adelaide Proctor. Her representative poems in the ‘Ballads ‘ are ‘Australia,’ and ‘The Blue Lake at Mount Gambier,’ both of which evince a powerful imagination, and an ornate gift of word painting.

‘Austral,’ (Mrs. J. G. Wilson), (née Miss Adams), is a Victorian by birth, being the daughter of a western district squatter, When she married, the scene of her life changed to New Zealand, where her husband is a leading politician. She has written many beautiful poems during the past six or seven years, modelled somewhat after the style of Swinburne ; which is said to have exercised strong influence in forming what may be called the Victorian school. Messrs. Griffith, Farran, and Co., of London, have lately published a volume of lyrical poetry from Mrs. Wilson’s pen, entitled ‘Themes and Variations,’ whose inspiration has been largely drawn from the picturesque scenery of New Zealand. These are of such high merit as to place the writer not far from the rank of Antipodean poets, such as Kendall and Stephen.

It is impossible, in a limited article, to speak individually of all the Australian women who have distinguished themselves in the field of literature ; but before leaving the subject a word must be give to the large number (proportionately) of women journalists in this country. Nearly every newspaper of standing has one lady, or more, on its staff or among its contributors. Many of these also correspond with intercolonial, American, and English periodicals, and all are doing widely varied, and I may safely say arduous, journalistic work. The demands made upon them embrace not only social matters, which are supposed by some of the uninitiated to be the peculiar and limited sphere of woman’s efforts in newspaper writing ; but leader writing, critiques on art, music, and the drama, biographical sketches, and, indeed, a faculty for putting pen to any and every topic under the sun that may happen to crop up and absorb, for the moment, the attention or curiosity of the news reading public.

Enough has been said, I hope, to prove that the literary talent is being surely, and neither unworthily nor tardily, developed in Australian women.

Our portraits are from photographs as follows :— Miss Carmichael, by Massingham, Geelong ; and Mrs. Cross, by Johnstone, O’Shannessy and Co., Melbourne.

The Illustrated Sydney News (Sydney, NSW), Saturday 11 April 1891, pages 12-13

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