Some Australian women. Part II. — ‘Tasma.’ [25 April 1891]

[Editor: This is part 2 of “Some Australian women”, a series of articles on the achievements of women in Australia. Published in The Illustrated Sydney News, 25 April 1891.]

Some Australian women.

Part II. — ‘Tasma.’

In his ‘Problems of Greater Britain,’ Sir Charles Dilke tells us that ‘Tasmania has had her novelist in Mme. Couvreur, who, though of Flemish descent and now married to a distinguished man in Belgium, has not forgotten her island home, and still writes pretty Tasmanian stories under the name of “Tasma.”’ In another passage he declares that ‘Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill’ is one of the greatest efforts in the whole field of literature. It is in the Chaussée de Vleurgat that Mme. Couvreur lives and works, and few homes in Brussels are brighter or more attractive than the ideal Flemish dwelling, designed by Charles Albert, in which ‘Tasma’ conjures up those vivid pictures of her adopted country across the sea which we enjoy so keenly, in ‘Uncle Piper,’ ‘A Sydney Sovereign,’ and ‘In her Earliest Youth.’ Mme. Couvreur is not only a philosopher, a politician, and a humourist, but she uses her pen as a painter does his brush, and enables her readers to know for themselves the people amongst whom she spent her girlhood. She has probed the innermost feelings of the human heart deeper than most of her rivals, but for all that there is a glow of womanly kindness and warmth of heart in all she writes. ‘Uncle Piper’ made her famous in a week, and everything she has published since has amply justified both the praises of her first critic, and the verdict of the public.

The career of M. Auguste Couvreur as a politician and journalist is sufficiently well known. For a quarter of a century his leading articles formed one of the salient features of the Indépendance ; the Secretaryship of the Freetrade Association gained for him the friendship of John Bright and Richard Cobden, and he is now the senior foreign member of the Cobden Club. For twenty years he sat as one of the Brussels Liberal Representatives, during four of which he was vice-President of the Chamber. The long, narrow room in which M. Couvreur and his wife generally write completely traverses their house, from the highroad in front, to the grass-plot behind. Panels of rare mediaeval glass occupy the centre of the windows, darkened at once by the leaded panes and the broad leaves of the ‘aristoloche,’ or birth-wort, outside. In his retirement M. Couvreur is working hard at various economical questions, and the contents of the black bookcase lining half the northern wall of the room relate mainly to his self-imposed task. On the opposite side of a large writing-table sits a beautiful woman, still ‘in her earliest youth,’ with dark hair and eyes, a clear Spanish complexion, and a singularly intelligent forehead. This is ‘Tasma,’ the Australian novelist par excellence, who, like Charles Lever and Charlotte Bronte before her, has found a congenial resting-place in Brussels.

The Huybers of Antwerp have been mariners and merchants for generations. Alfred Huybers settled in England, married an English wife, and was living in an old house at Highgate when his daughter, Jessie Catherine, was born. Two years later the Huyber family emigrated to Hobart Town, and ‘Tasma’ retains a dim recollection of the great sailing ship and the last of the convicts. Her mother proved an admirable teacher. Their picturesque home at Highfield, on the shores of a Colonial ‘Bay of Naples,’ and in sight of Mounts Lofty and Wellington, was alone enough to implant a strong love of nature in the enthusiastic heart of the cleverest of children. ‘Tasma’s’ experiences began amongst the gum-trees, the wattles and the ‘yellow bloom’ ; they ended with the squatters and the boundless ‘bush.’ It was from these sources that she drew later on the pen-pictures in ‘Uncle Piper.’

In 1878 she began writing stories for the Australasian, and in the following year came to Europe to lecture on Australia for the French Geographical Society. Her tour proved a triumphant success. She visited all the chief towns of France, Belgium, and Italy; met her future husband at Venice ; and went back to Tasmania with the violet ribbon and silver laurel leaves of a French Officier d’Académie. Since 1880 the most faithful correspondent of the Australasian has been known to the world of letters as ‘Tasma.’ The Health Exhibition of 1885 brought M. Couvreur to London as President of the Belgian jury, and there he once more saw ‘Tasma’ busy with lengthy articles for the enlightenment of her friends in Greater Britain. They were married, and M. Couvreur renounced practical politics for social problems. A well-known London publisher at once saw the peculiar merit of ‘Uncle Piper,’ and the favourite Christmas book of 1888 went through three editions before January, 1890 ; and the success of ‘Tasma’s’ two last works has been equally marked.

The Illustrated Sydney News (Sydney, NSW), Saturday 25 April 1891, page 8

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