Barker, Mary Anne (1831–1911)

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Barker, Mary Anne (1831–1911)

British Commonwealth writer, known primarily for early histories of colonial New Zealand. Name variations: Lady Mary Anne Barker; Lady Broome. Born Mary Anne Stewart in 1831 in Spanish Town, Jamaica; died on March 6, 1911, in London, England; daughter of W.G. Stewart (a Jamaican Island secretary); educated in England; married Captain George Barker, around 1852 (died 1861); married Frederick Napier Broome, on June 21, 1865 (died 1896); children: (first marriage) John Stewart (b. 1853) and Walter George (b. 1857); (second marriage) Hopton Napier (1866–1866), Guy Saville (b. 1870), and Louis Egerton (b. 1875).

Selected works:

Station Life in New Zealand (1870); Travelling About Over Old and New Ground (1871); A Christmas Cake in Four Quarters (1872); Station Amusements in New Zealand (1873); First Lessons in the Principles of Cookery (1874); A Year's Housekeeping in South Africa (1877); Letters to Guy (1885); Colonial Memories (1904).

Lady Mary Anne Barker was born in 1831 in Spanish Town, Jamaica, the daughter of W.G. Stewart who held a British colonial government post there. At age two, she was put on board a ship and sent to England, where she was schooled for the next 20 years. Around 1852, she married British Royal Artillery officer George Barker. With her two sons, Barker remained in England while her husband was posted first in the Crimea, then in India, where he and his company withstood the Indian mutiny of 1857. For his efforts, George was knighted in 1859. The following year, Lady Barker accompanied him on his next deployment to Bengal. When Sir George died of illness in 1861, she returned to England and lived with her family and sons for the next several years.

In 1865, 34-year-old Lady Barker married a 23-year-old New Zealand sheep farmer, Frederick Napier Broome, at Prees, Shropshire, England, retaining her title and first husband's name. Within months, Broome convinced his new wife to return with him to New Zealand, arguing that the largely rough-settled island would present an adventure for them. While Barker's two young sons remained in school in England, the couple set sail, arriving in New Zealand that October.

In February of 1866, Broome and Lady Barker teamed up with another man to purchase a Canterbury sheep run. The next month, the couple welcomed their first (Lady Barker's third) son, Hopton Napier, but the boy lived less than two months. In the beginning, his death was one of few adversities Lady Barker experienced. She enjoyed the rough country and, with Broome, adopted a stimulating routine. Not much of a businessman, Broome left most matters to his partner; instead, as a poet, he spent mornings writing and afternoons hunting and trekking the land. He encouraged his wife along a similar path, and Lady Barker began writing detailed letters home, after which she enjoyed outdoor exercise and the activities of farm life.

They lived this way for almost two years, before a snowstorm in late 1867 killed 4,000 of the station's 7,000 sheep. The economic loss was devastating, and the couple quickly sold out their portion of the sheep run to their partner. When Lady Barker and Broome returned to England early in 1868, they were reunited with her sons, and both took up journalism to support the family.

In 1870, the letters Lady Barker had penned to her family were collected and published as Station Life in New Zealand. For the next decade, she authored 15 books on colonial life, children's stories, and homemaking and cooking. The 1874 publication of First Lessons in the Principles of Cookery earned her an appointment as superintendent for the National Training School for Cookery in London. She and Broome became parents of two more sons.

Beginning in 1875, Broome became involved in colonial governance. Once more, Lady Barker accompanied her husband to his assignments in the British colonies and captured the essence of their experiences in her books. They traveled to Natal in South Africa, and Mauritius, an independent island in the Indian Ocean. In 1882, Broome was named governor of Western Australia where they lived for eight years. For his service to the government, Broome was knighted in 1884, after which Lady Barker changed her name to Lady Broome. In 1891, they were assigned to Trinidad and lived there for five years. It was to be the last outpost. In 1896, on the death of her husband, Barker returned to England and petitioned the Australian government for a pension. It was granted, and the sum kept her comfortably for her remaining 15 years in Eaton Terrace, London. Her book Colonial Memories, published in 1904, summed up her traveling experiences.

Though she documented colonial life in a number of British-held territories, Barker's New Zealand experiences have earned her the most lasting reputation. She is considered a literary legend and trailblazer in that country, where her books continue to be reprinted and admired.


Blain, Virginia, Pat Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Volume I. Wellington, NZ: Allen and Unwin, 1990.

McLauchlan, Gordon, ed. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Auckland: David Bateman: 1986.

Sinclair, Keith, ed. Oxford Illustrated History of New Zealand. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Crista Martin , freelance writer, Boston, Massachusetts

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Barker, Mary Anne (1831–1911)

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