Brassey, Anna (1839–1887)

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Brassey, Anna (1839–1887)

British travel writer who wrote bestselling travel diaries of family sea voyages around the world. Name variations: Lady Anna or Annie Brassey, Annie B., Baroness Brassey. Born Anna Allnutt in London on October 7, 1839; died at sea in the South Pacific on September 14, 1887; daughter of Elizabeth (Burnett) and John Allnutt; educated at home; married Baron (later Lord) Thomas Brassey (a politician), on October 9, 1860; children: Thomas Allnutt, Mabelle Annie, Muriel Agnes, and Marie Adelaide.

Selected works:

The Flight of the Meteor (1869); A Cruise on the Eöthen (1872); A Voyage in the "Sunbeam" Our Home on the Ocean for Eleven Months (1878).

Only an infant when her mother died, Anna Allnutt moved with her father to her grandfather's home in Clapsham, England. There, she had extensive grounds to play on and a private library from which she read voraciously, teaching herself botany and several languages. Annie, as she was known, later returned with her father to London, where a tutor rounded out her education. Two days after she turned 21, Annie married Baron Thomas Brassey, a railway contractor's son who was at the time financially independent but aimless. Annie guided him toward politics, and he entered Parliament in 1861. Living in Hastings, by age 31 Annie Brassey had given birth to three children and published a novel.

Lord and Lady Brassey (titles they inherited) began their sea journeys in 1872, when Parliament called on Thomas to research the culture, economy, and labor of other nations. The sailing yacht Eöthen, fully crewed, was commissioned to sail the Brasseys to North America. What began as Annie's journal-like letters to her father became A Cruise in the Eöthen, which was published in 1872 for circulation among family friends. Its great popularity gave rise to travel novels for public readership based on Brassey's circumnavigation of the globe. A Voyage in the "Sunbeam" Our Home on the Ocean for Eleven Months (1878) had 19 editions in ten years, including translations in five languages. In all, the family took at least eight sailing trips which lasted a minimum of four (but more commonly six to eight) months. These were not, however, pleasure cruises; Thomas demanded a rigorous sailing schedule and considered his duty before convenience, often to his wife's disappointment and frustration.

Brassey's books contain little about herself, including near silence on her almost constant seasickness and debilitating bouts of neuralgia. Not much is known of her personally, aboard ship or ashore, and details of her life and death were closely guarded. In August 1887, Anna Brassey grew abruptly ill on a voyage to Australia. Her last diary entry before her death at sea on September 14 was made on August 29, 1887. The ship's log only records that she was buried at latitude 15° 50' S, longitude 110° 35' E, 100 miles from Makassar in the South Pacific. Her family finished out their voyage, which took another three months.


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

Brothers, Barbara, and Julia Gergits, eds. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 166. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1996.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts