Meredith, Louisa Anne (1812–1895)

views updated

Meredith, Louisa Anne (1812–1895)

Australian botanist and poet. Name variations: Louisa Anne Twamley; Louisa Meredith; Mrs. Charles Meredith. Born Louisa Anne Twamley on July 20, 1812, in Birmingham, England; died on October 21, 1895, in Victoria, Tasmania, Australia; daughter of Thomas Twamley (a farmer and miller) and Louisa Anne (Meredith) Twamley; educated at home; married Charles Meredith (later a member of the Tasmanian Parliament), on April 18, 1839; children: George (b. 1840); Charles (b. 1844); Owen (b. 1847); one son who died young.

Published first book (1835); moved to New South Wales (1840); wrote first children's book (1860); co-founded Tasmanian branch of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1878); granted government pension (1884).

Selected writings:

Notes and Sketches of New South Wales (1844); My Home in Tasmania (1852); Over the Straits: A Visit to Victoria (1861); Some of My Bush Friends in Tasmania (1860); Phoebe's Mother (1869); Our Island Home (1879); Tasmanian Friends and Foes, Feathered, Furred, and Finned: A Family Chronicle of Country Life (1880); Waratah Rhymes for Young Australia (1891).

Louisa Anne Meredith was the first Australian woman to achieve literary renown in international circles. Her accounts of the often arduous and sometimes alien conditions of life for English immigrants to the new land of Australia were popular with readers both at home and in Europe. Meredith also possessed a progressive mind, championing conservation causes and animal rights in her day and helping raise awareness for those issues through her writing as well as her husband's political prominence. Meredith's father was already 55 years old when she was born in Birmingham, England, in 1812, and as an adult she would become financially responsible for her elderly mother for many years. She began writing and drawing at a young age, and when her father died in 1834 she displayed such selfpossession that she was approved in her bid to take over his job as Birmingham's corn inspector. Her first book, Poems, was published in 1835. Over the next few years, she continued to write and draw under her given name of Louisa Anne Twamley, exhibiting her work in Birmingham and gaining a reputation as a forthright voice on literary matters with her articles and reviews.

New South Wales in Australia had been founded by the British as a penal colony in 1788, and opened to immigration by free settlers in 1820. Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), an island off the coast of Australia, had been settled in 1803 and established as a separate colony in 1825. Meredith had cousins in Van Diemen's Land, and when one of them came to England to settle business matters, they fell in love. She married Charles Meredith in April 1839, and immediately sailed with him to the Antipodes for a planned five-year stay that became permanent. The sea journey alone took four months, and Meredith wrote of it in Notes and Sketches of New South Wales, published in 1844. She would write numerous other accounts of life in Australia, which was often hazardous and a far cry from the England she had known. Dangerous wild animals, tropical illnesses, and odd plants and insects were just some of the risks she wrote of, but Meredith saw the humor and beauty in her new world and took obvious delight in it. In 1840, she gave birth to the first of four sons, one of whom would die young, and continued her literary career unabated.

Meredith was the compiler and illustrator of several books about the plant and animal life in Australia. Although not formally educated, she was skilled enough in scientific observation that her plates became respected in the academic world for their accuracy of detail; she also corresponded with leading botanists in Europe and Australia regarding her findings. Publications such as Some of My Bush Friends in Tasmania (1860) and Our Island Home (1879) are two examples highlighting her artistic talents. She also wrote and illustrated books of poetry for children and adults as well as two novels, but these latter were not as well received as her travelogues and entertaining first-person accounts of life in Australia.

Meredith and her husband struggled financially for much of their married life. In 1860 he won election to the Parliament in Tasmania, and held his seat for the next 19 years. By then Meredith had become an important figure in the animal welfare movement in Australia, and was a co-founder of the Tasmanian branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1878. Her husband's position furthered these interests—for instance, he introduced a bill to protect the black swan, the feathers of which were cruelly harvested, as his wife had written of in My Home in Tasmania (1852). He died in 1880, and four years later the government granted Meredith a modest pension for her contributions to art and science. Still impoverished, she died in 1895. A biography of Meredith by Vivienne Rae Ellis , Louisa Anne Meredith: A Tigress in Exile, was published in 1979.


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

Radi, Heather, ed. 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology. NSW, Australia: Women's Redress Press, 1988.

Shillinglaw, Ann. "Louisa Anne Meredith," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 166: British Travel Writers, 1837–1875. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1996, pp. 259–264.

Wilde, William H., Joy Hooton, and Barry Andrews. The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan