Traill, Catherine Parr (1802–1899)
Traill, Catherine Parr (1802–1899)
English-born Canadian author, botanist, and pioneer. Name variations: Catherine Strickland. Born Catherine Parr Strickland on January 9, 1802, in London, England; died on August 29, 1899, in Lakefield, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Thomas Strickland of Suffolk, England (a landowner and shipper) and Elizabeth (Homer) Strickland; sister of Susanna Moodie (1803–1885), Agnes Strickland (1796–1874), Elizabeth Strickland (1794–1875), Jane Margaret Strickland (1800–1888), and Samuel Stickland, all writers; educated privately at home; married Thomas Traill (a military officer), in 1832 (died 1859).
Authored her first book at age 16 in England; wrote over a dozen children's books and works on natural history before age 30 and contributed to various periodicals; emigrated to Upper Canada shortly after marriage; became recognized for authoritative works on Canadian natural history and the life of settlers in the wilderness.
(as Catherine Strickland) The Tell Tale: An Original Collection of Moral and Amusing Stories (1818), The Young Emigrants: or, Pictures of Life in Canada (1826); (as Catherine Parr Traill) The Backwoods of Canada: Being Letters from the Wife of an Emigrant Officer; Illustrative of the Domestic Economy of British America (1836), The Canadian Crusoes (1852, reprinted as Lost in the Backwoods ), The Female Emigrant's Guide, and Hints on Canadian Housekeeping (1854, reprinted as The Canadian Settler's Guide ), Rambles in the Canadian Forest (1859), Canadian Wild Flowers (1868), Studies of Plant Life in Canada (1885), Pearls and Pebbles; or, Notes of an Old Naturalist (1895).
Catherine Parr Traill was born in London, England, on January 9, 1802, the daughter of Thomas Strickland, a landowner and shipper, and Elizabeth Homer Strickland . Shortly after her birth, Thomas retired, and the family moved from the city to the relative isolation of the Waveney Valley of Suffolk County, England. Catherine had several sisters, and all were educated privately. Although their schooling was informal, it included not only sewing and embroidery but the classics, history, and literature. The girls and their brother also explored nature in the Waveney Valley, and Catherine became an expert in botany and natural history without formal training. The quiet rural life also encouraged the children to write; a number of her siblings were to become published authors, and she herself published The Tell Tale: An Original Collection of Moral and Amusing Stories in 1818 at age 16. Sisters Elizabeth and Agnes Strickland would go on to write several popular biographies, including Lives of the Queens of England, Susanna Moodie achieved fame with Roughing it in the Bush in 1852, Samuel Strickland, like Catherine, wrote about natural history, and Jane Margaret Strickland was also a writer.
Traill wrote over a dozen natural history books and works for children before she married at age 30. She is also believed to have published articles in women's magazines and other periodicals, although the extent of her contributions is not known. Susanna's husband Dunbar Moodie introduced Catherine to Lieutenant Thomas Traill, and the two married in 1832. Shortly thereafter, they emigrated to Upper Canada to assume Thomas Traill's military land grant. They were to live in various places, primarily in Ontario, which was then a wilderness. (Curiously, Catherine's early writings had included The Young Emigrants: or, Pictures of Life in Canada, which was published in 1826.)
Despite the work she published in England before her migration, Traill is known as a Canadian author because of the books she wrote about the botany and natural history of her new homeland and the hardships of immigration and life in the wilderness. After living for three years in the bush, Traill published what was to become her best-known book, The Backwoods of Canada: Being Letters from the Wife of an Emigrant Officer; Illustrative of the Domestic Economy of British America (1836). She also wrote a number of children's stories and published sketches that were widely circulated. In 1854, Traill published The Female Emigrant's Guide, and Hints on Canadian Housekeeping, which was later retitled The Canadian Settler's Guide and printed in several editions. Traill seems to have epitomized the best of emigrants to the New World, and particularly to the wilds of Canada; her writings suggest that she rose to every challenge, faced all manner of hardships with pragmatism, and delighted in the differences Canada offered. Margaret Laurence , an important Canadian writer in the 20th century, drew upon Traill's life in her 1974 novel The Diviners.
Traill also published many nature studies and works about botany later in her life and received public acclaim for these as well. Her best-known naturalist works are Canadian Wild Flowers (1868), Studies of Plant Life in Canada (1885), and Pearls and Pebbles; or, Notes of an Old Naturalist (1895), published when she was in her 90s. After her husband's death in 1859, Traill built a house in Lakefield, Ontario, where she spent her remaining years. She died in 1899, at age 97.
Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.
Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft. British Authors of the 19th Century. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1936.
Gillian S. Holmes , freelance writer, Hayward, California