Turner, Ethel (1872–1958)

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Turner, Ethel (1872–1958)

Australian children's author and novelist. Born Ethel Burwell on January 24, 1872, in Doncaster, York-shire, England; died on April 8, 1958; daughter of G.W. Burwell; sister of Lilian Turner (1870–1956); attended Sydney Girls' High School; married Herbert Curlewis (a judge), in 1896; children: Jean.

Selected works:

Seven Little Australians (1894); The Family at Misrule (1895); The Story of a Baby (1895); The Little Duchess (1896); The Little Larrikin (1896); Miss Bobbie (1897); The Camp at Wandinong (1898); Three Little Maids (1900); Gum Leaves (1900); The Wonder-Child (1901); Little Mother Meg (1902); Betty & Co. (1903); Mother's Little Girl (1904); A White Roof-Tree (1905); In the Mist of the Mountains (1906); The Stolen Voyage (1907); Happy Hearts (1908); That Girl (1908); Ethel Turner Birthday Book (1909); Fugitives from Fortune (1909); Fair Ines (1910); The Raft in the Bush (1910); The Tiny House (1911); Fifteen and Fair (1911); The Apple of Happiness (1911); An Ogre Up-to-Date (1911); Ports and Happy Havens (1912); The Secret of the Sea (1913); Oh, Boys in Brown! (1914); Flower o' the Pine (1914); The Cub (1915); John of Daunt (1916); Captain Cub (1917); St. Tom and the Dragon (1918); (ed. with Bertram Stevens) Australian Soldiers' Gift Book (1918); Brigid and the Cub (1919); Laughing Water (1920); King Anne (1921); Jennifer J. (1922); Nicola Silver (1924); The Ungardeners (1925); Funny (1926); Judy and Punch (1928); (ed. with Jean Curlewis) The Sunshine Family: A Book of Nonsense for Girls and Boys (1923); excerpts from her diaries, compiled by her granddaughter, Philippa Poole , were published in 1979.

Ethel Turner was born in 1872 in Yorkshire, England, the second child of G.W. Burwell, who died two years later. Her mother then married Henry Turner, and Ethel and her sister Lilian Turner took his name. Like Burwell, he died young. In 1881, Turner's mother took the girls to Sydney, Australia, where she married her third husband Charles Cope, a clerk in the New South Wales public service.

Ethel Turner began writing at a young age, and during her teens she and her sister edited a magazine for schoolgirls, Iris, which was later renamed the Parthenon. Turner eventually became the editor of the children's column of the Illustrated Sydney News and began writing her own books. Following the tradition of domestic fiction, Turner wrote children's books similar to those of Louisa May Alcott and Charlotte Mary Yonge , but with characteristically Australian, middle-class settings and values. Her two best-known books, Seven Little Australians and The Family at Misrule, are concerned with the daily life of an army officer's family of seven children and their mischievous pranks, family relationships, and experiences in growing up.

In her books, which are more often set in the city than in the outback and which usually feature large families, the parents are frequently dead, absent, negligent or inadequate. Their inadequacy is compensated by the solidarity of the children and the family as a whole. The books particularly emphasize good taste, education, and manners. After World War I, however, Turner's perspective became more democratic, socialist, and patriotic; three novels written during this period—The Cub, Captain Cub, and Brigid and the Cub—emphasize the idea that people must sometimes make sacrifices for their country.

As suggested in The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, although "Ethel Turner's range is limited and she has a tendency to lapse into sentimentality of melodrama … she has created some perennially authentic children." Moreover, her work is durable because of its "humor, empathy with children and the representative picture of Australian middle-class life of the early 20th century."


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

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

Kelly Winters , freelance writer

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Turner, Ethel (1872–1958)

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