Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Atkinson, Caroline Louisa (1834–1872)

by A. H. Chisholm

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Louisa Atkinson, by Charlotte Elizabeth Atkinson, 1842-46

Louisa Atkinson, by Charlotte Elizabeth Atkinson, 1842-46

State Library of New South Wales, P2/371

Caroline Louisa Waring Atkinson (1834-1872), naturalist and writer, was born on 25 February 1834 at Oldbury near Berrima, New South Wales, daughter of James Atkinson and his wife Charlotte, née Waring. She was educated privately, for the most part by her mother, a former teacher with much artistic talent and a warm feeling for natural history. Apparently her freedom from formal schooling, together with her mother's influence and the charm of her environment, caused the girl, who as a child was frail, to acquire at an early age some knowledge of geology and a keen interest in both botany and zoology. This interest strengthened in young womanhood when she and her widowed mother, who had married George Bruce Barton, moved to Fernhurst at Kurrajong Heights west of Sydney.

In the richly forested area of her new home, supplemented by excursions elsewhere, Caroline studied plants diligently, wrote popular articles on the subject, made many admirable drawings and sent numerous specimens to eminent botanists, including William Woolls and Ferdinand Mueller, a valuable service that caused her name to be applied to a number of new species. There, too, her rudimentary knowledge of birds and insects extended and with it came ability in taxidermy. It would also appear that she was something of a pioneer in dress reform; the long skirts of the period were simply a nuisance in scrubby areas and so this woman naturalist used, both when rambling and pony-riding, attire which is said to have aroused 'some twitterings in the ranks of the colonial Mrs. Grundy'.

Her Gertrude the Emigrant was published in Sydney in 1857 and two years later her Cowanda, the Veteran's Grant; authorship of the first was ascribed to 'an Australian Lady' and of the second to 'the Author of Gertrude'. In both books the writing, in simple moral tone, is distinguished for descriptive passages. This point applies also to a number of her other fictional works which appeared as serials in the Sydney Morning Herald and Sydney Mail between 1861 and 1872. There is, as well, compassion in the stories, a feeling which was expressed in practical fashion by Miss Atkinson in her charitable and church work at Kurrajong. The most notable of her writings, however, are those dealing with natural history, which were contributed to various journals in Sydney, and which, together with her drawings, were acclaimed by Dr Woolls.

Late in the 1860s she and her mother returned to Oldbury, and on 11 March 1869 she married James Calvert, who also was keenly interested in botany. She died on 28 April 1872, soon after giving birth to a daughter. Her name is commemorated in the Loranthaceous genus Atkinsonia, also Erechtites atkinsoniae and Epacris calvertiana. Additionally a horticulturally distinct fern ranking as a form of Doodia caudata was named in her honour D. atkinsonii.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Maiden, ‘Records of Australian Botanists’, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol 42, 1908, pp 60-132
  • M. Swann, ‘Mrs. Meredith and Miss Atkinson, Writers and Naturalists’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 15, part 1, 1929, pp 1-29
  • M. Salmon, ‘Australian Pioneers. Literary Woman’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Mar 1911.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

A. H. Chisholm, 'Atkinson, Caroline Louisa (1834–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/atkinson-caroline-louisa-2910/text4183, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Louisa Atkinson, by Charlotte Elizabeth Atkinson, 1842-46

Louisa Atkinson, by Charlotte Elizabeth Atkinson, 1842-46

State Library of New South Wales, P2/371

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Calvert, Caroline
  • Australian Lady
  • Author of Gertrude
Birth

25 February 1834
Berrima, New South Wales, Australia

Death

28 April 1872

Occupation