Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barton, Charlotte (1796–1867)

by Patricia Clarke

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Charlotte Barton (1796-1867), governess, feminist and author, was christened on 13 March 1796 at St Mary's, Marylebone, London, third daughter of Albert Waring, barrister, and his wife Elizabeth, née Turner. When Charlotte was less than 2 her mother died. Reputedly a child prodigy, from the age of 10 she attended a school in Kent where she was instructed in the 'general branches of polite female education' including music, drawing and French. She studied painting under John Glover. On leaving school, aged about 15, she was engaged as a governess but was allowed to continue her education. About 1815 she took a position in Lancashire where she was in charge of five children. Two years later she resigned because of ill health.

Charlotte sailed for Sydney in the Cumberland in 1826, employed to teach the children of Hannibal Macarthur at the high salary of £100 a year. On the voyage she became engaged to James Atkinson, who was returning to his property, Oldbury, at Sutton Forest. She took up her position with the Macarthurs but left to marry Atkinson at St Paul's Church of England, Cobbity, on 29 September 1827. Her first child, Charlotte, was born in 1828; (Jane) Emily in 1830; James in 1832; and (Caroline) Louisa in 1834. The death of her husband that year left his widow to manage a large holding, run far-flung outstations, control convict labour in a district beset by bushranging gangs and care for her children.

On 3 March 1836 at All Saints' chapel, Sutton Forest, Charlotte married George Bruce Barton, superintendent at Oldbury. Her remarriage changed her legal position from being custodian of Oldbury to merely the lessor's wife. The executors of Atkinson's will, John Coghill and Alexander Berry, leased the property to Barton, who proved to be violent, unpredictable, a drunkard and mentally disturbed. In 1839 Charlotte fled from him with her children down the precipitous Meryla Pass through the wild gorges of the Shoalhaven River to a coastal outstation at Budgong where she continued their education, particularly inculcating a love of nature. In 1840 the family moved to Sydney and Charlotte applied for legal protection from Barton. Her relations with the executors deteriorated, Berry referring to her as 'a notable she-dragon'. She became involved in long-running legal battles, Atkinson v. Barton and Others, in which she fought to retain custody of her children. At one stage the master in equity determined that they should be taken from her and educated in boarding schools but this decision was overturned.

At a time when she was receiving no money from the Atkinson estate, Charlotte published A Mother's Offering to Her Children (1841). The first children's book to be published in Australia, it was a collection of instructional stories arranged in the form of a dialogue between a mother and her four children. The anonymous author was 'A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales', but a contemporary review in the Sydney Gazette, where the book was printed, identified her.

Despite the disruption of continuing legal cases, Charlotte maintained a close-knit family life in an atmosphere of learning and scholarship. In 1846 the family returned to Oldbury. There, and later in Sydney and at Kurrajong, she particularly fostered the talents of her youngest daughter Louisa. Survived by a son and two daughters, Charlotte died at Oldbury on 10 October 1867 and was buried in the family vault at All Saints' graveyard, where her first husband was interred. She was a small woman, 5 ft 1½ ins (156 cm) tall, of 'particularly handsome and brilliant' appearance with 'full large black eyes, black hair which curled naturally and fine features', well educated, with artistic talent and a great interest in natural history. Fiercely independent, though an abused wife and sole parent she succeeded in challenging the male-dominated legal system.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Clarke, Pioneer Writer (Syd, 1990) and for bibliography.

Citation details

Patricia Clarke, 'Barton, Charlotte (1796–1867)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barton-charlotte-12787/text23073, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 June 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Waring, Charlotte
  • Atkinson, Charlotte
  • Lady Long Resident in New South Wales
Birth

1796
England

Death

10 October 1867
Sutton Forest, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation