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Grimshaw, Beatrice Ethel (1870–1953)

by Hugh Laracy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Beatrice Ethel Grimshaw (1870-1953), writer, was born on 3 February 1870 at Cloona, Antrim, Ireland, daughter of Nicholas William Grimshaw, merchant, and his wife Eleanor Thomson, née Newsam. Her early life was comfortable and her education desultory. Tutored privately, she went to school at Caen in France, and later attended Bedford College, University of London (1887), and Queen's College, Belfast (1890-91). She did not take a degree and never married but saw herself as a liberated 'New Woman'.

A Dublin journalist from 1891, she displayed her independence in 1894 by leaving the Church of Ireland to become a Catholic. In 1897 she published her first novel, Broken Away, a romance about an assertive young woman rather like herself. She was interested in competitive cycling and showed her tendency to romanticize herself claiming a world record for a 24-hour ride; experts doubt the claim.

Grimshaw worked for various shipping companies in the Canary Islands, the United States of America and England, then in 1902 became publicity manager in the Liverpool head office of the Cunard Line. Resigning in 1903 to report on the Pacific for the Daily Graphic, she accepted government and company commissions in 1904 and 1905 to write tourist publicity for the Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Niue and New Zealand, and on the prospects for settlers in Fiji. She completed three books in Europe before returning to the Pacific. Commissioned by The Times, London, and the Sydney Morning Herald, she sailed late in 1907 to report on Papua, intending to stay only two or three months; in fact she lived in Port Moresby for most of the next twenty-seven years. A close friend of the acting administrator, (Sir) Hubert Murray, she became his unofficial publicist and in 1908 urged Prime Minister Alfred Deakin to make his temporary position permanent. Commissioned by Deakin to advertise Papua's need for white settlers and capital, pamphlets published in 1909 were followed in 1910 by a book, The new New Guinea.

Thereafter, Grimshaw concentrated on fiction. Her forty-two books included a part-autobiography, Isles of Adventure, and thirty-eight volumes of novels and stories. Most were escapist, outdoor romances with a Pacific setting. Conn of the Coral Seas (1922) was filmed by Hollywood as Adorable Outcast. Written to supply the popular market, her works have little literary merit but The Times obituarist justly acknowledged her 'high competence'. Her prose is often lively and the variations on her standard plot-formula are occasionally ingenious. In her New Guinea stories particularly, the backgrounds reflect her considerable knowledge of the country and its European inhabitants. Her fiction therefore constitutes a useful source of information on the attitudes, values and fantasies of settlers, especially their profound sense of racial superiority.

Grimshaw managed a plantation near Samarai in 1917-22. She accompanied exploring parties up the Sepik and Fly rivers in 1923 and 1926, and in 1933 she took up tobacco-growing near Port Moresby with her brother Ramsay. Then in 1934 she left Papua with Ramsay and another brother, Osborne, who was retiring from government service. She again visited Fiji, Samoa and Tonga before retiring in 1936 to Kelso, near Bathurst, New South Wales. She died on 30 June 1953 and was buried in Bathurst cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Journal of Pacific History, 12 (1977), and for bibliog
  • New Literature Review, (1977)
  • Adorable Outcast (National Film and Sound Archive)
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Hugh Laracy, 'Grimshaw, Beatrice Ethel (1870–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/grimshaw-beatrice-ethel-6494/text11135, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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