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Meredith, Louisa Ann (1812–1895)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

This is a shared entry with Charles Meredith

Louisa Ann Meredith (1812-1895), by unknown photographer

Louisa Ann Meredith (1812-1895), by unknown photographer

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125883173

Charles Meredith (1811-1880), politician, and Louisa Ann Meredith (1812-1895), author, were born in Britain, Charles on 29 May 1811 in Pembrokeshire, son of George Meredith, and his cousin Louisa on 20 July 1812 at Birmingham, daughter of Thomas Twamley and his wife Louisa Ann, née Meredith.

Charles sailed with his father and other children for Van Diemen's Land and arrived in March 1821. Denied a land grant by Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, Charles moved to New South Wales in 1834 and bought sheep which he placed upon terms with pastoralists in the Murrumbidgee area. He also took up shares with W. A. Brodribb in a cattle run in the Maneroo district and in 1838 went to England. On 18 April 1839 he married Louisa at Old Edgbaston Church, Birmingham. They sailed for Sydney in the Letitia and arrived in September. While Charles inspected sheep stations on the Murrumbidgee Louisa stayed at Bathurst. After a few weeks in Sydney they moved to Homebush.

In 1840 Charles, Louisa and a young son went to Oyster Bay, Tasmania, where his father owned Cambria. They bought an adjoining estate, Springvale, and in August 1842 moved to their newly-built house. Meanwhile news reached them of insolvencies in Sydney which involved the loss of 'all we owned in that colony'. Unable to pay the interest on their mortgages, Charles was appointed police magistrate at Port Sorell in 1844 through the patronage of Lieutenant-Governor Eardley-Wilmot. In 1848 Meredith resigned and with his wife and three young sons returned to Cambria where he rented part of his father's property. In 1858 he moved to Malunnah in Orford and from July 1879 acted as police magistrate at Launceston.

In the first House of Assembly Meredith won the Glamorgan seat and held it until June 1861 although he obtained leave from September 1860 because of ill health. He represented Hobart Town in 1861-62, Glamorgan in 1862-66, Kingborough in 1866-71, West Devon in 1871-76, Norfolk Plains in 1876-77 and West Devon again in 1877-79. He was colonial treasurer from February to April 1857 in Gregson's ministry and under Whyte from January 1863 to November 1866; from November 1872 to August 1873 he was minister of lands and works under Innes, and under Reibey was colonial treasurer from 20 July 1876 to 9 August 1877, and minister for lands and works from 21 July to 21 August 1876. He was chairman of committees in 1875-76. In June 1879 he resigned because of heart disease. An advocate of free trade, he was also active in preserving native flora and fauna and introduced a bill to protect the black swan from extinction. He died at Launceston on 2 March 1880. A mountain range in north-west Tasmania and a public fountain in the Hobart Domain commemorate him.

Louisa was educated mainly by her mother. She grew up in Birmingham and in the agitation leading to the 1832 Reform Act she learnt 'to think independently and express herself fearlessly on religious and social issues'; later she published several newspaper articles in support of the Chartists. Her first book in 1835 was a collection of poems, with illustrations designed and etched by herself. Undaunted by the pioneering of her first years of marriage, she continued to write and sketch, turning to the observation of colonial life and the study of bush flora and fauna. She published in London Notes and Sketches of New South Wales (1844); her frank comments provoked angry reviews in Sydney but the book was widely read as one of Murray's Colonial and Home Library series. In February 1850 she completed a companion account in two volumes, again in diary form: My Home in Tasmania, during a residence of nine years. Over the Straits: A Visit to Victoria followed in 1861. She also wrote some fiction. Phoebe's Mother, 2 volumes (1869) was first serialized as 'Ebba' in the Australasian in 1866-67, and Tasmanian Friends and Foes, Feathered, Furred and Finned: A Family Chronicle of Country Life (1880) included coloured plates from her own drawings. Nellie, or Seeking Goodly Pearls appeared in 1882. She produced seven books of poems between 1842 and 1891 and for her Bush Friends in Tasmania: Last Series, went to London to see it through the press. Her wildflower drawings won medals in exhibitions in Australia and overseas, notably in the Melbourne Exhibition of 1866. The Tasmanian government granted her a pension of £100 in 1884 for 'distinguished literary and artistic services' to the colony.

In her last years Louisa was lamed by chronic sciatica and became blind in one eye. She also lost much of her small income in the bank failures of the early 1890s and in June 1893 wrote bitterly to Sir Henry Parkes: 'I have made a mess of my life in many ways—my retrospects are mainly regrets'. But by the public she was remembered for her great vivacity and cheerfulness. She had been a devoted housekeeper and for years sewed all her family's clothes. As well as writing, she studied plants, insects, seaweeds and fish of Tasmania's east coast and was an active member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and an honorary member of the Tasmanian Royal Society. An 'omnivorous reader', she was an excellent conversationalist; J. Jefferson, who saw her in theatricals at Government House, Hobart, remarked that she was capable of 'rivalling Fanny Kemble on the stage and as an interpreter of Shakespeare on the platform'. In her books she was most successful as a 'shrewd and cultivated' observer of colonial life. Her descriptions, particularly those of domestic conditions and of the natural environment, were praised by many contemporaries as among the most reliable and practical, and remain a valuable source for social historians. 'A poet in feeling, an artist by instinct, a naturalist by force of circumstances, a keen botanist, and an ardent lover of landscape scenery', Louisa died at Collingwood, Victoria, on 21 October 1895, survived by two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Swann, ‘Mrs Meredith and Miss Atkinson, Writers and Naturalists’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 15 (1929)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Mar 1845, 13 May 1856
  • Examiner (Launceston), 4 Mar 1880, 22 Oct 1895
  • Bulletin, 13 Mar 1880
  • Town and Country Journal, 3 Apr 1880
  • Once a Month, Mar, Apr 1886
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 4 June 1892
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 Oct 1895
  • Australasian, 26 Oct 1895
  • Times (London), 4 Dec 1895
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Meredith, Louisa Ann (1812–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/meredith-louisa-ann-4435/text6731, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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