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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Perry, Frances (Fanny) (1814–1892)

by Peter Sherlock

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

Frances (Fanny) Perry (1814-1892), community worker, was born on 16 June 1814 and baptized on 21 July at the Fish Street Independent Chapel, Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, England, youngest of ten children of Samuel Cooper, merchant, and his wife Dorothy, née Priestley. Through her brother John at the University of Cambridge, Fanny met Charles Perry, curate at Newtown, a Cambridge parish. Fanny married Charles on 14 October 1841 at Kirk Ella parish church, Yorkshire. They were to have no children. Perry accepted the new bishopric of Melbourne in 1847.

The couple left England in October in the Stag, the voyage a rehearsal for life in a colonial diocese: the bishop led services and taught his clergy Greek, while Mrs Perry took Scripture classes for the women and practised her benevolence on the steerage passengers. Immediately upon arrival at Port Phillip on 23 January 1848, the Perrys began their task, to advance the Church of England in Victoria in both public and private spheres. Mrs Perry made mixed impressions on the local establishment. Mary, wife of (Sir) William Stawell, recalled her as 'a lively good little woman, nothing very particular as a companion, and has a good deal of English wit or kitten liveliness'.

In addition to genteel expectations, Mrs Perry coped with physically exhausting work as her husband's personal assistant, copying out sermons and accompanying him on long journeys to visit his clergy. She disliked some duties, especially tea meetings: 'I cannot help considering them useful things, but I get dreadfully tired, and shirk them whenever I can'. Nevertheless, her colourful letters, published under the pseudonym 'Richard Perry' as Contributions to an Amateur Magazine in Prose and Verse (London, 1857), revealed a detailed interest in the people and landscapes she encountered. She had little time for Aboriginal people, making only brief comments about native police or the 'very troublesome' inhabitants of Gippsland. Nor were they a focus of her charity. She took leading roles in the Governesses' Home, the Carlton Refuge, and the Melbourne Orphan Asylum. Her chief work, however, was as head of the committee that founded the Melbourne Lying-in (Royal Women's) Hospital; she was first president from 1856 to 1874. Here she espoused moral and domestic purity, monitoring the marital status of patients and regularly inspecting the wards.

While Mrs Perry's philanthropy pushed her into the public realm, she always deferred to male authority and confined herself solely to women's welfare. As one contemporary put it, 'she did not pose as a theologian or as a logician, nor did she, after the modern fashion, stand up to make a speech'.

The Perrys left Melbourne on 26 April 1874 and retired to Regents Park, London, although Fanny maintained her correspondence with colonial acquaintances and a keen interest in church affairs. After Charles died in 1891, she moved near her brother John, vicar of Kendal. She died exactly one year after her husband, on 2 December 1892, at Mrs Clay's house, Miller Bridge, Loughrigg, Westmorland. Her memory was preserved in Melbourne with the opening of Frances Perry House in 1979 at the Royal Women's Hospital.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Goodman, The Church in Victoria During the Episcopate of the Right Reverend Charles Perry (Lond, 1892)
  • M. F. E. Stawell, My Recollections (Lond, 1911)
  • H. McRae (ed), Georgiana’s Journal (Syd, 1966)
  • A. de Q. Robin, Charles Perry (Perth, 1967)
  • A. de Q. Robin (ed), Australian Sketches (Melb, 1984)
  • P. Grimshaw, Women, Christianity and the Australian Colonies (Melb 1988)
  • P. Sherlock, '"This Episcopal Hotel and Boarding House”: Bishops’ Wives in Colonial Australia and New Zealand’, in M. Crotty and D. Scobie (eds), Raiding Clio’s Closet (Melb, 1997), p 32
  • Church of England Messenger, 6 Jan 1893
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 Sept 1934, p 12.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Sherlock, 'Perry, Frances (Fanny) (1814–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 10 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Perry, Richard

16 June 1814


2 December 1892
Loughrigg, Westmorland, England

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence