Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Caroline Louisa Atkinson (1834–1872)

by A. H. Chisholm

This article was published:

Louisa Atkinson, by Charlotte Atkinson, 1842-46

Louisa Atkinson, by Charlotte Atkinson, 1842-46

State Library of New South Wales, 446199

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.

Additional Resources

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

A. H. Chisholm, 'Atkinson, Caroline Louisa (1834–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Louisa Atkinson, by Charlotte Atkinson, 1842-46

Louisa Atkinson, by Charlotte Atkinson, 1842-46

State Library of New South Wales, 446199

Life Summary [details]

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

25 February, 1834
Berrima, New South Wales, Australia


28 April, 1872 (aged 38)
Berrima, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.