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Lady Mary Anne Broome (1831–1911)

by Alexandra Hasluck

This article was published:

Mary Anne Broome (1831-1911), author and governor's wife, was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, where her father, Walter George Stewart, was the last island secretary. Her maternal ancestry stemmed from a Scottish baronet, a Jacobite and buccaneer who sailed with Sir Henry Morgan and also took part in the expedition to Darien. Mary Anne was educated in England. At 21 she married Captain George Robert Barker, of the Royal Artillery, who was promoted colonel during the Crimean war and knighted in 1859 for distinguished service during the Indian mutiny. He died in India in 1861 and Lady Barker returned to England with her two sons, John Stewart (b.1853) and Walter George (b.1857) who later took the name of Crole-Wyndham because of an inheritance.

On 21 June 1865 she married Frederick Napier Broome, who was eleven years her junior, and sailed with him for New Zealand where he had been engaged in pastoral pursuits. A son Frederick was born in Christchurch in 1866 but soon died. Meanwhile Broome with a partner, H. P. Hill, had bought Steventon, a sheep run of 9700 acres (3925 ha) on the Selwyn River, North Canterbury. Life on this station was vividly described by Mary Anne Broome in her first book, Station Life in New Zealand (London, 1870), which was immensely popular for its account of pioneering life in a distant and isolated colony. It went into a Tauchnitz edition in 1874 and in 1886 was published by Macmillan & Co. in their Colonial Library series. A New Zealand edition by Whitcombe & Tombs in 1950 sold so well that it was reprinted a year later.

After a disastrous season Broome sold his share in Steventon to Hill in 1868 and returned to England with his wife. In London Mary Anne and her husband took up journalism for a living. The publisher, Alexander Macmillan, encouraged Mary Anne to prepare her New Zealand letters as books: Station Life, and Station Amusements in New Zealand (London, 1873). During the next decade she showed her versatility by writing articles for magazines, editing travel books for inadequate authors in London, and bringing out eight books of her own: among them were Spring Comedies (1871), more or less autobiographical; The White Rat (1880), a book for children; and First Lessons in the Principles of Cookery (1874), which she wrote because she knew from experience of the need for such a book. She was startled when its publication brought her the offer, which she accepted, of appointment as lady superintendent of the newly-opened National Training School of Cookery, South Kensington. All her books were written under the name of 'Lady Barker'. Several of them appeared in Tauchnitz editions. In this London period she had two sons: Guy (b.1870?) and Louis (b.1874?).

In 1875 Broome was appointed colonial secretary in Natal but his wife did not join him until 1876. After a year she returned to England, where she wrote A Year's Housekeeping in South Africa (London, 1877). Her husband was then appointed lieutenant-governor at Mauritius. She joined him there, arriving at the time when Mauritius was urgently asked to send reinforcements for the British in the Zulu war in South Africa. Her husband dealt with the military arrangements and she organized a volunteer corps of doctors and nurses and dispatched them at a day's notice; then she raised a fund to subsidize them. She received a special acknowledgment in the secretary of state's dispatch for her work. To her it was of particular interest because Major W. G. Wyndham, her younger son by her first marriage, was taking part in the campaign.

In 1882 her husband was appointed governor of Western Australia. They arrived there with their younger son Louis in 1883, their elder son Guy remaining in England at school. She accompanied her husband on tours of the settled parts of the colony, and her lively and accurate accounts of their travels were sent home to her son. Later she was to edit them in one of her most successful books, Letters to Guy (London, 1885). She took a large part in the restricted social life of Perth. Always fond of young people, she gathered many girls about her into a reading circle to remedy some of the deficiencies of their education caused by the isolation of the western capital. Young men could travel abroad for their education; young ladies stayed at home. To be in the company of a much-travelled and literary person such as Mary Anne Broome was in itself an education. Her influence was long remembered both by 'her girls', as she called them, and by cadets in the Volunteer Rifle Force, 'Lady Broome's Own'.

Broome was created K.C.M.G. in 1884. He was sometimes a difficult character, and had crossed swords with several prominent colonials. Lady Broome was credited with being the power behind the throne and with beguiling by her undoubted charm those who differed from the governor. None of this appears in her writings, except the charm, which has survived the years. Governor Broome, at the expiration of his office, pressed hard and successfully for responsible government for the colony. Lady Broome had to remind the colonial government of this when asking, after his death in 1896, for a pension for herself.

Lady Broome's last post as 'Governor's Lady' was in Trinidad in 1891, where the Broomes remained for five years. After the death of her husband she was left badly off and resumed her journalistic labours. Her last book, Colonial Memories (London, 1904), is autobiographical. She died on 6 March 1911 in London.

Her books are mostly drawn from personal experience and convey reality in a lively, limpid style that does not date. Nor does her delightful sense of humour, but perhaps her chief value is as a recorder of events at a certain level in times of Victorian colonial expansion.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Hasluck, Remembered with Affection (Melb, 1963).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alexandra Hasluck, 'Broome, Lady Mary Anne (1831–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 24 June 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

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Stewart, Mary Anne
  • Barker, Mary Anne

Spanish Town, Middlesex, Jamaica


6 March, 1911 (aged ~ 80)
London, Middlesex, England

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.