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Nancen Beryl (Nan) Chauncy (1900–1970)

by Berenice Eastman

This article was published:

Nancen Beryl (Nan) Chauncy (1900-1970), author, was born on 28 May 1900 at Northwood, Middlesex, England, second of six children and elder daughter of Charles Edward Masterman, civil engineer, and his wife Lilla, née Osmond. Nan had a comfortable and conventional childhood, and was taught by governesses. In 1912 Charles suffered a business reversal and he took his family to Tasmania where he was employed as a council engineer. Nan attended the Collegiate School, Hobart.

By 1914 the Mastermans had moved to Bagdad, some twenty miles (32 km) north of the capital. There, by concerted effort, they cleared the land to grow apples and built a slab hut which Lilla named Cherry Tree Cottage. Nan, who left school at 16, was to write of her childhood as a golden age: she enjoyed the close, family teamwork, the stories told by lamplight, the discovery of fauna and flora, and the legend of a bushranger's cave nearby.

Nan's love of the outdoors stimulated her interest in the Girl Guides' Association. A small, stone-and-concrete cottage built by her brother Kay on his Bagdad property served as a meeting-house and camp-site. In 1920 she established the guides' Claremont Company and subsequently became a commissioner. Appointed welfare officer at Cadbury Fry Pascall Australia Ltd in November 1925, she travelled to England in 1930, both to advance her guiding qualifications at the training centre at Foxlease House, Hampshire, and to learn to be a writer. She lived in a houseboat on the Thames, completed an unpublished novel and in 1934 visited Sweden, Finland and the Soviet Union. Four winters were spent teaching English at Spejderskolen, a school for guides in Denmark.

Returning to Australia in the Meliskerk in 1938, Nan met a German refugee Helmut Anton Rosenfeld whom she married on 13 September that year at Holy Trinity Church, Lara, Victoria. They lived in Kay's cottage at Bagdad, established a Saanen stud and named their property Chauncy Vale. While they had no running water and electricity, they were content, but wartime antagonism caused them to change their surname to Chauncy, the family name of Nan's grandmother. In 1946 Nan and Antony declared their land a sanctuary for various native and exotic animals.

Insufficient income led Nan to publish articles in Wildlife and to write radio scripts for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Her first, full-length novel, They Found a Cave, was accepted in 1947 by Frank Eyre of Oxford University Press in England who was impressed with the freshness of its bush setting and its characterization of children. Mrs Chauncy was to publish twelve novels with Oxford. She won the Children's Book of the Year award for Tiger in the Bush (1958), Devil's Hill (1959) and Tangara (1961), and was the first Australian to win the Hans Christian Andersen diploma of merit. A film of They Found a Cave was released in 1962. Her fourteen novels included the partially autobiographical Half a World Away (1962), The Roaring 40 (1963), High and Haunted Island (1964), Lizzie Lights (1968) and The Lighthouse Keeper's Son (1969). Nan was innovative in her treatment of Aboriginal issues: Tangara and Mathinna's People (1967) are generally regarded as her finest work.

A vivacious woman, with observant, brown eyes and a sturdy figure, Mrs Chauncy dressed in practical tweeds. She was an authoritative, but unpretentious, participant at educational and cultural meetings. Her royalties from publishing were small, though her books were translated into thirteen languages and set in braille. Some Australian children's authors in the 1960s and 1970s were influenced by her work and her best novels continue to appear in paperback editions. Nan was a member of the Australian Society of Authors, president (1958-59) of the Tasmanian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and national correspondent (1960-63) for The Council Fire.

Survived by her husband and daughter, Nan Chauncy died of cancer on 1 May 1970 at Bagdad and was cremated with Anglican rites. The Children's Book Council's quinquennial award commemorates her. Chauncy Vale has been developed as a nature reserve and recreational area where her writings are displayed.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Saxby, A History of Australian's Children's Literature, 1941-1970 (Syd, 1971)
  • B. Niall, Australia Through the Looking-Glass (Melb, 1984)
  • W. McVitty, Authors and Illustrators of Australian Children's Books (Syd, 1989)
  • Reading Time, 36, July 1970, p 30
  • Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 25, no 4, Dec 1978, p 98
  • Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature, 1, no 3, Dec 1990, p 124
  • K. C. Masterman, Nan Chauncy 1900-1970 (talk to Children's Book Council seminar, Canberra, 9 Mar 1975, transcript, National Library of Australia)
  • Chauncy papers (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Berenice Eastman, 'Chauncy, Nancen Beryl (Nan) (1900–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 15 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Nancen Beryl Chauncy (1900-1970), by unknown photographer, c1961

Nancen Beryl Chauncy (1900-1970), by unknown photographer, c1961

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/2804 [with Miss E. Manning, left]

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Rosenfeld, Nancen
  • Masterman, Nancen

28 May, 1900
Northwood, Middlesex, England


1 May, 1970 (aged 69)
Bagdad, Tasmania, 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.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.