Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rachel Biddulph Henning (1826–1914)

by Margaret Caldwell

This article was published:

Rachel Biddulph Henning (1826-1914), letter-writer, was born on 29 April 1826 at Bristol, England, the eldest child of Rev. Charles Wansbrough Henning (1795-1840) and his wife Rachel Lydia, née Biddulph. Her mother's death in 1845 left Rachel responsible for her three sisters and only brother, Biddulph. His health had been early impaired by scarlet fever and in August 1853 he left for Sydney in the Great Britain with his sister Annie. Rachel soon decided to join him and a year later sailed in the Calcutta with her sister Amy. They lived with Biddulph on a leased farm at Appin, then on his own farm on the Bulli Mountain.

Rachel's letters, never intended for publication, dated from the time Biddulph left England, and were mostly addressed to her sister Etta who married Rev. Thomas Boyce in England, and to Amy who in 1855 married Thomas Sloman of Bathurst. Her 'slightly mordant sense of humour' first showed in her shrewd comments on her fellow passengers: 'Mr and Mrs Donaldson are in their own eyes the great people on board, he being actually a member of the Australian Parliament (I did not know they had one)'. After a placid existence in English country houses, Rachel disliked the heat and the bush life 'extremely' and 'did not care enough about Australian flowers' to make a botanical collection or to use two letters of introduction from Sir William Hooker of Kew. Miserably homesick she went to England in the Star of Peace and lived mainly with the Boyces. In 1861 she returned to Australia in the Great Britain.

Biddulph had moved to Queensland and in 1862 Rachel and Annie joined him on his run, Exmoor, in the South Kennedy district. From the moment of reaching Queensland Rachel revelled in station life. She had 'never liked parties' or meeting strangers, and found 'a complete emotional, social and intellectual felicity within the family circle'. She loved the wild flowers and 'beautiful' scenery and discovered that 'hardly anything [was] pleasanter than a gallop over a plain with the wind rushing by you and the ground flying under your horse's feet'. A lover of animals, she soon had a 'train' of nine poddy lambs which she took for walks with the dogs.

Rachel left Exmoor in October 1865 and on 3 March 1866 married Deighton Taylor, Biddulph's overseer who was ten years her junior. They lived on the Myall River where Taylor managed a timber-logging business, and then bought a farm, Peach Trees, near Stroud. In 1872 they sold it and moved to another farm, Springfield, near Wollongong. Rachel created gardens wherever she lived. She also loved music and poetry, which she sometimes wrote. In 1896 she sadly left her beautiful flowers at Springfield and moved to Ryde, where Taylor died in 1900. After Biddulph's wife died, Rachel and Annie lived with him at Passy, Hunter's Hill. She died there without issue on 23 August 1914 and was buried in the Anglican section of the Field of Mars cemetery. From her estate of £3433 she left legacies to the Animals Protection Society and the King Edward Home for Dogs.

The Letters of Rachel Henning, edited by David Adams and illustrated by Norman Lindsay, were first published in the Bulletin in 1951-52 and later in at least three paper-back editions. Her letters read like a novel with 'darling' Biddulph the hero, and give an invaluable picture of colonial life; with vivid descriptions and shrewd, if not always charitable, observations on people, they have both charm and humour.

Select Bibliography

  • manuscript catalogue under Henning (State Library of New South Wales)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Margaret Caldwell, 'Henning, Rachel Biddulph (1826–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Taylor, Rachel Biddulph

29 April, 1826
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England


23 August, 1914 (aged 88)
Hunters Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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