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Rosa Caroline Praed (1851–1935)

by Chris Tiffin

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Rosa Praed, by Elliott and Fry, c.1895

Rosa Praed, by Elliott and Fry, c.1895

National Library of Australia, 24793813

Rosa Caroline Praed (1851-1935), novelist, was born on 27 March 1851 at Bromelton on the Logan River, Queensland, third of eleven children of Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior and his first wife Matilda, née Harpur, niece of the poet Charles Harpur. Her childhood was spent on her father's properties in the Logan and Burnett districts, at Cleveland and in Brisbane. There were summers spent in Tasmania where Matilda took the children to escape the Queensland heat. Although her father's pastoral activities were not uniformly successful, Rosa had a comfortable childhood. She was educated by her mother and by private tutors. Her father's subsequent political career exposed her to Queensland politics which generated in turn an interest in Imperial politics; both were used in her fiction.

Encouraged by her mother, Rosa Murray-Prior began writing poems and short stories as a child, later contributing poems, essays, and stories to the family's handwritten 'Marroon Magazine' from 1866 until Matilda's death in November 1868. On 29 October 1872 she was married from Government House at St John's Church of England, Brisbane, to Arthur Campbell Bulkley Praed, a younger son of an English banking and brewing family, who had come to Australia to make a pastoral fortune. Campbell Praed had a cattle run, Monte Christo, on Curtis Island near Gladstone where his wife spent two lonely, miserable years. These experiences figure in her autobiographical My Australian Girlhood (1902) and in the novels, The Romance of a Station (1889) and Sister Sorrow (1916). In 1876 Campbell returned with Rosa to England to enter the brewing trade in Northamptonshire. She resumed writing, drawing upon her Australian experiences, and published An Australian Heroine in 1880. Writing as Mrs Campbell Praed, she produced more than forty-five books over the next four decades, approximately half of which deal with Australian material.

In 1882 Praed published Nadine, an intense psychological study drawing on the life of Olga Novikoff, and achieved considerable celebrity which took her into London's artistic, political and literary circles. The Prince of Wales was an admirer of her work. Moving to London the same year, she collaborated on four books with the Irish politician Justin McCarthy, who wrote voluminously to her on the progress of the Home Rule debate of the 1880s. She edited these letters as Our Book of Memories (1912). Praed's attempts at dramatic writing resulted in one successful play, Ariane, based on her novel, The Bond of Wedlock (1887). This ran for 100 performances in London's West End in 1888. In the 1890s she became estranged from her husband and separated from him in 1897. She began living with Nancy Harward, a psychic medium, whom Praed believed to have been a German slave-girl in Flavian Rome. Seances produced a narrative of tyranny and Christian martyrdom which Praed worked into a novel, Nyria (1904). Much of her later fiction, some of which was written with Harward, reflects her devout belief in the supernatural.

Praed revisited Australia only once, in 1894-95. She continued, however, to rework her memories, and maintained contacts with relations and friends in Australia until her death. Her work includes acute analyses of the colonial mentality, especially of society women, as in Policy and Passion (1881), Christina Chard (1893) and The Ghost (1903). Like Henry James, Praed saw a dichotomy between a frank, vital, raw country and an alluring, sophisticated but fundamentally corrupt Europe. Historical events and personages often supply background and characters for her novels. The 1890s Queensland shearers' strikes are used in Mrs Tregaskiss (1895), and the 1860s debate on the Ipswich-Brisbane railway in Policy and Passion. James Tyson, John Boyle O'Reilly and Sir George Bowen make fictional appearances in Mrs Tregaskiss, Outlaw and Lawmaker (1893) and Nulma (1897) respectively. One exception to her generally realistic backgrounds is Fugitive Anne (1902), a fantasy about a lost race of 'Red People' in northern Queensland. Essentially a novelist of the comfortably-off, Praed was seen by Desmond Byrne in 1896 as 'the first to attempt to give an extended and impartial view of the social and political life of the upper classes in Australia'. The overwhelming concern of her work, however, is the finding of a spiritually congenial mate. She wrote many novels depicting unsatisfactorily mated women whose husbands are good enough fellows but who are spiritually limited and insensitive to their wives' needs.

Praed moved to Torquay, Devon, in the early 1920s and lived quietly there with Nancy Harward until the latter's death in 1927. Then followed a further eight years of loneliness and illness. When she died on 10 April 1935, her three sons were already dead and her daughter Maud, who had been born deaf, was in an asylum. All died without issue.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Byrne, Australian Writers (Lond, 1896)
  • C. Roderick, In Mortal Bondage (Syd, 1948)
  • R. Beilby and C. Hadgraft, Ada Cambridge, Tasma and Rosa Praed (Melb, 1979)
  • Queenslander, 26 Jan 1895
  • Praed papers (State Library of Queensland)
  • Murray-Prior papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Chris Tiffin, 'Praed, Rosa Caroline (1851–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Rosa Praed, by Elliott and Fry, c.1895

Rosa Praed, by Elliott and Fry, c.1895

National Library of Australia, 24793813

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Murray-Prior, Rosa Caroline
  • Praed, Mrs Campbell

27 March, 1851
Bromelton, Queensland, Australia


10 April, 1935 (aged 84)
Torquay, Devon, England