Louisa Atkinson

(1834—1872) writer and naturalist

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(1834–72), was born at the family property, Oldbury, near Berrima, NSW. Encouraged as a child by her mother, she later trained herself as a natural historian and became a skilled collector and illustrator of botanical specimens, fauna and birds. Between 1853 and 1872 her popular illustrated articles on natural history appeared regularly with the signature ‘LA’ (from 1869, ‘LC’) in the Illustrated Sydney News, Sydney Morning Herald and Sydney Mail as well as in the Horticultural Magazine. As ‘An Australian Lady’ she wrote six novels notable for their close observation of colonial life from a domestic point of view. The first two of these, Gertrude The Emigrant: A Tale of Colonial Life (1857) and Cowanda, the Veteran's Grant (1859) share their action between pastoral, Sydney city and goldfields life and were published by J.R. Clarke of Sydney. Four later novels were serialised in the Sydney Mail and the Sydney Morning Herald between 1861 and 1872. One of the earliest Australian writers and the first native-born woman to fictionalise Australian domestic, pastoral and bush life, Louisa Atkinson was also distinguished by having named for her those botanical specimens she identified for European science. Her novels, Debatable Ground, or the Carlillawarra Claimants, (1861, 1992), Myra (1864, 1983) and Tom Hellicar's Children (1871, 1983), have been recently republished in Canberra by Mulini Press and Books on Demand. A modern scholarly edition of Gertrude The Emigrant: A Tale of Colonial Life (1857), edited by Elizabeth Lawson for the Colonial Texts Series of University of New South Wales Press, will appear shortly. Cowanda, the Veteran's Grant (1859) and the last novel, Tressa's Resolve (1872) have never been republished. Mulini Press has also published two collections of Atkinson's natural history journalism, A Voice from the Country (1978) and Louisa Atkinson, Excursions from Berrima and a Trip to Manaro and Molonglo in the 1870s (1980). Excursions from Berrima, introduced by Lionel Gilbert, has a foreword by Atkinson's grand-daughter, Janet Cosh. Patricia Clarke has written the biography Pioneer Writer: The Life of Louisa Atkinson: novelist, journalist, naturalist (1990), and her life and achievement are discussed in Elizabeth Lawson's ‘Louisa Atkinson, Naturalist and Novelist’ in A Bright and Fiery Troop, ed. Debra Adelaide (1988), and Louisa Atkinson: The Distant Sound of Native Voices (1989).

From The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.

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