An Autobiography HTML version

Novels And A Political Inspiration
It was the experience of a depopulated province which led me to write my first book,
"Clara Morison--A Tale of South Australia during the Gold Fever." I entrusted the M.S.
to my friend John Taylor, with whom I had just had the only tiff in my life. He, through
his connection with The Register, knew that I was writing in The South Australian, trying
to keep it alive, till Mr. Murray decided to let it go, and he told this to other people. At a
subscription ball to which my brother John took me and my younger sister Mary, she
found she had been pointed out and talked of as the lady who wrote for the newspapers. I
did not like it even to be supposed of myself, but Mary was indignant, and I wrote an
injured letter to my friend. He apologized, and said he thought I would be proud of doing
disinterested work, and he was sorry the mistake had been made regarding the sister who
did it. Of course, I forgave him. He was the last man in the world to give pain to anyone,
and I highly admired him for his disinterested work on The Register. He reluctantly
accepted 1,000 pounds when the paper was sold. He must have lost much more through
neglect of his own affairs at such a critical time. He was taking a holiday with his sister
Eliza in England and France, where the beautiful widowed sister was settled as Madam
Dubois, and I asked him to take "Clara Morison" to Smith, Elder & Co.'s, in London, and
to say nothing to anybody about it; but before it was placed he had to return to Adelaide,
and in pursuance of my wishes, left it with my other good friend, Mr. Bakewell, who also
happened to be visiting England with his family at the time--1853-4. I had an idea that, as
there was so much interest in Australia and its gold, I might get 100 pounds for the novel.
Mr. Bakewell wrote a preface from which I extract a passage:--"The writer's aim seems to
have been to present some picture of the state of society in South Australia in the years
1851-2, when the discovery of gold in the neighbouring province of Victoria took place.
At this time, the population of South Australia numbered between seventy and eighty
thousand souls, the greater part of whom were remarkable for their intelligence, their
industry, and their enterprise, which, in the instance of the Burra Burra, and other copper
mines had met with such signal success. When it became known that gold in vast
quantities could be found within 300 miles of their own territory, they could not remain
unmoved. The exodus was almost complete, and entirely without parallel. In those days
there was no King in Israel, and every woman did what was right in her own sight."
Another reason I had for writing the book. Thackeray had written about an emigrant
vessel taking a lot of women to Australia, as if these were all to be gentlemen's wives--as
if there was such a scarcity of educated women there, that anything wearing petticoats
had the prospect of a great rise in position. I had hoped that Smith, Elder, & Co. would
publish my book, but their reader--Mr. Williams, who discovered Charlotte Bronte's
genius when she sent them "The Professor," and told her she could write a better, which
she did ("Jane Eyre")--wrote a similiar letter to me, declining "Clara Morison," as he had
declined "The Professor," but saying I could do better. J. W. Parker & Son published it in
1854, as one of the two-volume series, of which "The Heir of Redcliffe" had been most
successful. The price was to be 40 pounds; but, as it was too long for the series, I was
charged 10 pounds for abridging it. It was very fairly received and reviewed. I think I
liked best Frederick Sinnett's notice in The Argus--that it was the work of an observant
woman--a novelist who happened to live in Australia, but who did not labour to bring in