BARKER, Lady Mary Anne (afterwards Lady Broome)
A new biography of Barker, Mary Anne appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Lady Barker, eldest daughter of WalterG.Stewart, Island Secretary of Jamaica, was born in 1831 in Spanish Town, Jamaica. By her own account she was “an ugly, tall, thin, tomboy of a child”. She was educated in England, where at 21 she married Captain George Robert Barker of the Royal Artillery. Though she spent most of their marriage waiting at home while he fought in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny, she joined him at Simla in 1860 after he had been knighted and promoted Brigadier-General for his leadership at the Siege of Lucknow, Jamoo, and Birwah. But within eight months Barker had died at 44 and she returned to England with their two young children, Guy and Louis.
Her second husband, Frederick Napier Broome, the son of a Shropshire clergyman, emigrated when he was 15 and worked as a cadet on Steventon, a North Canterbury sheep run of 9,700 acres. A tall, athletic, black-bearded youngster of 22, Broome married the vivacious widow of 33 on 21 June 1865, during a visit home. She immediately sailed away with him, leaving her two boys behind, yet this “wild and really almost wicked step”, as she later called it, led to “three supremely happy years” in New Zealand.
They arrived in the “full flush of the West Coast gold fever” with a shipload of diggers from Melbourne and spent some time at a Christchurch boardinghouse, where their son was born in February 1866. Meanwhile Broome and H. P. Hill bought Steventon from R. C. Knight, and the Broomes moved up country to a new prefabricated house, Broomielaw, where their infant son died in May.
Following the bad winter of 1867, when 4,000 sheep were lost out of 7,000, Broome sold his interest in Steventon to Hill and returned to London, where the couple worked as journalists. Broome became a correspondent for The Times, contributed to Macmillan's and the Cornhill, and published two books of verse, Poems from New Zealand (1868) and The Stranger from Seriphos (1869).
It was on Alexander Macmillan's suggestion that Lady Barker (as she still called herself) put together her first book, Station Life in New Zealand (1870), a sparkling series of letters home. This “exact account of a lady's experience of the brighter and less practical side of colonization … the adventures and emergencies diversifying the life of a wife of a New Zealand sheepfarmer” was apparently based upon actual letters to her young sister Jessie, for the authoress noted that “each was written while the novelty and excitement of the scenes it describes were still fresh upon her”.
The book went through several editions and was translated into French and German. Much of its attraction comes from its intimate style, with the author's affectionate asides to her sister, family references, and enclosures for “the boys” in England. Its racy narrative is a brilliant though apparently artless piece of writing. Not only is the book packed with domestic details such as the price of coal, cab fares in Christchurch, breadmaking, or the problem of servants, but it also contains exhilarating tales of boar hunts, boundary rides, mustering, drafting, shearing, camping out, and expeditions after wild cattle.
During her next eight years in London Lady Barker wrote 10 books, including A Christmas Cake in Four Quarters (1871) with its story about Christmas Day at Steventon, and Station Amusements in New Zealand (1873), a chatty sequel to Station Life. Among several other children's books and domestic guides was First Lessons in the Principles of Cooking (1874), which led to her appointment as Lady Superintendent of the National Training School of Cooking, South Kensington. When Broome was made Colonial Secretary of Natal in 1875 she joined him after six months and followed him to Mauritius, Western Australia, Barbados, and Trinidad. A Year's Housekeeping in South Africa (1880) and Letters to Guy (1885) came from these experiences.
Broome was knighted on 3 July 1884 for his work as Governor of Western Australia, and thereafter she called herself Lady Broome. It was under this name that she published the last of her 22 books, Colonial Memories (1904), which contains three chapters about New Zealand. After Broome's death in 1896 at 54, she lived quietly in Eaton Terrace, London, S.W., where she died on 6 March 1911. She was “a fine, tall woman with well-marked features and a somewhat decided manner”, possessing a warm, spirited, though snobbish temperament.
Most of the people she mentions in her books on early Canterbury have now been identified, and her comments provide a gay feminine counterpoint to Samuel Butler'sA First Year in the Canterbury Settlement. Because she was so responsive to her environment and was a natural, lively writer with an eye for detail, her Station books have remained popular and are still a valuable source for social historians of early Canterbury.
by Phillip John Wilson, M.A., Author, Wellington.
- The Early Canterbury Runs, Acland, L. G. D. (1946)
- Lady Broome, Hasluck, Alexandra
- Historical Studies of Australia and New Zealand (Nov. 1956).