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Praed, Rosa Caroline (1851–1935)

from Courier-Mail (Brisbane)

The recent cable message announcing the passing of Mrs. Campbell-Praed, in England, at the ripe age of 86, probably conveyed little meaning to the present generation of Queenslanders. That's not to be wondered at, since Mrs. Campbell-Praed left her native Queensland nearly sixty years ago and wrote her last Queensland book, 'My Australian Girlhood' — the autobiographical reminiscences of her early life in this State — three and thirty years ago. Yet it is impossible for anyone interested in the history of Southern Queensland, and especially of Brisbane, in the 60's and 70's of last century, to forget that this venerable lady, who has lately crossed the Great Divide, was the first Australian-born novelist worthy of consideration in Australian literature, and that she made Brisbane, under the name of Leichardtstown, the scene of several of her able novels. The historian of the future, as he pores over the records of those far-off, leisurely times when Brisbane was a small town along both banks of the river, will certainly turn to the novels of Mrs. Campbell-Praed to reconstruct his picture and recapture something of the atmosphere and spirit of those brave old colonial days that might otherwise sink into oblivion. Dr. Alexander Francis, in his 'Then and Now,' has lately done something for those early days by incorporating in his memories of Brisbane the letters which his gallant mother sent during this same period to her sister (the wife of George Macdonald, the poet and novelist) in England. And does it not say something for the tender grace and the stirring social drama of these old Brisbane days that Mrs. Campbell-Praed began to write about them some years after she had settled in England, and that of all the thirty novels this gifted authoress produced — several of them conjointly with Justin Huntly McCarthy in London — the best are undoubtedly those which she mostly locates in the neighbourhood of Brisbane?

Mrs. Campbell-Praed's father, Colonel Thomas Murray-Prior, was one of the early settlers in Queensland, leaving England in 1840 for Bungroopin Station, Logan River, Brisbane Water, Moreton Bay. There his talented daughter was born in 1851. Among her earliest memories was that of a journey made by buggy from the Logan to Naraigin Station (now Hawkwood) on the Burnett, then on the edge of civilisation. That station, however, soon changed hands and Rosa Caroline Murray-Prior came with her parents to a banana plantation on the banks of the Brisbane River and a cottage in the midst of a paddock of lantana and hibiscus. Then for a time the family went farming down 'The Bay,' and Rosa attended school in a sawn wood hut behind a new two-storied row of Brisbane houses under the charge of a brand-new governess, who drilled her young charges on 'Mangnall's Questions' and Miss Strickland's 'Queens of France.' The only diversion for the pupils was a walk in the Botanic Gardens, where she remembered seeing Sir George Bowen, the first Governor, taking a stroll with the beautiful Greek princess Roma, his wife. Then the scene was changed to Maroon, a new station on the other side of the dense Dugandan scrub, which it took a day to traverse by buggy. There, by the mountainous Upper Logan, the future novelist had her home. At Tamrookum, twenty-five miles away, James Brunton Stephens as a tutor was writing his 'Convict Once.' Their neighbouring selector on the Logan was Sir Henry Phipps. Books were plentiful at Maroon— all the standard authors in Bentley's edition, and, like the Brontes, the young people had their own manuscript magazine. Thus, between the Logan and Brisbane, the leisurely days of the future novelist glided pleasantly away, until at twenty-one she married Arthur Campbell Mackworth Praed, nephew of the poet Praed, and went to rough it with him on Curtis Island, off Gladstone, for four years. Then in 1876 they sailed for England. There in 1880 she published her first novel, 'An Australian Heroine,' followed by 'Policy and Passion' in 1882. Among the more notable of her other novels are 'A Head Station' (1885) and 'Outlaw and Lawmaker' (1893). These are all limited in their subject, for it is only station and political life and the Brisbane society of the day that she portrays. Yet within her ambit her skill is admirable. Among her characteristics are sentimental and humorous traits, not without a dash of pessimism and Jane Austen-like irony. The main interest of her stories is a love interest, but her talent for satire, rare in the women of the period, preserved them from being mere love stories.

Her Australian novels, like those of her lesser contemporaries, Ada Cambridge and 'Tasma,' regard Australia from the English point of view — a pleasant place to live in for a while, with its strange flora and fauna, its picturesque blacks, and romantic bushrangers. But the time had not yet come when our novelists could regard Australia as home. In her first novel, referring to Hagart, the tipsy pilot, she says, 'Here is another of those tragedies only too common in Australia, the refuge for improvidence and vice.' In the 80's the idea still lingered that Australia was the providential dumping ground no longer of convicts, but of deadbeats and remittance-men, and a suitable refuge for young men waiting for estates at home where, meanwhile, they might have a gay time without scandalising their aristocratic kin. From the Brisbane point of view her best novel is 'Longleat of Kooralbyn' with its subtitle 'Policy and Passion.' Her local colour, though she is rather too conscious of its strangeness to English readers, is not laid on with a trowel, and she has a native's command of the bush environment. Ipswich people whose memories go back 60 years will recall in her Brashyer's Inn at Kooya that old rendezvous of squatters and starting place of Cobb's coaches for Brisbane, which she limns so vividly. But it is in her characterisation that Mrs. Campbell-Praed scores over her Australian contemporaries. She knew the political world of the 60's as only the observant daughter of a Cabinet Minister could know it. She knew her politicians, and the type is wonderfully persistent. No less did she know her squatters and their jackeroos. The hero of 'Policy and Passion,' who wins Honoria at last, is one of those honest, rough and ready Australian youths too busy to be an ideal Romeo, while the villain is a smooth English gentleman with a past and with prospects of a title and landed property. Barrington, a melodramatic figure, seems to have little to do save wandering about and fascinating ladies with his superfine manners. Longleat, the dominating Premier, said to have been drawn from Mcllwraith, in some of his traits, is the victim of the best drawn character in the story — for the novelist had a far surer touch with her women than with her men — the scheming Mrs. Vallancy. At the climax she deserts him for a former lover, but the worst blow of all was his exposure in the House as an ex-convict. In spite of its melodrama the novel has a powerful emotional appeal. Angela, the dream child, dies of a hopeless love for Barrington, and her scholarly father is equally a dreamer. Mauroia has defined melodrama as 'a drama in which the events, instead of seeming to be imposed by divine fate or by psychological necessity, appear too obviously to be created by the author to astound a spectator or play upon his emotions.' In those days Dickens's melodrama was a model for many a novelist, and Mrs. Campbell-Praed among them. But because of her intellectual and imaginative gifts she will always be recognised as our first real Australian novelist. In the lace and lavender of her pages we recapture the grace of a day that has as irrevocably passed away as the old bungalows of Leichardtstown.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Praed, Rosa Caroline (1851–1935)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/praed-rosa-caroline-8095/text35258, accessed 19 August 2018.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2018

Life Summary [details]

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

27 March 1851
Bromelton, Queensland, Australia

Death

10 April 1935
Torquay, Devon, England

Occupation