Just released: ‘A Gentleman’s Daughter’

 

“. .  the Destiny of my life was cast on seeing for the first time an ‘Apollo’ in the handsome Captain Cowin of the 73rd Regiment. Even at this long period I blush to make this romantic confession, nevertheless the age of 12 may offer an excuse. ”

Lady Dowling: Daguerreotype photo print of carte de visite, around 1860.

I was reading the memoir of Lady Dowling*, a very distant forebear of my husband. I was already intrigued, but this was the passage that captured me. Three years later, I have finished putting together a short biography of this flighty, restless woman (for details, see under Publications on this site). What I’ve learned in the process includes:

  • Never believe a memoirist (they leave out all the interesting parts),
  • Never trust a man who keeps a journal (they put in all the interesting parts), and
  • Never think your research won’t be contradicted by your next search of Trove.

I’ve also learned that I’m not alone in grappling with a million writing dilemmas. With this knowledge, I’m continuing to explore the border zones of creativity in the portrayal of historical people and events.

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*Dowling, H. “Memoir of the Early Life of Harriott Mary Dowling Nee Blaxland: Or Sketches of India and Australia in Old Times.” In Dowling family papers 1767-1905: Manuscripts, Oral History & Pictures, State Library of New South Wales, Catalogue  DLMSQ 305, Item 5, 1875.

‘The Birdman’s Wife’ by Melissa Ashley

Bringing history alive takes something very special and it is clear that Melissa Ashley has that skill. In ‘The Birdman’s Wife‘, she has blended her thorough enquiry into the life of the artist, Elizabeth Gould, with a creative realisation of how the main events in her life unfolded.

Until this work, far more people have heard about John Gould, Elizabeth’s husband for his art and science as a zoologist, mainly through his well-known book, ‘The Birds of Australia’, originally published in 1848. However, Elizabeth’s life was to change on being introduced to him by her brother:

“I still found it hard to believe that on the strength of my brother’s mention of my passion for sketching and painting, Mr Gould had insisted we meet, inviting me to his rooms to make him a drawing.” (quoted from Ashley, chapter 1)

Six children and hours of painstaking contribution as a natural history artist to her husband’s work later, Elizabeth’s short life was over, aged 37 years.

As you can see from the short quote from ‘The Birdman’s Wife’ above, Ashley has captured both the social stance of the nineteenth century woman and her use of language is pitch-perfect for the historical period.

 

Ashley, M. The Birdman’s Wife.  Melbourne: Affirm Press, 2016.