Louisa Meredith

Louisa Ann Meredith (1812-1895), author and artist, was born on 20 July 1812 at Birmingham, daughter of Louisa Ann (born Meredith) and Thomas Twamley, farmer and miller. Louisa was educated mainly by her mother. She grew up in Birmingham and in the agitation leading to the 1832 Reform Act she learnt 'to think independently and express herself fearlessly on religious and social issues'. She is said to have written for the Chartist press; she published several books of poems and, in story form, Our Wild Flowers Familiarly Described and Illustrated (1839). She illustrated the books herself. She was an accomplished miniaturist and flowers were her passion.

She married her cousin Charles Meredith on 18 April 1839 in Birmingham. They sailed for Sydney in the Letitia. While Charles inspected sheep stations on the Murrumbidgee Louisa stayed at Bathurst. On their return to Sydney they moved to Homebush, where their first son was born. In 1840 they went to Oyster Bay, Tasmania, where Charles's father owned 'Cambria', and they built a house on a neighbouring estate. A second son was born in 1841 and died the following year. In financial difficulties, Charles accepted appointment as police magistrate at Port Sorell. After a few years they moved back to 'Cambria' and in 1858 to Orford. Charles was a member of the Legislative Assembly in 1860-79, and from 1879 acting police magistrate in Launceston, where he died in 1880.

Louisa continued to write and sketch despite many moves and the birth of sons in 1844 and 1847. She published Notes and Sketches of New South Wales (1844), which provoked angry reviews in Sydney but was widely read as one of Murray's Colonial and Home Library series, and a companion account, again in diary form, My Home in Tasmania, during a Residence of Nine Years (1852). Over the Straits: a Visit to Victoria, appeared in 1861. Phoebe's Mother (1869) was first serialised as 'Ebba' in the Australasian in 1866-67; Tasmanian Friends and Foes, Feathered, Furred and Finned: A Family Chronicle of Country Life (1880) included coloured plates from her own drawings. She also illustrated her several books of poems and Bush Friends in Tasmania: Last Series (1891). She travelled to London to see it through the press. In her books she was most successful as a 'shrewd and cultivated' observer of colonial life. Her descriptions, particularly those of domestic conditions and of the natural environment, were praised by many contemporaries as among the most reliable and practical, and remain a valuable source for social historians.

Louisa enjoyed travel, and as a naturalist and collector she made many excursions to study the plants, insects, seaweeds and fish of Tasmania. She corresponded with leading naturalists and was a friend of the Tasmanian botanist Joseph Milligan. She was an honorary member of the Tasmanian Royal Society and active in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She could not bear to see animals ill-treated. Her drawing of flowers and fishes were exquisite: realistic representations of nature and beautiful in design. Her wildflower drawings won medals in exhibitions in Australia and overseas. The Tasmanian government granted her a pension of 100 pounds in 1884 for 'distinguished literary and artistic services' to the colony.

An 'omnivorous reader', she was an excellent conversationalist; Joseph Jefferson, who saw her in theatricals at Government House, Hobart, remarked that she was capable of 'rivalling Fanny Kemble on the stage and as an interpreter of Shakespeare on the platform'.

'A poet in feeling, an artist by instinct, a naturalist by force of circumstances, a keen botanist, and an ardent lover of landscape scenery', Louisa died at Collingwood, Victoria, on 21 October 1895.

Sally O'Neill

Vivienne Rae Ellis Louisa Anne Meredith: A Tigress in Exile 1979.