Searching for Charlotte
For almost 140 years, the author ofAustralia's first book for children was a mystery. Known only by the descriptor'a Lady Long Resident in New South Wales', she was the subject of muchspeculation. It was not until 1980, after a decade of sleuthing, that legendarybibliographer Marcie Muir gave her a name: Charlotte Waring Atkinson. And notonly a name, but an extensive creative family history, connecting her to two ofthe nation's celebrated contemporary children's writers, Kate Forsyth andBelinda Murrell.
To Forsyth and Murrell, Atkinson (also knownas Barton) is great-great-great-great grandmother and the subject of thestories they grew up on--part of a thread of creative women that runs throughthe history of their family. Hers is one of the great lost stories ofAustralian history: a tale of love, grief, violence and triumph in the face ofoverwhelming odds.
After spending half her life educating thechildren of the well-to-do in England, in 1826, at 30 years of age, CharlotteWaring accepted a job on the other side of the world. She was to teach thechildren of Maria Macarthur, daughter of former New South Wales governor PhilipGidley King. But on the voyage, love diverted her to a different future:marriage to the eligible James Atkinson meant she spent just seven short monthswith her charges. What followed were years of hardship in the New South Walesbush, including the death of Atkinson and her subsequent marriage to an abusivedrunk, a brutal attack by bushrangers, penury and the threat of having herchildren taken away.
In Searchingfor Charlotte, Forsyth and Murrell tell Charlotte's story along with thatof their own journey to discover her. In an intriguing account, the sistersjoin the reader in reacting to Charlotte's actions: wondering what could havemotivated certain choices; admiring the strength of spirit that pushedCharlotte through turmoil in the Australian colonies; and reviling attitudesthat were common to the mid-1800s but are abhorrent in the twentieth century.
The extraordinary, long-buried life story ofAustralia's earliest published children's author, Searching for Charlotte combines elements of biography, recreationof history and rediscovery of family history. It is a sometimes confronting butultimately heartwarming journey into the story of a family with writing in itsblood.
Publication Date: 01-Nov-2020
Publisher: National Library of Australia