- Making Tasmania Home:Louisa Meredith's Colonizing Prose
When Louisa Meredith, a British-born and bred writer recently married to her Tasmanian-reared cousin, arrived in Tasmania in 1840 after a year spent in New South Wales, she was pleasurably struck by the colony's discernible similarities to Britain. "I am often glad that I spent the first year of my antipodean life in New South Wales," she wrote, "for now many things which I should not have observed had I arrived here in the first instance, are sources of great delight to me, as being so much more English than in the larger colony, and I could fancy myself some degrees nearer home."1 Although Meredith never returned to England, it would remain "home" for her until her death in 1895. In the 1840s, however, Tasmania offered the possibility of creating a new home in the Australian colonies, one that came as close as might be hoped to Meredith's English ideal.
The preference Meredith felt for Tasmania over New South Wales was based on a number of factors. Being so much further south, Tasmania's climate was cooler and more appealing. This in turn meant the landscape was greener and less harsh and that the cultivation of English plants had been more successful during the forty years of British settlement. The current governor and his wife, Sir John and Lady Franklin, were influential in their attempts to encourage the enjoyment of art, literature, and science among the white settlers. Finally, by the time Meredith arrived there, the island's Indigenous population no longer represented a threat: those Aborigines not felled by disease or violence had been forcibly removed to settlements on outlying Flinders Island during the 1830s.2
Tasmania, then, displayed visual reminders of Britain in its landscape, was developing cultural institutions that mirrored British counterparts, and offered uncontested access to land for cultivation. All these conditions rendered it dear to Meredith's heart. This paper explores the ways Louisa Meredith embraced and publicized the potential of the colony as a site for recreating a sense of England, particularly through her book My Home in Tasmania during [End Page 1] a Residence of Nine Years. This book, in which Meredith presents an account of her family's attempt to establish a settled home in Tasmania, also reflects broader claiming of the colony as a British possession, a home for all English people. Although she depicted herself as acting within the framework of the womanly role of "homemaker," Meredith's actions can also be interpreted as part of the wider, masculine, colonizing processes operating in Tasmania during this period, revealing complicity in the displacement of other people from their homes.
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Louisa Meredith had been born Louisa Twamley in Birmingham in 1812, the daughter of a moderately well-to-do tradesman and a mother from a family slightly higher on the social scale, who raised the child to ladylike accomplishments and education.3 She became an avid reader and an artist, painting portraits and sketching, with an intense interest in plants, especially wildflowers. Also, she began writing poetry. By the late 1830s she had published two books of illustrated nature notes, An Autumn Ramble by the Wye and The Romance of Nature; or, The Flower Seasons Illustrated.4 In April of 1839 she married a cousin who was visiting Britain, Charles Meredith, whose father had migrated from Britain to Tasmania (then Van Diemens Land) in 1820 to take up land on which his growing family of sons would presumably also settle. Later that year, the couple set sail for the Australian colonies, initially to New South Wales, where their first son was born, and then on to Tasmania.
Capitalizing on both her own existing reputation as an author and the growing market for information about the Australian colonies in Britain, Louisa Meredith wrote and published an account of her experiences in New South Wales. Notes and Sketches of New South Wales during a Residence in That Colony from 1839 to 1841 was highly critical of all things colonial. In typically acerbic commentary, Meredith dismissed the town of Sydney as hot, glaring, and dusty...