Charlotte Barton
1797 - 1867

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Although this portrait may indicate otherwise(!) Charlotte Barton, was described by her daughter Louisa as 'particularly handsome and brilliant in appearance, having full black eyes, black hair which curled naturally, and fine features' (cited in McVitty 1989, p. 24). Charlotte was born in London, in 1797 but left at the age of 29, to begin work as a governess to the MacCarthur family in New South Wales. This appointment was short lived however, since whilst on board ship she met and became engaged to James Atkinson land owner in Sutton Forest, New South Wales.

James and Charlotte were married in 1827 and went on to have four children - Charlotte, Emily, James and Louisa - who were no doubt the models of the four children, namely - Clara, Emma, Julius and Lucy - in A Mother's Offering to Her Children. Her husband James it seems was also an author, having written An Account of the State of Agriculture in New South Wales, which is still considered today to be a valuable source of information. The Sydney Gazette described him as 'a gentleman of considerable literary attainments, and as a practical agriculturalist... second to none in the Colony' (cited in Muir, 1980, p. 24). Tragically however, James died in 1834 from drinking impure water and Charlotte's happiness in marriage came to an end. Two years later she married again this time to George Barton, who unfortunately turned out to be insane. Charlotte fled with her children to another of Atkinson's stations before moving to Sydney. She was later to return to Oldbury, Atkinson's property at Sutton Forest, where she died in 1867.

Charlotte Barton, after many years, has finally been accredited as being the author of the first Australian children's book ever produced - A Mother's Offering to Her Children. Until the late 1970's, it was believed that Lady Gordon Bremer was the author, since the book is written anonymously, with the title page merely stating that the book was written by 'A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales'. Marcie Muir, after extensive investigations of the writings and memoirs of Charlotte's daughter, Louisa Atkinson and the discovery that Lady Bremer had not actually been to Australia, realised Charlotte Barton was instead the author.

McVitty (1969, p. 24), describes A Mother's Offering to Her Children as 'a collection of instructive family fireside talks, in the Catechism style favoured by didactic English writers of the period'. The book takes the form of conversations between the four children and their mother, on a large variety of subjects. These include Australian birds and animals etc, the customs of the Aborigines and various other interesting and unusual topics. Charlotte it seems was very intelligent and well educated, said to have been reading by the age of two! Thus she used her book as a means of teaching and guiding all of her children.Of course the style and language are very old fashioned and dated with the children speaking in a very formal manner, on the most extraordinary subjects!

Cover to the 1979 facsimile edition

Saxby, in his book, A History of Australian Children's Literature, discusses the book in detail and provides many examples of the style in which it was written. The title page (Saxby, 1969, p. 20), sets the scene - 'Every creature and everything affords me an opportunity to raise my thoughts to the Creator; and excites me to bless the goodness of him, who has given to all earthly things, the power to please and cheer my soul...'. This however, did not extend to the 'wretched blacks', it seems! Stories of their savage, uncivilised antics abound, with murder, slaughter, cannibalism and the chopping off of heads!

Clara - Were they cannibals, Mamma?
Mrs. S - Yes, my dear. They ate the eyes and cheeks of the shipwrecked people. This they do with the idea that it increases their desire for the blood of the white people.
Clara - What dreadful sanguinary creatures. It makes one shudder even to hear of it!

What happy, cosy little bedtime tales!

A Mother's Offering to her Children, it seems, can only be found in the Mitchell Library, Sydney and the Australian National Library, Canberra, although the 1979 version, is occasionally seen. The limited, signed editions of Marcie Muir's Charlotte Barton, Australia's First Children's Author, provide further insight into this remarkable woman.

Louisa Atkinson
The first Australian born female author

Interestingly, Louisa Atkinson, Charlotte's fourth child, is considered the first Australian born female author. Born in 1834 and christened Caroline Louisa Waring Atkinson, she produced six novels including Gertude the Emigrant (1857) and Cowanda>, or the Veteran's Grant (1859). Louisa was also a regular contributor to both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sydney Mail. Writing under the pseudonym, A Voice from the Country, Louisa displayed her vast knowledge and love of botany and natural history. Louisa continued her articles throughout the 1860's until her tragic death in 1872, at the age of 38, just 18 days after giving birth to her first child.

Publication Dates
1841, A Mother's Offering to her Children: By a Lady Long Resident of New South Wales, Sydney Gazette, Sydney, NSW.
1979, A Mother's Offering to her Children: By a Lady Long Resident of New South Wales, (facsimile edition), Jacaranda Press, Brisbane, Qld.

Further Reading
Muir, Marcie, 1980, Charlotte Barton, Australia's First Children's Author, Wentworth Books, Sydney, NSW.

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