Rosa Praed (1851-1935) was one of early Queensland’s most important writers. She was a member of the squattocracy, coming from a socially prominent family with strong interests in both literature and politics. Her early exposure to the social and political life of Queensland is reflected in her work. It also reflects her unhappy experience of marriage.
Her fiction repeatedly explores the theme of intelligent women trapped in marriages with insensitive and sometimes violent husbands.
More than half of her 45 to 50 novels (depending on who you read) are set in Australia, but most of her life was actually spent in England where she developed a prominent writing career and achieved celebrity in literary and political circles.
She also had a great interest in spiritualism. It emerged in the dreadful early days of her marriage on Curtis Island and she turned to it even more in later life.
Her novel Nyria had its genesis in a series of seances and Praed believed that Nyria, a Roman slave , was reincarnated in her companion Nancy Haward. The Praed Collection contains extensive notes for Nyria and Soul of Nyria, along with transcripts of seances, drafts and proofs.
State Library of Queensland’s collection of her personal papers is large, running to 28 boxes. The detailed item listing, created by Chris Tiffin and Lynette Baer, was published by the Library in 1994 and has just been digitised as a searchable PDF. Researchers can now browse the collection online before coming into the library to view the original correspondence and manuscripts.
It contains an introduction with biographical information about Praed and helpful details about the highlights of the collection, including her correspondence with Irish politician Justin McCarthy and with early publishers and mentors.
Many researchers have used the Praed Collection over the years and it is of interest for social, historical and political as well as literary reasons. Rosa Praed used the events and characters of her day in her fiction and articles about her can be found in a wide range of journals covering subject areas from labour history to feminism.
Her correspondence with her publishers, for example, sharply illustrates the double standard faced by women writers in the 19th century. This excerpt from the listing of George Bentley’s letters to Praed shows the pressure placed on her to censor the sexual explicitness of her work, “… you cannot so well say what Mr. Praed may“.
This pressure was so effective that Patricia Clarke could say in her 1993 lecture at National Library of Australia that while the birth of an illegitimate daughter is a central part of the story in Nadine, it was quite possible to read the novel without realising that the birth had taken place.
OM64-01 Rosa Caroline Praed Papers ca. 1885 – ca. 1930 catalogue record
Praed’s father, Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior, was a prominent Queensland pastoralist and politician.
Rosa Caroline Praed Australian Dictionary of Biography
Thomas Murray-Prior Australian Dictionary of Biography
Literary fusion/romantic infusion: Rosa Praed and Justin McCarthy by Susan Laverick
Associated Manuscript Collections
OM81-71 Nora C Murray-Prior Letters 1880-1884 in State Library of Queensland. Finding aid. Consists of 421 letters written to Rosa Praed. Nora Murray-Prior was Rosa Praed’s stepmother and Banjo Paterson’s aunt. Rosa Praed’s mother Matilda Harpur also had literary connections, being the niece of Charles Harpur.
Thomas Murray-Prior Papers in State Library of New South Wales. Catalogue record
Murray-Prior Family Papers in National Library of Australia. Catalogue record