Born: Established: 4 Jun 1857 Scone ; Died: 28 May 1929 Toorak
Barbara Baynton was the seventh child of Elizabeth (nee Ewart) and John Lawrence. Her claim that she was illegitimate had its origins in the long de facto relationship her mother had with Robert Kilpatrick, whom Elizabeth married in 1862. In Barbara Baynton: Between Two Worlds (1989), Penne Hackforth-Jones speculates that Baynton and her siblings were all illegitimate. Discrepancies appear in statements made by Baynton and some editions of her work refer to her simply as born 'to Irish immigrant parents'.
Baynton's early life in the Upper Hunter Valley region was poverty-stricken, recalled in Human Toll (1907). At eighteen she left home to work as a housekeeper on a station in northwestern New South Wales; her unpleasant experience there is recounted in 'Billy Skywonkie'. She then worked as a governess for the Frater family at Merrylong Park, northwest of Scone, and subsequently married the second son, Alex, in June 1880.
'Drought Driven' (an unpublished story mentioned by Hackforth-Jones), gives some idea of Baynton's life on a poor farm near Coonamble. She left in 1887 when she discovered that her niece Sarah was having an affair with Frater. Baynton supported herself and three children as a milliner at Emmaville. She divorced Frater in 1889 and married Thomas Baynton, a retired Sydney doctor for whom she had worked as a housekeeper. The couple had a happy marriage and Baynton was able to indulge her taste for fine possessions. She was able to write and also formed significant friendships with A. G. Stephens (q.v.), Miles Franklin (q.v.), Vance Palmer (q.v.), Ethel Turner (q.v.), prime minister William Morris Hughes and Rose Scott (q.v.).
Baynton went to England in 1902 to find a publisher for a volume of short fiction. An introduction to Edward Garnett, a writer and critic who had helped Henry Lawson (q.v.), Joseph Conrad, John Galsworthy and D. H. Lawrence (q.v.), resulted in an offer from Duckworth to publish Bush Studies (1902). Baynton then lived between Sydney and London, increasingly so after the death of Thomas Baynton in 1904. News of his widow's activities was included in The British-Australasian, edited by her friends the Chomleys. She met their relative from Melbourne, Martin Boyd (q.v.), and became his patroness in London. Boyd's memories of Baynton may be identified in his characters 'Brangane Winter', (Brangane 1926) and 'Bridget Malwyn', (Such Pleasure 1949).
During the First World War, Baynton's homes in England received Australian servicemen on leave; Cobbers (1917) was marketed to the large numbers of these servicemen in London. In 1921 she married George Allanson-Winn, Baron Headley, but they separated in 1924. Returning to Australia, Baynton settled in Toorak. She died of 'cerebral thrombosis and pneumonia' and her ashes were buried at Waverley Cemetery, Sydney.
Bayton's writing is important in evaluating the 1890s, a contentious period in Australian writing and politics. Her readers are obliged to revise their views of 'the bush' and to contend with her use of vernacular speech. 'Barbara Baynton,' according to Alan Lawson (q.v.), 'has a small oeuvre and a large reputation.'