Ada Cambridge was born at St Germans, Norfolk, England, in 1844. She was educated by a series of governesses and also read widely. In 1865 she published two small works: Hymns on the Litany and Two Surplices. A Tale. She married the young curate George Cross in 1870, and that same year the couple arrived in Victoria. Between 1870 and 1909, George Cross conducted pastoral work at Wangaratta, Yackandandah, Ballan, Coleraine, Bendigo, Beechworth and Williamstown. In 1873 Cambridge began writing to supplement her husband's meagre income. Many of her works (she published twenty-one novels) were serialised in periodicals like the Australasian and a number were also published in book form. Novels such as A Marked Man (1890) and The Three Miss Kings (1891) brought her wide recognition in Australia and England with their tales of the Anglo-Australian aristocracy. She also published three volumes of poetry: The Manor House and other Poems (1875), Unspoken Thoughts (1887) and The Hand in the Dark (1913). After George Cross resigned from Williamstown in 1909 they returned to England. But after her husband died in 1917, Cambridge returned to Victoria. She died at Elsternwick in 1926.
Ada Cambridge's reputation suffered after her death because critics, looking for evidence of 1890s nationalism, found nothing of interest in her works. However, feminist studies in the 1970s and 1980s demonstrated the radical explorations of Victorian society in Cambridge's poetry and fiction, particularly in her studies of marital love. In response to these findings, new editions of her poetry and fiction have appeared, making her work more accessible to general readers.
' Following the fortunes of Richard Delavel as a rebellious Oxford undergraduate in 1850s England and a still restless middle-aged family man in 1880s Sydney, the story presents his life and loves, work and leisure, beliefs and hopes against a background of constraints and opportunities in Britain and Australia.' (Publication summary)