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Jessie Catherine Couvreur Jessie Catherine Couvreur i(A25395 works by) (birth name: Jessie Huybers)
Also writes as: Tasma
Born: Established: 28 Oct 1848 Highgate, London,
United Kingdom (UK),
Western Europe, Europe,
; Died: Ceased: 23 Oct 1897 Brussels, Belgium, Western Europe, Europe,
Gender: Female
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Jessie Couvreur (nee Huybers) was born at Southwood Lodge in Highgate, north London. Her mother Charlotte (nee Ogleby), the child of an English father and a French mother, was a teacher who undertook the education of her children. Couvreur's father, Jacques (James) Alfred Huybers was born at Anvers (Antwerp), then part of Holland, later Belgium. The Huybers immigrated to Hobart Town when Couvreur was four years old. Alfred established a successful business trading wine and in 1859 the family of eight children was moved to Cleburne House, one of the largest houses in Hobart. At Highfield, their summer home on the western outskirts of the town, bought in 1866, they had an idyllic life similar to that described by 'Tasma' in Not Counting the Cost (1895).

The Huybers children visited Government House regularly after the appointment of Governor Thomas Gore Browne in 1861; Couvreur and Gore Browne's daughter Mabel were friends. Another visitor to Government House, the author Louisa Meredith (q.v.), was influential in Couvreur's progress as a writer. In 1867 Couvreur married Charles Forbes Fraser and while it was an unsuccessful union there is no evidence to suggest that she was forced into the marriage, like some of the heroines of her stories. Fraser took his bride to live in the Kyneton district, Victoria. The marriage ended in divorce sixteen years later after a long separation.

Couvreur had spent most of this time in England and Europe, but drew on her life and experiences in Australia for her novels. In 1877, using the pseudonym 'Tasma', she began contributing short stories and travel articles to several periodicals, including the Australasian and the Melbourne Review. Her well-anthologised story, 'Monsieur Caloche' appeared in the Australasian in 1878, and according to Colin Roderick shows 'her sympathy for the alien immigrant.' The title story of her collection A Sydney Sovereign and Other Tales (1890), was a short novel that dealt, like some of her later full-length novels, with class distinction.

In 1880 she began her widely respected lecture tours in Europe. In 1885 she married the Belgian politician and journalist, Auguste Couvreur. The stability of this marriage provided her with more freedom to write, and her first and most admired novel, Uncle Piper of Piper's Hill, was published in 1889. Five more novels, mostly about ill-matched marriages, followed in the next ten years, including A Fiery Ordeal (1897).

Couvreur also wrote a story for children, 'Bertha and the Snake', which was included in Over the Sea: Stories of Two Worlds (edited by Arthur Patchett Martin, 1891) and contributed a chapter, 'Sick Unto Death', to a serial novel, The Fate of Fenella, published in The Gentlewoman (from the Christmas number 1891 to 7 May 1892. Arthur Conan Doyle was another contributor). 'Tasma' became one of Australia's principal women novelists of the late nineteenth century, a contemporary of Ada Cambridge (q.v.) and Rosa Praed (q.v.). Rolf Boldrewood (q.v.) described 'Tasma' as 'the Australian George Eliot' ('Heralds of Australian Literature', Australian Association for the Advancement of Science Report of the 4th Meeting, Hobart, January 1892).

After Auguste Couvreur's death in 1894, his widow took over his role as the Brussels correspondent to The Times (London). In the latter months of 1896, Couvreur was diagnosed as having heart disease and she died of a heart attack a few days before her forty-ninth birthday.

Most Referenced Works


Known archival holdings

National Library of Australia (ACT)
State Library of NSW (NSW)
Albinski 47-48
Last amended 7 Oct 2009 10:55:47
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