Clarinda Sarah Parkes, known in the family as Menie, was born at sea off the New South Wales coast. She was the eldest child of Henry Parkes (q.v) and his wife, Clarinda; the first of three children to survive infancy. As a consequence she became a favourite of her parents despite the arrival of another nine children. Clarinda had a lifelong attachment to her parents and A. W. Martin, the biographer of Sir Henry Parkes, (1983: xiv) asserts her adoration for her father was the 'outstanding fact of her existence'. She was educated at Mrs Tweedle's ladies' seminary in Woolloomooloo and by the age of thirteen her father could report: 'She [h]as read all sorts of books to the amount of volumes and [h]as very sensible and clear views on most subjects that are matters of conversation' (Martin, 1983: xvii).
At twelve Clarinda Parkes was writing poetry and her father published a poem, 'The Dream', written when she was fifteen, in the Empire. In adolescence she developed a religious obsession, not uncommon in girls of her class and time, to which was added physical ailments that led her to be treated as 'delicate' and given to 'turns'. She loved her father deeply and A. W. Martin (1980: 159) attests: 'Her articulateness, intelligence and sensitivity gave her qualities as intellectual confidante which no other woman in his life, and certainly not Clarinda possessed...'
For Henry Parkes a woman's place was in the home but his daughter was determined to have an independent working life. She wrote: 'I cannot think that all things should be held subordinate to the purpose of fitting myself for married life, when I may die at any hour, or if living, may never marry: ought I not rather, to fit myself to pass through the world unaided?' (Martin, 1980: 159). As early as 1858 she had hopes of working for her father at the Empire which were not realised but she was determined to support herself as a writer. By 1859, Clarinda Parkes was writing a story for an English publisher and had offered to write regular political articles for the Maitland Mercury and social commentary for Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald. Her most prolific output was in the period before her marriage in 1871.
Clarinda Parkes always used a pen name and none of her works was published separately apart from Poems which Henry Parkes had privately printed as a present for his daughter in 1867. Her achievements in these years were significant. She wrote a group of tales called 'Pet Perennials' which appeared in the Australian Home Companion and Band of Hope Journal in 1859-1860 under the pen name 'Patty Parsley'. There were twelve tales consisting of a few chapters of around 2,000 words each but the last was twelve chapters. She also wrote occasional verse for the Journal and in 1860 'Miss Jesse's Schooldays, and What Came of Them, being the substance of several letters now in the possession and revised by PATTY PARSLEY'. None of this work involved financial compensation but in 1860 Clarinda Parkes became a founding contributor to the newly established Fairfax weekly, the Sydney Mail. By 1861 she was a minor success earning money critical to the family's wellbeing. Her first novel, Bitter Sweet, was published in the Sydney Mail in instalments between August 1860 and March 1861. It consisted of thirty chapters and around 90,000 words.
Clarinda Parkes wrote for the Sydney Mail as 'Ariel', publishing poems, articles and three more serial novels, each as long as 'Bitter Sweet'. They were Which Wins? A Tale of Life'sImpulses (October 1861-May 1862); A Lonely Lot (July 1863-February 1864); and Benedicta under the pseudonym of 'Aletha' (June-October 1867). She was to write three more stories for the Sydney Mail in 1871 before domesticity and isolation overwhelmed her. They were 'Henry Muriel's Trial' (April)'; 'What Should She Do, and What She Did' (June); and 'Fallen By the Way' (July-January 1872). Her last major literary effort, in the aftermath of her husband's death, was a thirty-two chapter serial tale, Mrs. Ord, again in the Sydney Mail.
A. W. Martin (1983: 170) passes judgement on her literary output in the following words: 'Little of this large literary output can now be thought of as creative writing worthy of preservation for its own sake. Much of it exhibits the worst flaws of "potboiler" literature: an overpowering sentimentality that often drifts towards bathos; wooden characterization; over-ingenious plots; prose which, however taut in places, too often veers towards the flaccid or the inflated. But if poor as art, it is rich as documentation - a sometimes vivid reflection both of the taste of the Sydney audience and of Menie's own outlook and construction of the world around her.'
The early 1860s had been a difficult time with Henry Parkes in England and Clarinda Parkes helping her mother through desperate financial straits and the birth of another child. On Henry Parkes' return in January 1863 she begged to be allowed to leave home and establish a day school with a friend. It was operating in 1865 but for how long is unknown.On the 30th March 1869 Menie married William Thom, a Scots graduate of King's College, Aberdeen, and a Presbyterian minister. He accepted a position at Pambula on the south coast of New South Wales and Menie Parkes had to manage on the modest clerical income of 250 pounds. The isolation from her family was difficult at first but she and her father wrote regularly to each other and at the end of 1869 she presented her parents with their first grandson. There were to be five by July 1876 which made her aspirations to write difficult. The demands of domestic life and the tedium of small country towns drained her of creative energy.
By this time Clarinda and William Thom were living in Ballan, Victoria, and father and daughter greatly missed each other. On 23 July 1877 William Thom had a riding accident and died shortly after. Menie Parkes was just thirty-eight when she returned to Sydney with her children. She took up land near Faulconbridge at Mt Victoria with the support of her father and began 'scribbling' again. Clarinda Parkes was to battle poverty and debt for years to come and still dreamt of founding another school. Despite financial ruin and Menie Parkes's aggrieved reaction to his marriage to his mistress, Eleanor Dixon, Henry Parkes continued to give his daughter quarterly allowances. On her father's death in 1896 hers was one of two wreaths chosen to lie on the coffin as it was transported to the funeral train. Menie Parkes was then a widow of fifty-six with her daughter Queenie and three sons, William, John and Bob, providing care and support. The much loved Harry, the first born, had drowned at Narrabeen in 1895. Despite chronic ill health Clarinda Parkes lived on until 1915, dying of 'senile decay'. There was little in the way of literary publication in these last years apart from a newspaper article, 'Sydney Sixty Years Since' published around 1910.
Source: Adapted from A. W. Martin Henry Parkes: A Biography (1980); Letters from Menie: Sir Henry Parkes and His Daughter ed. A. W. Martin (1983); A. W. Martin, 'Parkes, Sir Henry (1815 - 1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, MUP, 1974, pp 399-406.
See also the author 'C.P.', who contributed to the Australian Town and Country Journal in the 1870s. This author gives their address as 'Balmain', which suggests that they might have been Clarinda Parkes, however this remains to be established.