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Table Talk, 10 November 1899, p.14
Mary Gaunt Mary Gaunt i(A112 works by) (birth name: Mary Eliza Bakewell Gaunt) (a.k.a. Mary Miller)
Born: Established: 20 Feb 1861 Chiltern, Rutherglen - Chiltern area, North East Victoria, Victoria, ; Died: Ceased: 19 Jan 1942 Cannes,
c
France,
c
Western Europe, Europe,

Gender: Female
Departed from Australia: 1901
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BiographyHistory

Mary Gaunt was born and grew up in Chiltern, Victoria. She was one of the first two women admitted to the University of Melbourne, but did not complete her degree.

From the late 1880s on she had short stories and articles published in such journals as Argus, the Sydney Mail and the Australasian, which earned her enough money to pay the passage of her first trip to Europe in 1890. In 1894 she married a widower, Dr Hubert Miller, and settled in Warrnambool. Her husband's death in 1900 left her penniless, and to maintain her independence she decided to move to London in 1901 and seek her fortune as a writer. She never returned to Australia. She travelled widely in Europe, Africa, China and Jamaica, where several of her works are set, and finally settled in Italy.

Gaunt wrote numerous travel books and works of fiction. Many of her novels deal with feminist themes. Of over twenty published works, six novels and a book of short stories concern Australia, most notably her novels Kirkham's Find (1897) and Deadman's (1898). (Source: Oxford Companion to Australian Literature)

Most Referenced Works

Affiliation Notes

  • Mary Gaunt began her journalism career in 1885 when she left the University of Melbourne to turn to writing.

    Gaunt’s first work of narrative journalism was a first person article narrating her brother Ernest’s experiences in Papua New Guinea (1885).  She submitted the article to the Age as Ernest, not disclosing that she was his sister and had never left Victoria. It was promptly published and Gaunt later employed the same tactic for a series of first person articles about naval training undertaken by another brother, Guy, and the conflict he witnessed between officers at sea. Gaunt submitted the articles to the Argus under the byline, “by The Captain of the Maintop Starboard” (1888).

    Her biographer, Bronwen Hickman writes that when Gaunt contributed to the volumes Picturesque Australasia (1887 – 1889) , she wrote under the name “M. Gaunt” to claim the stories without revealing her gender (2014; 47)  and appease her mother’s displeasure that she was writing journalism. For the Picturesque Australasia, Gaunt wrote again about her brother in Papua New Guinea, but also explored descriptive narrative closer to home, writing about the Victorian goldfields and the Riverina.

    Gaunt resisted the conventional female norms of the time of marrying young and living a life of domesticity.  She travelled to England as a single woman in 1890  and while living in London, wrote about colonial life in Australia for the English Illustrated Magazine (1891), after initially approaching the editor with her trusty ambiguous signature and another first person story about her naval brother, Guy.

    Returning home to Victoria, Gaunt wrote a fictional story for The Bulletin and worked on novels, but continued to write journalism articles that focussed on the care of the poor and those with disabilities, particularly women and children.  According to Hickman, Gaunt wrote from, “inside the institutions,” (2014;70). Gaunt toured Melbourne slums with the Melbourne District Nursing Society (1893) then immersed herself in the kindergarten, “Little Sisters of the Poor.” (1893). Both were published in the Argus under her full name ‘Mary Gaunt’, as was her piece “A Butter Factory” (1894)

    Gaunt married in her early 30s. When her husband died prematurely from illness in 1901, Gaunt returned to live in England permanently. It was a base for frequent travel to Europe but she also used contacts in England to arrange travelling alone to Africa and China, primarily to write travel narratives about her journeys and for creative inspiration for novels.

    She largely concentrated on fiction until her death in 1942 in France. While primarily known as a novelist, Gaunt’s contribution to Australia’s female narrative journalism tradition remains vivid.

    Selected Articles:

    Bibliography:

    • Hickman Bronwen (2014) Mary Gaunt Independent Colonial Woman, Melbourne Books, Australia
    • Morris Edward Ellis (ed) (1895) Cassell’s Picturesque Australasia, Cassell & Co, London
Last amended 7 Feb 2018 09:21:15
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