Anna Maria Bunn

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Anna Maria Bunn (1808–1889) was the anonymous author of The Guardian: a Tale (by an Australian) (1838),[1] the first novel published on mainland Australia and the first in the continent by a woman.[2] Bunn’s authorship was only established after an historian found a copy of the book in which her son had noted his mother’s authorship.[3]


Anna Maria Murray was born in Ireland and in 1827 came to Australia with her father, who, as a retired army officer, was entitled to a free land grant in New South Wales. Her brother Terence Aubrey Murray also came out, while her brother James remained behind until he had finished training as a surgeon. A year later she married Captain George Bunn, a mariner and merchant, a brother of the English theatrical manager Alfred Bunn.[4] They settled in Pyrmont in Sydney. Captain Bunn died suddenly on 9 January 1834, aged 43, leaving Anna Maria aged 25 years, with two small sons and in financial difficulties.[5] It was in the five years after her husband’s death that she wrote the novel. In this time she alternated between living with her brother James, who owned Woden homestead and her brother Terence, who owned Yarralumla homestead, both in the area of present-day Canberra. She had planned to return to Ireland, but this became impractical.[6] In 1852 she moved to live at St Omer in the Braidwood district a property of which had been owned by Captain Bunn but which the couple had never occupied.[7] In 1860 her youngest son died from a fall from a horse, and five years later his wife and son died of typhoid fever, leaving a daughter Georgiana who was raised by Anna Maria.[8] Bunn apparently wrote nothing else apart from her novel, but she did produce paintings of insects and flowers which are in the collection of the National Library of Australia.[9] She died at St Omer on 19 September 1889. Her grave is in the Braidwood General Cemetery.[10]


The novel is a competent work that mixes the apparently incongruous modes of the Gothic novel and the comedy of manners.[11] The setting is England and Ireland, with New South Wales only referred to at times in the text, mostly in amusingly disparaging terms.[12] It is written partly in the form of letters between two former school friends and partly in third person narrative, typical of transitional novels of the time.[13] Themes include the search for security, the issue of whether to marry for love (the author appears to vote against it) and the ups and downs of marriage.[14] However, these are expressed within a melodramatic gothic plot culminating in infanticide and suicide.[15] The author does not seem particularly comfortable with the Gothic sensibility.[16] Dale Spender points out that although the plot includes the eventual discovery of an incestuous secret (husband and wife discover that they are also brother and sister) the author seems disconcertingly (for a gothic novel) blasé about this turn of affairs, and regards such a situation as simply unfortunate rather than a shocking sin which will be punished.[17]


  1. ^ The Guardian: a Tale/by an Australian, Sydney: Printed by J Spilsbury, 1838 (copy in Mitchell library, Sydney)
  2. ^ Clarke, Patricia ‘Anna Maria Bunn and The Guardian’ in Margins no. 73 November 2007
  3. ^ Wilson, Gwendoline 'Anna Maria Murray: Authoress of The Guardian ' Australian Literary Studies Vol 3 no 2 October 1967 (pp 148–149)
  4. ^ The Asiatic Journal and the Monthtly Register for British and Foreign India, China and Australasia, vol. XIV, new series, May to August 1834, London, Parbury, Allen & Co., page 217
  5. ^ Clarke 2007, see above
  6. ^ Richardson, Edwina 'The Spirit of St Omer - a Braidwood district historical garden'
  7. ^ St Omer Cottage and Garden, Register of the National Estate, Australian Heritage Database, file 1/08/300/0030
  8. ^ Richardson, see above
  9. ^ Clarke 2007, see above
  10. ^, Braidwood General Cemetery, data compiled and gathered by Barry Stephenson
  11. ^ Spender, Dale Writing a New World: two centuries of Australian Women's writing pp 97–102
  12. ^ Spender, see above
  13. ^ Spender, see above
  14. ^ Spender, see above
  15. ^ Clarke, see above
  16. ^ Turcotte, G. 1998 Australian Gothic Faculty of Arts - Papers, University of Wollongong p.5
  17. ^ Spender, see above

Further reading[edit]

  • The Guardian, a tale/ by Anna Maria Bunn (an Australian) with a new introduction by Elizabeth Webby, Canberra, ACT: Mulini Press, 1994.
  • Anna Maria Bunn 'The Guardian: chapters 2 and 3 (from The Guardian: a tale)' in Her Selection: Writings by Nineteenth Century Australian Women ed. by Lynne Spender. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1988 (pp 22–36).
  • Clarke, Patricia 'Pen Portraits: Women Writers and Journalists in Nineteenth Century Australia' North Sydney, New South Wales, Allen and Unwin, 1988
  • McKiernan, Susan 'Two Early Novelists: Anna Maria Bunn and Mary Theresa Vidal' in A Bright and Fiery Troop: Australian Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century ed. By Debra Adelaide. Ringwood, Vic., Penguin, 1988 pp 53–68.
  • Bunn, Anna Maria Papers 1826–1889 (manuscript) letters, press cuttings, recipes, etc. (photocopies of the originals of which are in private ownership) in National Library of Australia (NLA MS 2853)