Catherine Sinclair

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Catherine Sinclair Monument, Edinburgh

Catherine Sinclair (17 April 1800 – 6 August 1864) was a Scottish novelist and writer of children's literature.


Catherine Sinclair was born in Edinburgh on 17 April 1800, the fourth daughter of Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet and Lady Diana Macdonald. Catherine died unmarried. Sir George Sinclair, 2nd Baronet, John Sinclair (1797–1875), and William Sinclair (1804–1878) were her brothers. She was her father's secretary from the age of fourteen till his death in 1835.[1][2] From 1814 to 1818 she lived at Ormeley Lodge, Ham.[3] She was an aunt of the novelist Lucy Bethia Walford.[4]

She then began independent authorship, her first works being children's books, prompted by interest in her nephew, the Hon. George Boyle, 6th Earl of Glasgow. Her story of two anarchic children, in Holiday House, A Book for the Young, successfully engaged the imagination of her young readers. This work was a popular and a notable example of the genre, and a departure from the moralising approach of contemporary works. The book also encapsulates a fantasy tale of fairies and giants.[5]

On the subject of children's literature, she says in her preface,[6]

"But above all we never forget those who good humouredly complied with the constantly recurring petition of all young people in every generation, and in every house, — 'Will you tell us a story?'"

Sinclair's activities in Edinburgh included charitable works such as the establishment of cooking depots in old and new Edinburgh, and in the maintenance of a mission station at the Water of Leith. She was instrumental in securing seats for crowded thoroughfares, and she set the example in Edinburgh of instituting drinking fountains, one of which bore her name and stood at the city's West End before it was removed as an obstruction to trams in 1926.

She is noted as being the discoverer of Sir Walter Scott's authorship of "The Waverley Novels" which were originally written anonymously.

She died at the vicarage, Kensington, the residence of her brother, Archdeacon John Sinclair on 6 Aug. 1864, and was interred in the burying-ground of St. John's Episcopal Church, Edinburgh. Her portrait was drawn in crayons by James Archer, R.S.A. (cf. Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 620).[1]

A monument was erected to her memory on the SE corner of St Colme Street in Edinburgh's New Town (just north of Charlotte Square). The inscription is,

"She was a friend of all children and through her book 'Holiday House' speaks to them still."[6]

The monument was modelled loosely on the Scott Monument as she was a major contributor to the funding of that monument.


Miss Sinclair wrote brightly and wittily, and displayed much skill in characterisation and description. Several of her books were popular in America.

Undated and early works of Miss Sinclair's are: Charlie Seymour; Lives of the Cæsars, or the Juvenile Plutarch; Holiday House: A Book for the Young (written in 1839 and once very popular with children); Modern Superstition; and Memoirs of the English Bible.[1]

Her other principal works are:[7]

  • Modern Accomplishments, or the March of Intellect, a study of female education. 1836
  • Shetland and the Shetlanders, or the Northern Circuit. 1840
  • Scotland and the Scotch, or the Western Circuit. 1840 (republished in America, and translated into various languages)
  • Modern Flirtations, or a Month at Harrowgate. 1841
  • Scotch Courtiers and the Court. 1842
  • Jane Bouverie, or Prosperity and Adversity. 1846
  • The Journey of Life. 1847
  • The Business of Life. 1848
  • Sir Edward Graham, or Railway Speculators. 1849
  • Lord and Lady Harcourt, or Country Hospitalities. 1850
  • The Kaleidoscope, or Anecdotes and Aphorisms. 1851
  • Beatrice, or the Unknown Relatives. 1852
  • Popish Legends, or Bible Truths. 1852
  • London Homes. 1853
  • Cross Purposes. 1853
  • The Cabman's Holiday. 1855
  • Torchester Abbey. 1857
  • Anecdotes of the Cæsars. 1858
  • Sketches and Short Stories of Scotland and the Scotch, and Shetland and the Shetlanders. 1859
  • Sketches and Short Stories of Wales and the Welsh. 1860


  1. ^ a b c  Bayne, Thomas Wilson (1897). "Sinclair, Catherine". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 52. London: Smith, Elder & Co. sources: [Scotsman, 7 Aug. 1864; Gent. Mag. 1864, ii. 654; Archdeacon Sinclair's Memoir of Sir John Sinclair; Anderson's Scottish Nation; information from Mr. Cuninghame Steele, advocate, Edinburgh.] 
  2. ^ Mitchell, Charlotte. "Catherine Sinclair". DNB. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  3. ^ Green, James; Greenwood, Silvia (1980). Ham and Petersham As It Was. Hendon Publishing. ISBN 0860670570. OCLC 16604168.  (number 20)
  4. ^ ODNB entry for Walford, Lucy Bethia. Retrieved 4 August 2013. Pay-walled.
  5. ^ Reid, Robin Anne (2009). "The creation of Literature for the Young.". Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Overviews 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 264. ISBN 978-0-313-33591-4. Retrieved 20 November 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Alison, Jim. "Towards an Overview of Scottish Children's Literature from 1823 to 2010". Retrieved 20 November 2010. 
  7. ^ Shattock, Joanne (2000-03-28). The Cambridge bibliography of English literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 2192. ISBN 978-0-521-39100-9. Retrieved 20 November 2010. 

 "Sinclair, Catherine". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

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