Eliza Brightwen

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Eliza Brightwen
Eliza Brightwen.jpg
Born Eliza Elder
30 October 1830
Banff, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Died 5 May 1906 (aged 75)
Nationality Scottish
Spouse(s) George Brightwen

Eliza Brightwen (also known as Lizzie Brightwen or Eliza Elder) (30 October 1830 – 5 May 1906) was a Scottish naturalist. She was self-taught, and many of her observations were made on the grounds of The Grove; this was the estate she shared with her husband during his lifetime, and where she as widow. She was described, in 1912, as "one of the most popular naturalists of her day."

Personal life[edit]

She was born in 1830 in Banff, Aberdeenshire, Scotland; her parents were George and Margaret Elder, and she had three other siblings. Her mother died in 1837 and her father was by then also dead.[1][2] She was adopted, after her mother died, by her uncle, Alexander Elder, co-founder of Smith, Elder & Co.[1]

Eliza Elder moved to Streatham to live with her uncle, and then to Stoke Newington. She did not receive a formal education.[1] She expressed interest in natural history as a child and described her youth as "extremely lonely and quiet."[3] In 1855 she married George Brightwen, a banker who then to ran a successful business of his own. The couple moved to Stanmore and lived in a house called Elderslie, in Bushey Heath.[1][4]

Brightwen suffered from health problems, and had a nervous breakdown in 1872. She lived as a recluse for ten years, with little to no contact with her husband and friends. She rarely left the house and did not read. George Brightwen died in 1883. Eliza then emerged from reclusiveness, to be active intellectually and physically, but continued to suffer from body pains for the rest of her life. She still rarely left The Grove.[1]

Brightwen lived in Stanmore until she died in May 1906. The house, The Grove, was an estate with 170 acres of grounds where she carried out much of her research.[1][4] The couple renovated the house, to a design carried out by Brightwen Binyon. She made the billiard room into a museum after her husband's death.[5]

Eliza Brightwen was a philanthropist and attended church regularly. She died childless, and is buried at a church in Stanmore.[1]


Brightwen did much of her research on location in the woods and grounds of her home, The Grove. She started writing about her work when she was sixty. In 1890, she published Wild Nature Won by Kindness, about animal life. She became well known as a naturalist. In 1892, she published her second book, More about Wild Nature, followed by Inmates of my House and Garden, in 1895. It is considered her master work. She published a total of six publications during her lifetime. She socialized with Philip Henry Gosse (whose second wife, also named Eliza Brightwen, was her husband's sister), William Henry Flower, William Hooker, and James Paget.[1] She also wrote about the concept of "home museums," as written in More about Wild Nature. The concept of home museums stems from her own home museum at The Grove.[5]

Upon her death, a collection of essays were published titled Last Hours with Nature. An autobiography was also published, with an epilogue by Edmund Gosse, who was her nephew.[1]


  • Brightwen, Eliza. Glimpses into Plant Life. (1898) ISBN 1149384018
  • Brightwen, Eliza. Inmates of my House and Garden. (1895) ISBN 0559909659
  • Brightwen, Eliza. More about Wild Nature. (1892) ISBN 1164177125
  • Brightwen, Eliza. Quiet Hours with Nature. (1903)
  • Brightwen, Eliza. Rambles with Nature Students. (1899)
  • Brightwen, Eliza. Wild Nature Won by Kindness. (1890)

Further reading[edit]

  • Gosse, Edmund (editor). Eliza Brightwen : the Life and Thoughts of a Naturalist. (1909)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Brightwen, Eliza". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. ^ "Eliza Brightwen's funeral was recorded in the Harrow Observer under the heading DEATH AND FUNERAL OF". Ancestry. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  3. ^ Bernard Lightman (15 October 2009). Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences: Designing Nature for New Audiences. University of Chicago Press. pp. 439–449. ISBN 978-0-226-48117-3. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Eliza Brightwen". Ancestry. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "The Grove Home Museum". Ancestry. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 

External links[edit]