Eliza Fenwick

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Eliza Fenwick (née Jaco; 1 February 1767 – 8 December 1840) was an English author, whose works include Secresy; or The Ruin on the Rock (1795) and several children's books. She was born in Cornwall, married an alcoholic, and had two children by him. She left him and eventually went to live with her children in Barbados, where she ran a school with her daughter.[1]


Eliza Jaco was born on 1 February 1767 at Pelynt, Cornwall. Her parents were Peter and Elizabeth Jaco (née Hawksworth), and she was baptized Elizabeth on 25 June 1766. She married in the 1780s a writer named John Fenwick, who became an alcoholic and heavily in debt.[2] They had two children, Eliza and Orlando. She took up tasks such as working as a governess to make family ends meet, but eventually left Fenwick and moved to Ireland as a governess in 1807.[3]

By this time, Fenwick's daughter had moved to the West Indies to be an actress, and married William Rutherford, by whom she had four children. Fenwick and her son, Orlando, joined her daughter in Barbados in 1814, but Orlando died of yellow fever in 1816. In 1819, Fenwick's son-in-law left the family, leaving the mother and daughter to bring up the four children. The pair ran a secondary school, which provided income and ensured the children's own education. Fenwick's daughter died in 1828, leaving her to raise the children alone.[2]


Throughout her life Fenwick corresponded with friends who included Mary Hays, Thomas Holcroft, William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Turner Smith, and Charles and Mary Lamb. Much of the correspondence survives. Her epistolary novel Secresy; or The Ruin on the Rock was published as "By a Woman" in 1795. Her subsequent works were written for children, sometimes under the pseudonym Rev. David Blair.[3] Mary and Her Cat (1804) was advertised as being "in words not exceeding two syllables".[1] Visits to the Junior Library (1805, facsimile 1977) tells of a ghastly West Indian family with a slave nurse being "reclaimed by discovering the joys of learning."[4]


  1. ^ a b Jarndyce Booksellers' catalogue Women Writers 1795–1927 Part I: A–F (London, Summer 2017).
  2. ^ a b O'Callaghan, Evelyn (2004). "Black and white women". Women Writing the West Indies, 1804–1939: 'A Hot Place, Belonging To Us'. Routledge. p. 44. ISBN 9781134440962. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b Brooke, Marilyn L. (2004). "Fenwick [née Jago], Eliza [pseud. Revd David Blair] (c. 1766–1840), writer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/37413. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy (eds): The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present (Batsford: London, 1990), p. 365.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lissa Paul: Eliza Fenwick: early modern feminist, Newark: University of Delaware Press, [2019], ISBN 978-1-64453-009-2

External links[edit]