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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fletcher, Jane Ada (1870–1956)

by Leonard Wall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Jane Ada Fletcher (1870-1956), teacher, ornithologist and author, was born on 18 September 1870 at Stonefield station, near Penshurst, Victoria, eldest of three daughters of Price Fletcher, a grazier from England who was later agricultural editor of the Queenslander, and his Victorian-born wife Sarah, née Cooper. Jane's early life was spent on Russell Island, Queensland, and at Acacia Grove, a sugar plantation at Mackay. When the family moved to Cleveland (Queensland), she was educated in Brisbane. Following their mother's death in 1889, the sisters returned to depression-ravaged Victoria and lived with relations at Bundoora. In 1892 Jane escaped 'Granny's acid tongue' by taking work on an aunt's farm at Wilmot in north-western Tasmania. Four years later she became a teacher of sewing (initially without pay) at West Kentish primary school; by 1899 she had qualified as a head teacher and was appointed to set up a school at Upper Wilmot. She supported her father (who died in 1906) and subsequently taught at Cleveland (Tasmania), Springfield, Woodbridge and Forcett.

From her mother who was a keen botanist and her father who was a dedicated ornithologist, Jane had inherited a love of nature. She and her younger sister Sarah ('Ivy') travelled everywhere by bicycle—notwithstanding their ankle-length dresses—and frequently waded in the swamps about Cleveland where they took a particular interest in rails and crakes. A foundation member (1901) and later a life member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union, Jane Fletcher wrote and published many papers on the birds of her districts. At Cleveland she was the first to find the nesting of Eurasian coots; in 1912 at Springfield she found a new species for mainland Tasmania, the golden-headed fantail-warbler or barley-bird; at Eaglehawk Neck, where she retired and opened a guest-house, she was the first in the State to record (1925) the gentoo penguin. Her notes were published in Emu. She undertook field-work for the Australian-born ornithologist Gregory Mathews, but this activity ceased in 1936 when she was severely injured in an accident. In 1934 she had been the first woman to deliver a lecture to the Royal Society of Tasmania, of which she was a member.

Fletcher also wrote a number of successful books for children. The two earliest—Stories from Nature (London, 1915) and Nature and Adventure in Australasia for Boys and Girls (London, 1916)—were followed by a Brochure of Nature Study: Suggestions and Experiments for Use in Schools (1933). She produced several supplementary readers, among them Tommy's Ride on the Emu (Melbourne, 1925, 1948) and Wanna (Melbourne, 1939). A member (1953) of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, she wrote such booklets as the Military History of Eaglehawk Neck (1946) and A Brief History of Port Arthur and the Tasman Peninsula Outstations (1947). Her lifelong interest in the Aborigines resulted in Little Brown Piccaninnies of Tasmania (Sydney, 1950), the most popular of her books for children; her work also appeared as supplements in Tasmanian Education—'Aboriginal words as place names in Tasmania' (1953) and 'Notes on the dialects of some of the Aboriginal tribes of Tasmania' (1953). Late in life she published another booklet, The Stone Age Man of Tasmania (1954), and a book, Tasmania's Own Birds (1956). She died on 15 April 1956 at Eaglehawk Neck and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Anderson, The Singing Roads, vols 1-2 (Syd, 1969, 1970)
  • J. Marcus (ed), First in their Field (Melb, 1993)
  • Emu, 56, 1956, p 149
  • Tasmanian Country, 4 July 1986, p 15
  • Mercury (Hobart), 16 Apr 1956
  • Fletcher papers (State Library of Queensland)
  • Fletcher file (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • personal information.

Citation details

Leonard Wall, 'Fletcher, Jane Ada (1870–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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