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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Grimstone, Mary Leman (1796–1869)

by Michael Roe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Mary Leman Grimstone (1796?-1869), author and feminist, was born either in England or in the German city-state of Hamburg, one of at least five children of Leman Thomas Rede, bibliographer of early Americana. Two of Mary's brothers—Leman Thomas Tertius Rede (1799-1832) and William Leman Rede (1802-1847)—won esteem on the London stage, and two sisters—Lucy and Louisa—shared some of her literary skill. Mary published verse of fair quality from about 1815 and her first novel, The Beauty of the British Alps, in 1825. By then she had married a man named Grimstone, who probably died soon afterwards. Perhaps this episode heightened the nervous stress that recurrently beset her. Late in 1825 she embarked for Hobart Town, accompanying her sister Lucy and the latter's husband Stephen Adey, an official with the Van Diemen's Land Co. It seems likely that during the voyage and immediately after she composed her second novel, Louisa Egerton: A Tale of Real Life (London, 1829). If so, this appears to have been the first such work of Australian provenance.

Mary continued to write—good verse prompted by the local scene, an essay (which gained some local notoriety) bemoaning the colony's lack of cultural and social amenity and Woman's Love, traditionally joined with Henry Savery's Quintus Servinton as the first Australian novels. In 1829 Mary returned to Britain. Woman's Love was published in 1832, with a postscript which advanced feminist ideas in much the same terms as had Mary Wollstonecraft. Grimstone's best novels were Character: Or Jew and Gentile (1833), in which a protagonist appears to be modelled on the author in physique and feminist-radical ideology, and Cleone: A Tale of Married Life (1834). Only a few Tasmanian references appear throughout these novels.

About 1836 Mary married William Gillies, a wealthy corn merchant; but this marriage did not flourish. 'Mrs Gillies' appeared in Leigh Hunt's poem 'Blue-Stocking Revels' (1837), in terms suggesting that Hunt found her didacticism tedious. Among her associates within London's radical intelligentsia were Caroline Norton, Robert Owen, W. J. Linton and Elizabeth Gaskell, and Mary may have been the model for Alfred (Lord) Tennyson's Lady Psyche in The Princess (London, 1847). Her essays and verse continued to appear in various magazines, such as the Unitarian Monthly Repository, whose editor W. J. Fox ranked Mary with Jane Austen.

Mary retained an interest in Australia, her pen sometimes espousing colonial sympathies and loyalties. To some degree she presented colonial experience in terms of nationalist concepts as currently expounded by Mazzini and others. In 1832 her sister Louisa had married Alexander Goldie, then an employee of the Van Diemen's Land Co., and subsequently spent thirty years in Tasmania, and thirty more in Victoria. Adela Lucy Leman, second daughter of the Adeys, who returned to Britain in 1837, married the eminent physician (Sir) William Jenner. The Jenners retained ties with Mary as she entered an apparently poor and sad older age. Predeceased by her husband, Mary Gillies died, after swallowing disinfectant, on 4 November 1869 at Paddington, London.

Select Bibliography

  • E. M. Miller, Pressmen and Governors (Syd, 1952)
  • P. Clarke, Pen Portraits (Syd, 1988)
  • M. Roe, ‘Mary Leman Grimstone (1800-1850?): For Women’s Rights and Tasmanian Patriotism’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 36, no 1, Mar 1989, p 9
  • M. Roe, ‘Mary Leman Grimstone and her Sisters’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 42, no 1, Mar 1995, p 36.

Citation details

Michael Roe, 'Grimstone, Mary Leman (1796–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 2 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Gillies, Mary
  • Rede, Mary



4 November 1869
London, Middlesex, England