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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Maitland, Edward (1824–1897)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Edward Maitland (1824-1897), public servant and novelist, was born on 27 October 1824 at Ipswich, England, son of Charles David Maitland, Evangelical curate of St James's Chapel, Brighton. Through descent from the Berties (Dukes of Ancaster) he was connected with distinguished scholars and politicians. His clergymen brothers, Charles and Brownlow, were prominent writers. Intended also for the church he entered Caius College, Cambridge (B.A., 1847), but, reacting against his father's uncompromising Calvinism, he took a year's leave from England to resolve his views. He went to Mexico, moved to the Californian goldfields in 1849 and extended his trial period indefinitely.

Maitland next visited New South Wales where his connexion, Sir Charles FitzRoy, was governor-general. He was appointed commissioner of crown lands and police magistrate at Wellington in 1854. On 3 May 1855 at Darling Point he married Esther Charlotte (1834-1856), the second daughter of William Bradley of Goulburn Plains, and granddaughter of the explorer, W. H. Hovell, whom he succeeded as commissioner of crown lands at Goulburn in that month. He became president of the Goulburn School of Arts and was active in stimulating public discussion. He believed that Australians were in danger of becoming hidebound by 'worn out and cast off traditions' and that they leaned too far 'towards class privileges and class prohibitions'. He strongly criticized Bourke's Church Act and the religious certificate required by the University of Sydney in 1854 'in direct violation of the charter'. He decided to return to England and gave his farewell lecture at the School of Arts, Sydney, on 9 January 1858.

In England he devoted his time to writing. His novel, The Pilgrim and the Shrine (1867), is largely set in Australia; though mainly an account of his spiritual pilgrimage it gives intimate glimpses of life at the goldfields and on the land, besides airing his political views. His character, Captain Travers of Yarradale, was almost certainly based on Hovell. The character of Mary was drawn largely from Mary Margaret, née Turner, the wife of John Woolley. Maitland's later novels were based on mystical themes and the future of society, envisaging Australia as a powerful nation in By and By (1873). In England and Islam (1877) he showed much foresight and originality, anticipating some ideas later held by the psychiatrist C. G. Jung and the damaging consequences for civilization of the exclusively masculine nature of the Christian God. Though a successful writer for the Spectator and the Examiner he jeopardized his career by his friendship with the eccentric Dr Anna Kingsford and by his claim to possess 'spiritual sensitiveness' which enabled him to see the spiritual condition of people and to remember his own past lives as a prince of Thebes, Daniel, St John the Divine and Marcus Aurelius. He campaigned against vivisection and meat eating and helped to found the Theosophical Society of which he became vice-president. With Mrs Kingsford he started the Hermetic Society in 1884. After her death he founded the Esoteric Christian Union in 1891. He wrote profusely but was lamented by his literary colleagues as 'a great natural talent gone to waste'. He died at Tonbridge, Kent, on 2 October 1897. His two-volume Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary, and Work had been published in London in 1896.

With his gigantic frame and sensitive nature Maitland entered easily into 'platonic relationships' with intellectual married women. His son Charles, brought up in England, became a lieutenant-colonel in the Bombay medical service.

Select Bibliography

  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of Goulburn, N.S.W. (Goulburn, 1941)
  • Athenaeum (London), 16 Oct 1897.

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Maitland, Edward (1824–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 25 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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