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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stow, Catherine Eliza (Katie) (1856–1940)

by Marcie Muir

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Catherine Eliza Somerville (Katie) Stow (1856-1940), collector of Aboriginal legends, was born on 1 May 1856 at Encounter Bay, South Australia, daughter of Henry Field, pastoralist, and his wife Sophia, daughter of Rev. Ridgway Newland. Henry had migrated to South Australia in 1837; with James and Andrew Chisholm of Goulburn, he established Marra station on the Darling in New South Wales.

An Aboriginal girl saved Katie's life, when two of her sisters drowned in the Darling, and later shared the lessons Mrs Field gave to her children. The family moved to Adelaide in 1872; that year Sophia died after the birth of her eighth child. Katie and her sister Rosina (b.1863) attended a girls' school.

At St Peter's Church, Glenelg, on 12 January 1875 Catherine married Langloh Parker (b.1840), a well-known pastoralist who served as a model for Lal Parklands in A Colonial Reformer by 'Rolf Boldrewood'. In 1879 Parker acquired Bangate station on the Narran River, near Walgett, New South Wales. Katie wrote a description of her journey there and some reminiscences of her outback life, posthumously published as My Bush Book (1982).

Childless, she studied her surroundings, taking a particular interest in the Aborigines. She respected their culture and traditions, so gaining their trust, and began to collect their myths and legends. Although she had learned some of their languages, she checked and rechecked the tales with interpreters, and was scrupulous in recording them as they were told to her.

Writing as K. Langloh Parker, she published Australian Legendary Tales with an introduction by Andrew Lang (London, 1896) in David Nutt's folklore series for children; the tales were widely praised and went into a second edition. More Australian Legendary Tales appeared in 1898. Lang also wrote an introduction to The Euahlayi Tribe (London, 1905), her serious anthropological study of the Narran River Aborigines. In addition, she wrote for the Bulletin, Lone Hand, Pastoralists' Review and other journals.

Bad seasons and the depression of the 1890s forced the Parkers off their station; Langloh died in Sydney in 1903. While visiting London in 1905, Catherine Parker met Percival Randolph Stow (d.1937), a lawyer and son of Randolph Stow; they married in St Margaret's Church, Westminster, on 7 November. Returning to Adelaide, they lived at Glenelg and took an active part in the cultural and social life of the city. Their collection of paintings included landscapes by Hans Heysen.

When young, Katie had determined that, as she was not conventionally beautiful, she would be clever: she was known for her sharp wit and forceful character, yet her thick, throaty voice could be caressing. A founder of the Victoria League of South Australia, she was a vice-president until 1939 and chaired the executive committee for many years. During World War I she ran Victoria League committees to help the Red Cross and supported other fund-raising activities. She contributed to the Lady Galway Belgium Book (1916) and compiled A Gardening Calendar in 1917; she had tried to revive the Adelaide (Women) Writers' Club in 1915, and published two small collections of Aboriginal legends in 1918 and 1930.

Catherine Stow died on 27 March 1940 and was buried in St Jude's Anglican cemetery, Brighton. In search of a field of intellectual endeavour, she turned to preserving traditional Aboriginal tales and made one of the earliest attempts to bring Aboriginal culture to the attention of White Australians in a serious and sympathetic manner. An ambitious selection of her work was published in 1953 (reprinted nine times by 1973, with American and Russian editions); the two original collections were republished complete in 1978.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Muir (ed), My Bush Book (Adel, 1982)
  • Australasian Anthropological Journal, Apr 1897
  • Lone Hand, 2 Dec 1912
  • Bulletin, 9 Jan 1896, 10 Apr 1940
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Nov 1896
  • Australasian, 4, 11 Sept 1915, 8, 15 July, 28 Oct 1916
  • Victoria League in South Australia, Annual Report, 1938-39, p 8, 1939-40, p 6 (State Library of South Australia)
  • Stow papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Marcie Muir, 'Stow, Catherine Eliza (Katie) (1856–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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