Louisa Anne Meredith 1812 – 1895
Louisa Anne Meredith was possibly Australia’s first female leader of an environment group. She was born in England and migrated to Australia with her husband Charles. They settled first in NSW and then lived for many years in Tasmania. Charles was initially a farmer/pastoralist before becoming a police magistrate, and then politician.
Louisa was educated by her mother in England, and was brought up to be politically and socially vocal and active. Louisa was educated mainly by her mother. Her first book was written before she left England and was published in 1835. It was a collection of poems, with illustrations designed and etched by herself.
Like other women of the second half of the 19th century, her interest in nature and the environment was primarily expressed through writing and illustration, and Louisa was the author of a number of published books. The books she wrote in Australia were primarily memoirs of her life in NSW and Tasmania, and accounts of the natural world she saw around her, including Notes and Sketches of New South Wales(1844), My Home in Tasmania, during a residence of nine years (185) Over the Straits: A Visit to Victoria (1861) and Tasmanian Friends and Foes, Feathered, Furred and Finned: A Family Chronicle of Country Life (1880) which included coloured plates from her own drawings.
However, Louisa went further than simply recording the world she saw around her. She lobbied to have an act of parliament passed to protect Tasmania’s wildlife and also co-founded the Tasmanian branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She was a passionate advocate against animal cruelty, at a time when society was very dependent on domesticated animals, and not particularly interested in the quality of their care.
Her husband Charles was involved in politics, including being a member of the Tasmanian Legislative Council. Louisa was apparently a great organizer and contributed significantly to his election campaign.
Louisa played an upfront campaigning role in her fights to protect animals from cruelty, but would seem to have exerted her greatest power, and achieved her largest successes, through her more politically powerful husband.
During the 1860s, the practice of keeping black swans in pens to starve, making their down easier to collect, prompted protests against cruelty from advocates such as Louisa. In 1860, Charles introduced a Bill to protect black swans’ eggs, resulting in the Black Swans Act of 1861, Tasmania’s first legislation to protect endangered species.
Charles later called for a select committee to look into the conservation of Huon Pines (a species of great interest and concern for Louisa), and in 1879, Charles successfully introduced a bill to strengthen earlier animal protection legislation and to recognise the Tasmanian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Comments welcome. I’m very happy to be corrected on anything above.
I’d be very interested in any information or stories about Louisa which contribute to our thoughts on women and leadership.
References and further reading
Australian Dictionary of Biography http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A050526b.htm
Drew & Connors Hutton, Libby. 1999. A history of the Australian environment movement. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press, p 81.
A list of Louisa’s publications can be found at http://www.dpac.tas.gov.au/divisions/cdd/women/leadership/significant_tasmanian_women/significant_tasmanian_women_-_research_listing/louisa_anne_meredith
Pat Grimshaw and Ann Standish. ‘Making Tasmania home: Louisa Meredith’s colonizing prose’ in Frontiers – A Journal of Women’s Studies, Volume 28, Nos. 1 & 2 2007.