the Charlotte project
‘The Charlotte Project’
is the first initiative of the Wingecarribee Women Writers.
Charlotte and Louisa Atkinson are two of the most significant women in the history of Australian literature and yet they lie in unmarked graves in the Southern Highlands. This discovery motivated the formation of Wingecarribee Women Writers (WWW) to raise funds to resurrect these inspiring women from obscurity.
Charlotte Waring Atkinson (1796-1867) was “one of the most accomplished women of her era” (Sydney Morning Herald). She emigrated to Australia in 1826 after being employed as a governess by Maria and Hannibal Macarthur. On the voyage she met agriculturist James Atkinson and they were married a year later and settled at Oldbury in Sutton Forest. Charlotte was a pioneer in the fight for women’s legal rights, defending a landmark case in the Supreme Court of NSW to retain custody of her own children, after suffering violence at the hands of her second husband. In 1841, Charlotte wrote A Mother’s Offering to Her Children by a Lady Long Resident in NSW. It was the first children’s book published in Australia, and the first to feature Australian children, landscapes, history, flora and fauna, and the lives of its First Nation people. The book is considered so important that a first edition copy recently sold for $70,000.
Her youngest daughter, Louisa Atkinson (1834-1872) was the first female Australian-born novelist, journalist and botanist. Her early articles and drawings were published at the age of 19, in The Illustrated Sydney News, and she continued to write a long running series of articles A Voice from the Country, for the Sydney Morning Herald, as well as articles for the Sydney Mail and The Horticultural Magazine. Several of these focused on Indigenous Australian culture and artefacts. Louisa’s first novel, Gertrude the Emigrant, was published in 1857 when she was aged 23. This was followed by several novels including Cowanda, and Debatable Ground. Louisa’s most notable achievements were her contribution to the knowledge of natural history and botany, collecting and sketching numerous specimens, several previously unknown, and sending plants to eminent botanists such as William Woolls and Ferdinand Mueller.
The purpose of the Charlotte Project Appeal is to raise $80,000 to install a bronze life-sized statue of Charlotte in Berrima’s Market Place Park, near the Story Centre at the Berrima district Museum. The Southern Highlands Foundation has launched a campaign to support The Charlotte Project Appeal.
Our statue will be the Southern Highland’s contribution to a campaign called A Monument of One’s Own and we are delighted to have the Australian convenor, Claire Wright OAM join us for the launch.
The statue will be a a tribute to the 1841 publication of her book, A Mother’s Offering to her Children by a Lady Long Resident in New South Wales.
According to Professor Clare Wright, convenor of A Monument of One’s Own, less than 4% of Australia’s statues represent historical female figures. There are more statues of animals than of real women. Australia needs to recognise pioneer women like Charlotte and Louisa through public statues: “We need monuments to women’s courage, vision, tenacity, obstinacy and resolve — qualities that have, without doubt, benefited our nation….”
Signed and hand-illustrated first edition of A Mother's Offering to Her Children (1841), Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW