Childhood & Early Life
She was born on May 19, 1794 in Dublin, Ireland, to Denis Brownell Murphy, an Irish miniaturist and portrait painter. She was the eldest of the five daughters of her parents.
In 1798, before the rebellion in Ireland, the family immigrated to England leaving behind two daughters, Louisa and Eliza. After settling in 1802 at Newcastle-on-Tyne, her two sisters joined them.
By 1806, her father was enjoying a modest success as a miniaturist and moved his family to London. The family now consisted of five daughters with the birth of two more girls, Camilla and Charlotte.
Anna was an ambitious child and the most talented one of all the sisters. From an early age, she was anxious to assume a part of the responsibility for the family’s welfare. Hence, she was given the responsibility of looking after the proper education of her sisters.
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In 1810, she took up her first job, at the age of 16, as a governess to the four small sons of the family of Charles Paulet, 13th Marquess of Winchester. She worked there until 1814.
In 1819, she began an engagement with the Rowles family and became the governess to their daughter, Laura. She also accompanied them to the Continental Europe in 1821, traveling in luxury “à la MilorAnglais” through the Low Countries and into Italy.
In 1822, she returned to England and became the governess to the children of Edward John Littleton who was later conferred the title of 1st Baron Hatherton. She worked here until her marriage to Robert Sympson Jameson in 1825.
Over the next few years, she wrote two books for young children titled ‘Much coin, much care’, a drama, and ‘Little Louisa’, a vocabulary of useful words.
Her first successful book ‘The Diary of an Ennuyée’, a fictitious account of her travels in Italy, was published in 1825. It was a romanticized and fictionalized version of her European trip ending with the death of its heart-broken narrator and heroine.
In 1829, when Robert left England for an appointment as chief justice of Dominica, the couple separated without regret, and she traveled to Continental Europe again with her father. She was increasingly committed to a life of travel and writing. In 1829, her book ‘The Loves of the Poets’ was published.
In 1832, her ‘Characteristics of Women’, was published which was an analysis of William Shakespeare’s heroines. It publicized her name on the Continent, in America as well as in England. Her ‘Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad’ (1834) is the record of a Continental trip taken in 1829, and another in 1833.
In 1836, she reluctantly went to Toronto to join her husband who in 1833 was appointed the attorney general of Upper Canada. Later, he became the vice-chancellor and the couple moved in together but not for long and she again left in 1837.
From Canada, she set out on a tour which took her through Niagara, Hamilton, London, Port Talbot, and to Detroit, Michilimackinac, Sault Ste Marie, and back by way of Lake Huron and Manitoulin Island.
In September 1837, she left Canada and spent some months in the United States, and then sailed for England. In 1838, she published her memoir ‘Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada’, the record of both her winter in Toronto and her summer trip.
In the last two decades of her life, some of her published works were ‘Sacred and Legendary Art’ (1848), ‘Legends of the Monastic Orders’ (1850), ‘Legends of the Madonna’ (1852) and ‘The History of Our Lord’ (1864).
Some of her published works such as ‘Characteristics of Women’ and ‘Sacred and Legendary Art’ acquired a cult following in England and America. Her travel memoir ‘Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada’ is considered to be a classic book.
She always stressed on the importance of better education for women. She was a determined, and one of the early feminists, who raised her voice about women’s rights and their needs and opportunities in society.