Transforming Narratives of Colonial Danger: Imagining the Environments of New Zealand and Australia in Children’s Literature, 1862–1899

  • Michelle J. Smith
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Childhood book series (PSHC)


Children have long been seen as intimately connected with the natural world. From the eighteenth century, however, the British environment witnessed radical transformation through the effects of the Industrial Revolution and child labour practices that compromised Romantic ideals of childhood.1 In response, Maude Hines argues that ‘connections between human beings and the rest of the natural world proliferate in nineteenth-century children’s literature’.2 Nevertheless, in the age of empire, children’s literature set in British colonial locations instead emphasized the threats and dangers posed by nature, rather than its confluence with childhood. In emigrant and adventure fiction about the white settler colonies of New Zealand and Australia, narratives repeatedly focus on family groups who must overcome an often hostile natural environment filled with unfamiliar plants, animals, landscapes and climatic dangers.


Indigenous People Aboriginal People British Child Settler Coloni White Settler 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Maude Hines, ‘“He Made Us Very Much Like the Flowers”: Human/Nature in Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Children’s Literature’, in Sidney I. Dobrin and Kenneth B. Kidd (eds), Wild Things: Children’s Culture and Ecocriticism (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004), 17.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin, Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals, Environment (London and New York: Routledge, 2010), 6.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    John Miller, ‘Postcolonial Ecocriticism and Victorian Studies’, Literature Compass, vol. 9, no. 7 (2012), 476–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 5.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    William J. Lines, Taming the Great South Land: A History of the Conquest of Nature in Australia (North Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1991), 28.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    John M. MacKenzie, The Empire of Nature: Hunting, Conservation and British Imperialism (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    McKenzie, The Empire of Nature, 296–97; Thomas R. Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora: Environment and History in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 54.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    Molly E. Jamieson, Ruby: A Story of the Australian Bush (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1898), 7–8.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    Deane Curtin, Environmental Ethics for a Postcolonial World (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 145.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Val Plumwood, Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (London: Routledge, 2002), 4.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    W.H. Timperley, Bush Luck: An Australian Story (London: Religious Tract Society, 1892), 21.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    Ymitri Mathison, ‘Maps, Pirates and Treasure: The Commodification of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century Boys’ Adventure Fiction’, in Dennis Denisoff (ed.), The Nineteenth-Century Child and Consumer Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 175.Google Scholar
  13. 34.
    Mrs George Cupples, The Redfords: An Emigrant Story (London: Blackie and Sons, 1886), 28.Google Scholar
  14. 50.
    See Kristine Moruzi, ‘“The Freedom Suits Me”: Encouraging Girls to Settle in the Colonies’, in Tamara S. Wagner (ed.), Victorian Settler Narratives: Emigrants, Cosmopolitans and Returnees in Nineteenth-Century Literature (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), 177–91.Google Scholar
  15. Aylmer had never visited New Zealand, but Betty Gilderdale notes that she was related to the Graham family and likely based the story on her correspondence with them. See‘Children’s Literature’, in Terry Sturm (ed.), The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, 2nd ed. (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998), 526.Google Scholar
  16. 51.
    George remains behind as he has two years remaining at Cambridge, but has exacted a promise from the bishop ‘that he would give him work to do in the colony’. See J.E. Aylmer, Distant Homes; or, The Graham Family in New Zealand (London: Griffith and Farran, 1862), 11.Google Scholar
  17. 67.
    See, for example, J.M. Whitfield’s The Spirit of the Bush Fire and Other Australian Fairy Tales (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1898),Google Scholar
  18. Olga D.A. Ernst’s Fairy Tales from the Land of the Wattle (Melbourne: McCarron, Bird and Co, 1904).Google Scholar
  19. 69.
    Kate McCosh Clark, A Southern Cross Fairy Tale (London: Samson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1891), vii.Google Scholar
  20. 74.
    For information on several high-profile cases of lost children who captured the public imagination in the colonial period, see Peter Pierce, The Country of Lost Children: An Australian Anxiety (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)Google Scholar
  21. Kim Torney, Babes in the Bush: The Making of an Australian Image (Fremantle: Curtin University Books), 2005.Google Scholar
  22. 76.
    Ethel Pedley, Dot and the Kangaroo (London: Thomas Burleigh, 1900 [originally 1899]),1.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michelle J. Smith 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle J. Smith

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations