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At the Circulating Library

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Author: Catherine Denoon Ponsonby

Author: Catherine Denoon Ponsonby (born 1816)

Alternate Name(s): Young (maiden name); Smith (second married name)

Biography: Catherine Denoon Ponsonby was born on 25 December 1816 in Edinburgh, the daughter of the Rev. James Young, a Free Church minister and himself a writer, and Catherine Denoon. In 1831, she married Adolphus Frederick Ponsonby and the couple had a son, Henry James Ponsonby. The history of her husband remains a complete mystery but he died before 1873. The marriage was short-lived: Catherine sued for and received a divorce in 1838 (a rather rare occurance in the Victorian period, though somewhat easier in Scotland). Thereafter, Ponsonby turned to literature and opened a school to support herself and son. She wrote biography, poetry, religious works, and fiction, producing three novels. In addition, she owned and edited The Christian Family Advocate in the 1850s with contributions from her son and father. However, she suffered financially and by the end of the 1850s she declared bankruptcy. Her son emigrated to first Australia then later New Zealand and she followed him (due to a grant from the Royal Literary Fund) where she worked at the Australian Ladies' College, Sydney. In 1860, she married John Benjamin Smith of Manchester (another mysterious character). She later opened a Scotch College for Young Ladies in Melbourne in 1862, but by 1864 she and her school had moved to Dunedin, New Zealand, presumably to be closer to her son. Thereafter, her life cannot be traced. NB: Loeber suspects Ponsonby was Irish but all evidence suggests she was Scottish.

Author Tags:

References: British Census (1841, 1851); Caledonian Mercury (12 September 1857); The Empire [Sydney] (13 April 1860, 16 April 1860); The Law Magazine (1843); Loeber; RLF (case number 1477); pers inf (Alan Stuart-Tilley)

Fiction Titles:

  1. The Border Wardens: An Historical Romance.  3 vol.  London: John Mortimer, 1844.
  2. The Desborough Family.  3 vol.  London: John Mortimer, 1845.
  3. The Protégé: A Novel.  3 vol.  London: Henry Hurst, 1847.