Caroline Woolmer Leakey was born in Exeter, England, on 8 March 1827, the sixth of eleven children of James Leakey, an artist, and his wife Eliza. She suffered poor health in her childhood, which limited her schooling, but was said to have read avidly, particularly poetry. The Leakey family were devout evangelical Christians, and in her later teenage years Caroline became involved in religious charity work, an occupation she would follow for much of her life.
In 1847, Caroline Leakey travelled to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), where her sister had migrated several years earlier. Her time in the colony was marred by illness, and she spent some as an invalid, confined to her sister's house. By 1851 her health had improved enough to visit friends, and while staying with the family of Francis Russell Nixon, Bishop of Tasmania, she began to write poetry, which Nixon encouraged her to publish.
Leakey returned to England in 1853, and her only collection of poetry, Lyra Australis, or Attempts to Sing in a Strange Land, was published the following year. The poems in the collection reflected Leakey's deep religious convictions, and dealt with domestic themes, such as family life, motherhood and childrearing, and illness and death. At this time, Leakey was also writing articles, generally on religious themes, for publication in magazines and periodicals.
After her mother's death in 1855, Leakey returned to Exeter to care for her aged father. In 1857 she began writing the work for which she is best remembered, a novel about a woman convict transported for life to Van Diemen's Land, published in 1859 as The Broad Arrow: Being Passages from the History of Maida Gwynnham, a Lifer, under the pseudonym ‘Oliné Kleese’. From the early 1860s, Leakey resumed her charity work and returned to writing articles for religious periodicals. She suffered periodic bouts of ill health until her death on 12 July 1881.Poetry Collections
- Lyra Australis, or Attempts to Sing in a Strange Land London Bickers and Bush 1854
- Patricia Clarke Pen Portraits: Women Writers and Journalists in Nineteenth Century Australia North Sydney Allen and Unwin 1988 pp. 46-50