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Catherine Martin (1847 – 1937)

Catherine Martin was born in 1847 at Bernisdale, Isle of Skye, Scotland, as Catherine Edith Macauley Mackay. The Mackay family emigrated to South Australia in 1855, living first at Naracoorte and then Mt Gambier, where Catherine helped her sister run a school. Influenced by the local German community, Catherine developed an appreciation of German language and literature, and from the mid 1860s her poems and translations of German poetry appeared in local newspapers. In 1874, under the pseudonym ‘M. C.’, she published her first book, a collection of poetry entitled The Explorers and Other Poems.

In 1876 Catherine Mackay moved to Adelaide where she initially made a precarious living as a writer and journalist before gaining employment as a clerk in the Department of Education. At this time she met the influential South Australian writer Catherine Helen Spence , who would become an important supporter of Catherine and her writing.

In 1882, Catherine married an accountant, Frederick Martin, and lived for a time at Waukaringa, South Australia, where Frederick was accountant to a gold mine. She traveled to Germany by herself in the late 1880s, ‘to study and write’, and at this time completed her best known work, a novel published in 1890 as An Australian Girl.

Catherine Martin returned to South Australia in 1890, reuniting with her husband in Waukaringa. The following year, the Martins left South Australia for Europe, returning in 1895. In 1904, with Frederick's health failing, the Martins traveled once again to Europe, returning in 1907. After Frederick Martin's death in Adelaide in 1909, Catherine made several long trips to Europe, finally returning in 1932. Catherine Martin died in Adelaide on 17 March 1937.

Catherine Martin's writing reflected the growing Australian nationalism of her time, and explored social issues including the role of women. Much of her writing was published anonymously or under a pseudonym; her last novel, The Incredible Journey (1923) being the first published under her own name.

Selected Poetry Collections
  • The Explorers and other poems Melbourne George Robertson 1874
Suggested Further Reading
  • Margaret Allen Biographical Background An Australian Girl Rosemary Campbell St Lucia, Qld. University of Queensland Press 2002 pp. 639-655. Academy Editions of Australian Literature
  • Rosemary Campbell Catherine Martin Australian Literature, 1788-1914 Selina Samuels Detroit, Michigan Gale Research Company 2001 pp. 254-61 Dictionary of Literary Biography, 259.