Brassey, Anna (DNB01)

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BRASSEY, ANNA (or, as she always wrote the name, Annie), Baroness Brassey (1839–1887), traveller and authoress, first wife of Thomas Brassey, first Baron Brassey, born in London on 7 Oct. 1839, was daughter of John Allnutt, by his first wife, Elizabeth Harriet, daughter of John Faussett Burnett of May Place, Crayford. Losing her mother when she was an infant, she lived with her grandfather at Clapham, and afterwards with her father in Chapel Street, and Charles Street, Berkeley Square. In her early years she acquired a love of country life and pursuits which she retained to the last, and she made a special study of botany. On 9 Oct. 1860 she married at St. George's Church, Hanover Square, Mr, Thomas Brassey (created Baron Brassey in 1886), eldest son of Thomas Brassey [q. v.], the railway contractor. She bore her husband one son and four daughters. At first she and her husband lived at Beauport Park, three miles from Hastings, and then at Normanhurst Court, a house which they built in 1870, in the parish of Catsfield, Sussex. She became a leader of society in the neighbourhood of her residence, and Marianne North [q. v.] records of the season 1862–3, 'The great event of the winter was a fancy ball given at Beauport by the Tom Brasseys, most hospitable of youthful hosts' (Recollections of a Happy Life, i. 33). Her husband's candidature for parliament at Birkenhead, Devonport, and Sandwich, where he was unsuccessful, and at Hastings, for which constituency he was elected in 1868, drew her into political work. When a petition was brought against her husband's return for Hastings in 1869, she was called as the first witness in his defence, and Serjeant Ballantine [q. v. Suppl.], his leading counsel, writes that he 'received the greatest assistance from suggestions given me by Mrs. Brassey; she showed the greatest astuteness, and I consider that the result which was ultimately given in favour of her husband was in a great measure due to her exertions' (Experiences of a Barrister's Life, p. 248).

While living at Normanhurst Lady Brassey occupied herself in the management of the house and estate, in munificent hospitality to people of all ranks, in promoting good works in Hastings and the neighbourhood, and in furthering her husband's efforts in political and other public work.

Lady Brassey spent much time in travel, and she wrote for the benefit of her friends accounts of many of her voyages. Her earliest books, both of which were issued for private circulation, were 'The Flight of the Meteor' (1869) and 'A Cruise in the Rothen' (1872), accounts of yachting trips to the Mediterranean and to Canada and the United States. A voyage round the world, undertaken in 1876-7 in her yacht called 'The Sunbeam,' led to the publication of 'The Voyage in the Sunbeam, our Home on the Ocean for Eleven Months,' 1878. This was compiled from weekly journals forwarded to her family at home, which were originally printed for private circulation. In arranging the work for publication she received assistance from Lady Broome. The success of the book was immediate and great. 'The favourable reception of the first book was wholly unexpected by the writer. She awoke and found herself famous' ('Memoir' in The Last Voyage, p. xix). 'The Voyage in the Sunbeam' reached a nineteenth edition in 1896, and has been translated into French, German, Italian, Swedish, and Hungarian. Editions were also published at Montreal and New York. In 1881 a paper-covered edition issued at sixpence was one of the earliest of cheap issues of popular copyright books. There followed 'Sunshine and Storm in the East, or Cruises to Cyprus and Constantinople' (1880, 5th edit. 1896), and 'In the Trades, the Tropics, and the Roaring Forties' (1885), a description of a trip to the West Indies and Madeira. Though less popular than 'The Voyage in the Sunbeam,' these books had a wide circulation. 'They were read with pleasure by Prince Bismarck as he smoked his evening pipe, as well as by girls at school' (ib.)

During her voyages Lady Brassey made large collections of natural and ethnological curiosities, and these she displayed at loan exhibitions at Hastings in 1881 and 1885, and at the Fisheries Exhibition at South Kensington in 1883. They are now in the museum at her husband's house, 24 Park Lane, London. She took an especial interest in the work of the St. John Ambulance Association. Her last public speech was made in furtherance of the work of the association at Rockhampton. She was elected a dame chevalière of the order of St. John of Jerusalem in 1881. In August 1885 Lord and Lady Brassey invited W. E. Gladstone to accompany them on a cruise to Norway in the Sunbeam, and Lady Brassey published an account of it in the 'Contemporary Review' for October 1885. She left England on 16 Nov. 1886 on her last voyage, which was undertaken for the sake of her health. She visited India, Borneo, and Australia, but died at Brisbane on 14 Sept. 1887. She was buried at sea, at sunset on that day, in lat. 15° 50′ S., long. 110° 38′ E.

A portrait of Lady Brassey was painted by Sir Francis Grant, but the horse and dogs in the picture were added by Sir Edwin Landseer. This portrait is now at Normanhurst Court.

In addition to the books mentioned, Lady Brassey wrote: 1. 'Tahiti' (letterpress accompanying photographs by Colonel Stuart-Wortley). London, 1882. 2. 'St John Ambulance Association: its Work and Objects' (supplement to the 'Club and Institute Journal,' 23 Oct.), London, 1885. 3. 'The Last Voyage,' ed. M. A. Broome, London, 1889.

[Memoir by Lord Brassey in the Last Voyage, 1889; Annual Register, 1887; private information.]

E. H. M.