Frere, Mary Eliza Isabella (DNB12)

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FRERE, MARY ELIZA ISABELLA (1845–1911), author, born at Bitton rectory, Gloucestershire, on 11 Aug. 1845, was eldest of the five children of Sir Henry Bartle (Edward) Frere, first baronet [q. v.], by his wife Catherine, second daughter of Lieut.-general Sir George Arthur [q. v.].

Privately educated at Wimbledon, she went out at the age of eighteen to Bombay, where her father was governor, and in the following year (1864), in her mother's absence in England, she was the hostess at government house. Profoundly interested in the Indian peoples, she accompanied her father on his tours, and gathered a large number of folk-lore tales from her ayah (Indian ladies' maid), to whom they had been handed down by a centenarian grandmother.

With an instructive introduction and notes by her father and illustrations by her sister Catherine, Miss Frere published twenty-four of these tales, in March 1868, under the title of 'Old Deccan Days.' The work was deservedly successful, and was four times reprinted (fifth impression 1898). Max Müller [q. v. Suppl. I] pointed out that Miss Frere's tales had been preserved by oral tradition so accurately that some of them were nearly word for word translations of the Sanskrit in which they were originally told. To Anglo-Indians the book 'opened up an entirely new field of scientific research … of inexhaustible wealth; and it gave a fresh impetus to the study of folk-lore in the United Kingdom, and throughout Europe and the Americas' (Sir G. Birdwood). 'Old Deccan Days' has been translated into German and Marathi, and recently selections have been included in Stead's 'Books for the Bairns' and in Sarah C. Bryant's 'Stories to tell the Children' (New York and London, 1911).

Miss Frere also wrote a pastoral play, 'Love's Triumph,' published anonymously in 1869, containing sonnets of poetic power and tenderness. One or two of her short poems subsequently appeared anonymously in the 'Spectator,' but most of her verse is unpublished.

Accompanying her father to South Africa when he was appointed high commissioner (March 1877), Miss Frere there, as in India, delighted in the country folk, and was a welcome guest at the old Dutch and English farmhouses. Here, too, she helped to dissipate racial prejudices. When she and a sister returned to England in 1880, shortly before the recall of their father by the Gladstone government, they were received with most gracious interest at Windsor by Queen Victoria.

In later years Miss Frere travelled extensively on the continent and in Egypt, and was in the Holy Land from the end of 1906 to August 1908. Living mainly at Cambridge, she studied Hebrew, and closely followed the results of biblical criticism. After some years of failing health, she died at St. Leonards-on-Sea on 26 March 1911, being buried at Brookwood cemetery.

[Miss Frere's books; Athenæum, 15 April 1911, memoir by Sir George Birdwood; Cambridge Daily News, April 1911; South Africa, 8 April 1911; information kindly supplied by the family.]

F. H. B.