Woman Bassett, Flora Marjorie


Alternative Names
  • Bassett, Marnie

Written by Susan Foley and Charles Sowerwine, The University of Melbourne

Flora Bassett was born in Carlton, Victoria in 1889, the daughter of (Sir) David Orme Basson, Foundation Professor of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne, and his wife, Mary. She never attended school but was educated by governesses. At the age of 20, she attended lectures by (Sir) Ernest Scott, Professor of History at the University of Melbourne. He encouraged her to undertake historical study on her own. In 1915, at Scott's suggestion, she gave a well-received series of lectures on French colonial policy and obtained a scholarship for university studies. But having acted as her father's secretary, she went instead to London in 1916 as Secretary to Sir Henry Barraclough, who was in charge of Australian munitions workers in Britain and France. Back in Melbourne, she married Professor (Sir) Walter Bassett in 1923.

Thus she never used the scholarship and never undertook university studies, devoting herself instead to her children, refusing to engage a nanny or a governess. Only in 1940 did she publish her first book, The Governor's Lady, Mrs Philip Gidley King: an Australian historical narrative. This was a biography of Anna Josepha, wife of the third governor of New South Wales (from 1800 to 1806). This success of this work established her as an historian of women. She continued with a work of social history on a larger scale, The Hentys: an Australian colonial tapestry (1954), using the study of a pioneer family to open a panoramic view of colonisation. The book became a classic of Australian history. Lady Bassett then published two books on voyages of discovery in the first half of the 19th Century: Realms and islands: the world voyage of Rose de Freycinet in the corvette Uranie, 1817-1820: from her journal and letters and the reports of Louis de Saulces de Freycinet, Capitaine de Corvette (1962) and Behind the picture: H.M.S. Rattlesnake's Australia-New Guinea cruise, 1846 to 1850 (1966). This led to D.Litts from Monash University (1968) and the University of Melbourne (1974). Lady Bassett also became a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1969. She died before she could complete a biography of Henry Fyshe Gisborne, commissioner of crown lands in the Port Phillip District and thus a leading force in the origins of Victoria. This book was only published in 1985, five years after her death.

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