CAMBRIDGE, Ada (1844-1926)

CAMBRIDGE, Ada (1844-1926)
novelist, and poet
daughter of Henry Cambridge and his wife, Thomasine, was born at St Germains, Norfolk, on 21 November 1844. She was educated by governesses, her views on whom may be given in her own words:—"I can truthfully affirm that I never learned anything which would now be considered worth learning until I had done with them all and started foraging for myself. I did have a few months of boarding-school at the end, and a very good school for its day it was, but it left no lasting impression on my mind." (The Retrospect, chap. IV). On 25 April 1870 she was married to the Rev. George Frederick Cross and a few weeks later sailed for Australia. She arrived in Melbourne in August and was surprised to find it a well established city. Her husband was sent to Wangaratta, her Thirty Years in Australia describes their experiences there, and the successive moves to Yackandandah, 1871, Ballan, 1874, Coleraine, 1877, Bendigo, 1884 and Beechworth, 1885, where they remained until 1893. Mrs Cross at first was the typical hard-working wife of a country clergyman, taking part in all the activities of the parish and incidentally making her own children's clothes. Her health, however, broke down and her activities had to be reduced, but she somehow managed to do a large amount of writing. In 1875 her first novel Up the Murray appeared in the Australasian but was not published separately. Her published novels include My Guardian (1877), In Two Years' Time (1879), A Mere Chance (1882), A Marked Man (1890), The Three Miss Kings (1891), Not All in Vain (1892), A Little Minx (1893), A Marriage Ceremony (1894), Fidelis (1895), A Humble Enterprise (1896), At Midnight (1897), Materfamilias (1898), Path and Goal (1900), The Devastators (1901), Sisters (1904), A Platonic Friendship (1905), A Happy Marriage (1906), The Eternal Feminine (1907) and The Making of Rachel Rowe (1914). Other novels appeared as serials in the Australasian between 1879 and 1885. These books were competently written, A Marked Man and The Three Miss Kings are among the best of them, and though they may have become submerged in the flood of fiction that has been pouring out ever since, they date less than most of the novels of their period, and can still be read with interest. In 1893 Mrs Cross and her husband moved to their last parish, Williamstown, near Melbourne, and remained there until 1909. Her husband went on the retired clergy list in 1910 and died in 1912. Mrs Cross, after living for a few years in England, returned to Australia, and died at Melbourne on 19 July 1926. She was survived by a daughter and a son, Dr K. Stuart Cross.
It has been said of Mrs Cross that she "hid a brilliant brain under a demure exterior". She had a great capacity for friendship and her kindliness made her ready to help less experienced writers. She had an observant eye, a sense of humour, and a charitable outlook on the failings of other people. Her Thirty Years in Australia (1903) will always, have value for its sidelights on the life of her time, and her other auto-biographical book, The Retrospect (1912) gives a pleasant account of her visit to England in 1908 after having been away for nearly 40 years. Her poetry has not been sufficiently appreciated, some of her obituary notices did not even refer to it, yet it is probably her real title to remembrance. Her first two volumes Hymns on the Litany (1865), and Hymns on the Holy Communion (1866), consist of purely religious verse, sincerely written but not rising to any height, and though The Manor House and other Poems (1875) shows considerable development, it is not an important volume of verse. Her fourth volume, Unspoken Thoughts, issued anonymously in 1887, was suppressed almost at once, and is now very rare. No reason for its suppression has been given, but probably the author, felt, as a clergyman's wife in Victorian times that her independence of outlook on social and religions questions might be embarrassing to her husband and church friends. However, some of the poems in this volume were reprinted in The Hand in the Dark and other Poems (1913), which remains one of the better volumes of Australian poetry. The author had travelled far from the poems of her girlhood, and it was fortunate that in her last book she was able to speak out and express her strong and original mind.
The Argus, 21 and 23 July 1926; Melbourne Diocesan Year-Book, 1911; P. Mennell, Dictionary of Australasian Biography; Thirty Years in Australia; The Retrospect; The Peaceful Army; E. Morris Miller, Australian Literature.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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