Blanche Edith Baughan 1870 – 1958


Authoress and Prison Reformer

She was born in 1870 at Putney, Surrey, England, the daughter of John Baughan, a London Stockbroker. In spite of strong parental opposition she attended London University where in 1892 she graduated BA with honours in Greek. About this time she joined the English suffragette movement and also did extensive welfare work among the poor int the East End of London. Blanche Baughan has always evinced a desire to travel and in the following years she visited many countries. She came to New Zealand about 1900, where she toured widely and wrote extensively about the many littel known places she visited. Her pamphlets on Akaroa, Arthur’s Pass, Milford Track, the Thermal Regions and the Southern Alps contain some fine descriptive passages, and all have been reprinted many times. They were collected in her ‘Studies of New Zealand Scenery’ (1916) and ‘Glimpses of New Zealand Scenery’ (1922). In addition she collaborated with L. Cockayne (q.v) to write ‘The Summit Road – its scenery, Botany and Geology’ (1914).

In her day Blanche Baughan was widely known for her contributions to such literary journals as ‘The Spectator’ (London), ‘Bookfellow’ and ‘The Australian’ (Sydney), and ‘The Canterbury Times’. Her first two volumes, ‘Verses’ (1898) and ‘Reuben and other poems’ (1903) appeared in England, but all her later works were published in New Zealand. Of these, ‘Shingle-short’ (1908) is a long verse monologue written in the New Zealand dialect, while her next volume, ‘Brown Bread from a Colonial Oven’ (1912), is an entertaining collection of vivid prose portraits of many facets of colonial life. ‘Early Days’, from her last volume, ‘Poems from the Port Hills, Christchurch’ (1923), captures, for a moment, life as it was in the early days of the Akaroa settlement.

Apart from her literary and descriptive writings Blanche Baughan was deeply interested in all kinds of social welfare. Her most outstanding contribution in this regard, however, was made in the field of penal reform. To this end she once joined the staff of the Point Halswell Women’s Reformatory, Wellington, where she studied the problem in all its aspects. Early in 1924 she formed a Christchurch branch of the Howard League and, four years later, after she had toured New Zealand on its behalf, she formed the New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform, which she soon had branches in many centres. From her first-hand experience of conditions in New Zealand prisons she formed her ideas on the subject and obtained much material for her book, People in Prison, which was published anonymously in 1936. Prisoners, she believed, could be divided into two categories – the socially immature (those who are fully grown in body but not in social understanding), and the mentally defective. The former, who were by far the more numerous, could grow into good citizens if they were given help that normal children require – namely, healthy outlets for their activities. For these, punishment should aim at being reformative rather than retaliatory. She urged that a magistrate be given the probation officer’s report on cases before sentence was passed and that he should take this report into consideration when determining the type of punishment required. Although these ideas met strong resistance when they first propounded, many of them have since been accepted officially and incorporated into the New Zealand penal system.

Blanche Baughan was interested in the welfare of the sick and handicapped and also in the prevention of cruelty to animals. She volunteered as a nurse during the 1918 influenza epidemic. She was an active member of the Red Cross and a foundation member of the Canterbury Women’s Club. In 1935 she received the King George V Jubliee Medal for her literary and social services. She died on 20th August 1958 at Selwyn Avenue, Akaroa. An indomitable campaigner for causes in which she believed, Blanche Baughan, be her educational background, her wide experience in many fields of welfare, and her ability as an authoress and publisher, was well fitted to be a leader in social work in New Zealand.

F.A. De La Mare Papers. MS 144, Turnbull Library; Australian MSS, Vol III Turnbull Library; New Zealand Women’s Weekly, 21 Nov 1935; Akaroa Mail 22 Aug 1958 (Obit).

Akaroa   191842p
Arthur’s Pass & the Otira Gorge192567p
Brown Bread from a Colonial oven1912?208p
The finest walk in the world191349p
Forest and Ice191247p
Glimpses of N.Z. Scenery1922323p
Mt Egmont   192975p
People in Prison (TIS = pseudonym)1936172p
Poems from the Port Hills 39p
A river of pictures and peace1913?39p
Shingle short and other verses1908?205p
Snow kings of the Southern Alps 51p
Studies in N Z Scenery1916282p
Uncanny country 55p
Two New Zealand Roses (never published)  

In 2021 Carol Markham published ‘Enough Horizon – thelife and work of Blanche Baughan’. It was published by the Cuba Press, New Zealand. IBSN 9781988595399