Anna Leonowens


Anna Leonowens : biography

26 November 1831 – 19 January 1915

Mary Glascott married a non-commissioned officer of the Sappers and Miners, Sergeant Thomas Edwards on 15 March 1829 in Tannah.Morgan, Bombay Anna, p29. Edwards was from London and a former cabinetmaker.Morgan, Bombay Anna, p30. Tom Edwards died before his second daughter was born, in Ahmednagar district, India, on 6 November 1831. While she was christened Anna Harriet Emma Edwards, Leonowens later changed Harriet to "Harriette" and ceased using her third given name (Emma).

For most of her adult life, Anna Edwards had no contact with her family and took pains to disguise her origins by claiming that she had been born with the surname "Crawford" in Caernarfon and giving her father’s rank as Captain. By doing so, she protected not only herself but her children, who would have had greater opportunities if their mixed-race heritage remained unknown. Investigations uncovered no record of her birth at Caernarfon, news which came as a shock to the town that had long claimed her as one of its most famous natives.

Mary Edwards later married an Irish soldier, Corporal Patrick Donohoe of the Royal Engineers, who was later awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in Bombay during the Indian Mutiny. In 1845, Anna’s 15-year-old sister, Eliza Julia Edwards, married James Millard, a Major with the 4th Troop Artillery,Indian Army on 24 April 1845 in Deesa,Banaskantha, Gujarat, India and their daughter, Eliza Sarah Millard born in 1858 in India married Edward John Pratt, a 38-year-old British civil servant who had served in the Indian Navy on 7 October 1864 in Surat, Gujarat, India . One of their sons,William Henry Pratt born 23 November 1887 upon their return to London, England was "Boris Karloff". Anna Edwards never approved of her sister’s marriage, and her disconnect from the family was so complete that decades later, when a Pratt relative contacted her, she replied threatening suicide if he persisted.Anna and the King: The Real Story of Anna Leonowens. Produced by Kevin Burns. A&E, 1999.

Anna Edwards’s relationship with her stepfather Donohoe was not a happy one, and she later accused him of putting pressure on her, like her sister (with whom she also fell out), to marry a much older man. In 1847, the family went to Aden, to where Donohoe had been seconded as assistant supervisor of public works. Here Anna Edwards was taught by the resident chaplain and orientalist, the Revd. George Percy Badger, and his wife Maria, a missionary schoolmistress. The Badgers recognised the girl’s aptitude for languages and, in 1849, they took her with them on a tour through Egypt and Palestine.

Later years

New York Times New York Times

Leonowens visited Russia in 1881 and other European countries, and continued to publish travel articles and books. She settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where she again became involved in women’s education, and was a suffragette and one of the founders of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. After nineteen years, she moved to Montreal, Quebec.

Leonowens’s daughter, Avis, married Thomas Fyshe, a Scottish banker who ended the family’s money worries, while her son, Louis, returned to Siam and became an officer in the Siamese royal cavalry. He married Caroline Knox, a daughter of Sir Thomas George Knox, the British consul-general in Bangkok (1824–1887), and his Thai wife, Prang Yen.Bradford Smith, "It Was Love, Love, Love", The New York Times, 16 September 1962R. J. Minney, Fanny and the Regent of Siam (The World Publishing Company, 1962). This book recounts the life story of Caroline Knox’s elder sister, Fanny Knox, and the family’s mixed-race history."A Dark Tragedy in Siam: The Execution of Pra Preecah—A Native Nobleman Beheaded for Marrying A British Officer’s Daughter—How a Cruel King Can Retain A Grudge For Years—Medieval Horrors in the Nineteenth Century", The New York Times, 12 April 1880. This lengthy article identifies Sir Thomas George Knox’s wife and mother of his children as Prang Yen, a Siamese noblewoman. Under Chulalongkorn’s patronage, Louis Leonowens founded the successful trading company that bears his name: The Louis T. Leonowens Co. Ltd., which is still trading in Retrieved 23 January 2012