BAUGHAN, Blanche Edith
Authoress and prison reformer.
A new biography of Baughan, Blanche Edith appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Blanche Edith Baughan was born in 1870 at Putney, Surrey, England, and was the daughter of John Baughan, a London stockbroker. In spite of strong parental opposition she attended London University where, in 1892, she graduated B.A. with honours in Greek. About this time she joined the English Suffragette movement and also did extensive welfare work among the poor in the East End of London.
Blanche Baughan had 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 little 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 in Glimpses of New Zealand Scenery (1922). In addition she collaborated with L. Cockayne 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 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 the 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 were 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 Jubilee Medal for her literary and social services. She died on 20 August 1958 at Selwyn Avenue, Akaroa.
An indomitable campaigner for causes in which she believed, Blanche Baughan, by 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.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- F. A. De La Mare Papers, MS 144, Turnbull Library
- Australian MSS, Vol. III, Turnbull Library
- New Zealand Women's Weekly, 21 Nov 1935