Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection
Notes Books Authors


is edited by Bruce Morris
and published by
the Friends of the
Dorothy Neal White Collection
New Zealand

Copyright December 1989

ISSN 0114‑5428

The Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the National Library of New Zealand in the preparation of this issue of Notes‑Books-Authors.

MRS GEORGE CUPPLES – a monograph by her great-niece, Elspeth White.

followed by

Books by Mrs Cupples held in the Dorothy Neal White Room by Mary Atwool


A monograph, written by her great‑niece, Elspeth White.

Mrs George Cupples was born Ann Jane Dunn Douglas, on 4 January 1839 at 34 Gilmore Place, Edinburgh, Scotland.

She was the third of the seven children of Archibald Douglas of Morton and his wife, Caroline Montague Scott, daughter of Captain Ebenezer Prentice of the Scots’ Fusiliers. Archibald Douglas also came from a military background but he had joined the Civil Service and was destined for a post in New Zealand, when he died suddenly at the age of fifty-five. His widow, who must have been a woman of great strength and ability, decided to proceed to New Zealand as planned. She arrived in Dunedin in 1858 where she opened a small school near Pelichet Bay.

Caroline Douglas took five daughters to Dunedin with her, leaving in Edinburgh her only son who followed later and her daughter, Ann Jane about whom this monograph is written. At this time Ann Jane was nineteen years of age and George Cupples was thirty-six and one of the most respected literary figures of Edinburgh. He was a noted contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine, an essayist and author of novels, including The Green Hand, a best‑selling novel of the sea which went into five editions between 1856 and 1908.

So it was to a literary lion that the nineteen‑year‑old Ann Jane was married, and is it any wonder that her first books to be published were simply under the initials A.J.C.? Bearing in mind that it was customary for women authors of Victorian times to use their husband’s names, it is not surprising that she later published as Mrs George Cupples; although there may have been also an element of expediency in being able to make use of such a prestigious name in the publishing world.

George Cupples was in his other capacity a famous breeder of Scotch deer hounds, said by him to be ‘one of the noblest races of quadrupeds ever known’ ‑and I imagine, of the canine race, one of the most alarming. After George Cupples died in 1891, his wife edited and published his life’s findings on these dogs in a lavish illustrated book of over three hundred pages called Scotch Deer hounds and their Masters. And it was obvious, from references in her stories to these dogs, that she shared her husband’s love of this noble race of quadrupeds.

Ivan Illich has said that children were a nineteenth century invention. Before that they were regarded as incipient adults. Women authors took up their pens in droves to write for this delightful invention. Mrs Cupples must have been one of the more prolific of these women writers for children, for the British Library at the British Museum holds forty-eight of her books. A list of these with sub‑titles, publishers and dates of publication is attached. I would like to single out some titles as they relate to the author’s life.

It would appear from the British Library list that Mrs Cupples’ first book to be published was Unexpected Pleasures or, Left Alone in the Holidays. Here she uses the technique, popular at the time, of a secondary title which gives the purchaser some idea of the trend of the book ‑ and the readers a hint of the message for them. This book was published by W.P. Nimmo, Edinburgh in 1868. This date is interesting. It was exactly ten years since the Cupples were married. Ann Jane was twenty-nine years old and it may have been that she realised that
she was not going to have children and that she was looking for a productive means of filling in her time by writing for other people’s children.

The next year, 1869, saw the publication of her full‑length novel for boys, Norrie Seton or, Driven to Sea, published by W. P. Nimmo, Edinburgh. This was a good yarn and must have been popular, for Nimmos brought out a very fine new edition in 1896.

In this book, as in all her sea stories, Mrs Cupples must have drawn almost completely on her husband´s early experiences at sea, so at this point it would be helpful to consider the young George Cupples.

He was born in 1822, and his father was the minister of Legerwood, a small parish just north of Melrose in the Scottish county of Berwick. George’s first lessons were from his father but, at the age of ten he went to school, walking five miles each way in all weathers. When he was twelve, his family moved to Stirling and, reading between the lines of the discreetly‑guarded Memoir written by Dr James Hutchinson Stirling, it becomes apparent that he got into some sort of trouble with a rowdy element in the town. It seems that he was so afraid of his father’s anger that he ran away to sea. The Memoir is less guarded in its description of George’s father: ‘.. a terrible father, and in his Covenanting Calvinistic rigidity and strictness, a perfectly awful man.’

A life on the ocean wave seemed to be the only escape (and indeed, it was the traditional escape in those days), but it proved to be even worse than life at home with his father. Poor George could not take the crudity and the terrible hardships of sailing‑ship life, and after eighteen months plying the trade route to India, he came home in a state of ‘penitential cowedness’, as his brother described his condition. He begged his father to have his indentures cancelled, in other words to buy him out of the service. This ‘the awful man’ fortunately did, and for the next eight years George studied at Edinburgh University.

It would seem obvious that Mrs Cupples’ sea story Norrie Seton; or, Driven to Sea, was certainly inspired by the unfortunate circumstances of her husband’s teenage years. In this book it is Major Seton, the over‑strict uncle, who drives the young hero to sea. Like George Cupples, Norrie Seton had had a scrape with the local police and, although not the guilty one, his refusal to tell on his friends caused his uncle to chastise him unmercifully.

Norrie runs away and joins the ship ‘Vulcan’, bound for San Francisco. It is obvious from the beginning that Norrie, unlike George Cupples, is going to make a success of the venture. He put up with the injustices imposed on him by a bullying second mate, never losing his stoic calm. He sang sea‑shanties admirably, so winning a great following among the sailors. He sorted out a dirty situation with some mutineers, saved people who fell overboard, and ended his first voyage a competent apprentice with a letter from his captain to say so.

The circumstances of going to sea and the experiences suffered at sea were similar in the cases of both the author’s hero, Norrie Seton and her husband, George Cupples. Their return home, however, could not have been more different ‑ Norrie Seton to the warm embrace of an apologetic uncle and an admiring family circle; George Cupples in a ‘state of abject cowedness’ to his terrible father, to be bought out of the Service as a failure. It was almost as if Mrs Cupples could not bear the unkindness meted out to her husband and so decided to write his story differently.

1869 was an important year for Mrs Cupples for not only did she publish Norrie Seton, but in that year she was discovered by the publishers T. Nelson & Sons, London. During that year Nelsons published her books Alice Leighton; or, A Good Name is rather to be chosen than riches;, Carryś Rose; or, The Magic of Kindness; and Hugh Wellwoodś Sucess; or, Where Thereś a Will Thereś a Way.

The partnership with Nelsons was to prove a happy one, and in all they published twenty-six of her titles.

George Cupples must have encouraged his wife in this profitable pursuit, and it is pleasant to picture the husband and wife sitting by the fire checking manuscripts with a deer‑hound or two spread between them on the hearth‑rug.

The next year brought more sea stories from Mrs Cupples’ pen. Bill Marlin’s Tales of the Sea, Johnstone, Hunter & Co, Edinburgh, although undated is given the date 1870 in the British Library catalogue. This book is dedicated as follows:

My Two Little Sisters
In New Zealand
H. & J.
These Tales
Affectionately Inscribed

Her two little sisters were by that date nineteen and twenty-one years respectively. ‘H’ was to become Mrs Helen Hutton and ´J´, Mrs Janet Ramsay (my grandmother), both of whom lived and died in Dunedin.

So it can only be assumed that Mrs Cupples wrote these stories for the little sisters she missed so much and sent them in manuscript form to New Zealand, leaving the inscription intact when the books were finally published in 1870.

Bill Marlin’s Tales contains two long stories and in both of them Mrs Cupples uses one of her husband’s literary devices. In his novel The Green Hand, George Cupples tells his story through a ship’s captain reminiscing with his passengers in the saloon after dinner during a long voyage. Mrs Cupples, writing for children, uses the same technique, but has Bill Marlin, an old seaman, as the narrator telling stories to his grandchildren by the fire before they go to bed. Indeed, she uses this method often of an older person telling the child a story.

The first of Bill Marlin’s stories, Miss Matty: or, Our youngest passenger , tells of a very nice little girl travelling to England from India after the death of her mother. During he voyage, she manages to civilise the rather wild crew of the good ship ´Mersey´, and to keep their spirits up while they spent a miserable time ship­wrecked on an uninhabited island. Her optimism was not misplaced ‑ rescue was at hand.

The second story is interesting in that again, as in Norrie Seton, Mrs Cupples uses her husband’s unfortunate experiences. Like George Cupples, the hero of The Little Captain, Midshipman Charles Harvey, was the son of a clergyman and of a religious nature. Because he read his Bible regularly, he was ridiculed unmercifully and treated with both physical and mental cruelty by the officer of his watch and his fellow apprentices. Again we see Mrs Cupples’ determination to turn her husband’s failure at sea into a success story. In this book, the ordinary seamen recognise Charles Harvey’s worth, and to them he is known as ‘the little captain’. When he goes ashore at Mozambique to save some of his shipmates baled up by the natives, he receives a fatal stab wound. His death turns him into a classical hero.

The Little Captain was also brought out by Johnstone, Hunter & Co under that title along with Gottfried of the Iron Hand: a Tale of German Chivalry. This is a similar edition to Bill Marlin’s Tales, and also has the dedication to her little sisters in New Zealand but the author styles herself ‘A.J.C.’, not Mrs George Cupples, as in the companion volume. This makes one wonder if it could be earlier.

The Little Captain must have been a very popular story because it was published again in 1885, this time by Gall & Inglis, London, Edinburgh. Lists show some five more titles in second editions. Alf Jetsam, Blackie & Sons, London, 1886, was brought out again by Blackies in an abridged edition as late as 1933.

Animal stories came second to the sea as a favourite subject for Mrs Cupples and, provided one can understand the Scottish dialect she employed, one of her most delightfully amusing books about animals is Tappy’s Chicks, Strahan & Co, London, 1872. This book has the sub‑title, Links between Nature and Human Nature, and it contains twelve stories about such diverse creatures as ferrets, pigs, monkeys, ducklings and her beloved dogs ‑ the best and funniest is about The Laird’s Staghound.

In her writings her delight in animals is obvious. In all Mrs Cupples’ books, that I have seen, both at the Dorothy Neal White Collection at the National Library, Wellington, and in my own collection, there is hardly a story in which some particularly pleasant dog does not appear.

I have said that many of her books were published by T. Nelson & Sons. Most of
these were instructive, and many had the moral tag demanded so often by
Victorian publishers. The following titles show this trend: Bertha Marchmont: or,
All is Not Gold that Glitters
; Bluff Crag: or, A Good Word Costs Nothing; Carry’s Rose; or, The Magic of Kindness.

But even Nelsons gave her her head and allowed her her humour every now and then. In The Cockatoo’s Story, T. Nelson & Sons, Paternoster Row, 1881, for instance, we meet a wise old parrot who had been, by a twist of irony, ‘the favourite Polly of an old bird‑stuffer’ and also a macaw, the Great Mogul, who had learned so many bad words from his previous sailor owner that he had to be segregated from the parrot for fear of moral contamination.

In those days when government help for the poor was minimal, Mrs Cupples gave a lot of her time to social work for the underprivileged. She aroused a great deal of public interest in the founding of a home for the training of orphan girls and boys from Glasgow. This home, erected by public subscription, was situated on Duchray Water, Aberfoyle. She was also a member of the committee of the Edinburgh YWCA.

However, her social work at Newhaven probably showed her compassion most markedly. Newhaven is a fishing village near Edinburgh and here the fishwives worked on the wharf where the herring fleet came in, cleaning and scaling the fish as the great baskets were brought out of the boats. It was an appalling and filthy job for these women, working in the bitter winds off the North Sea, their hands chapped and bleeding from the constant contact with the saft and the awful cold. Here Mrs Cupples went to work among these women as a voluntary social worker, organising what practical help she could for them and giving then the support of her friendship.

The depth and sincerity of their love and gratitude was shown when, some 15 years after Mrs Cupples left Scotland for New Zealand, my mother (her niece) visited Scotland and called at the wharf at Newhaven to see the scene she had heard about from her aunt. The fishwives were still there and when my mother told them that she was the niece of Mrs Cupples, she was surrounded by tearful women all wanting to embrace her. She ended up, according to reports, covered in scales, smelling very fishy, but inordinately proud of her aunt.

On 17 October 1891, George Cupples died aged 69 years, and three years later Mrs Cupples decided to join her sisters in New Zealand. She sailed from Plymouth in RMS ´Gothic´ for Port Chalmers, arriving there on 14 November 1894. She spent the next four years living with her unmarried sisters, Margaret and Caroline Douglas who lived at Mosgiel, near Dunedin.

Mrs Cupples died at Mosgiel on 19 November 1898, aged 59 years, and the only obituary notice was in the Taieri Advocate of 23 November 1898, which read as follows:

‘… she was a lady of considerable literary ability, and when in good health was a contributor to Home journals. For a long time she conducted a ladies column in the Taieri Advocate, her nom de plume being Penelope.’

It seemed sad that this energetic and talented writer with a distinguished record of publications in England and Scotland should only be known in New Zealand as a contributor to ladies’ journals.

For that reason I was prompted to write this monograph, and I hope it may prove useful to anyone who is interested in the significant collection of the books of Ann Jane Cupples in the Dorothy Neal White Collection.


A History of the Douglas Family of Morton (Dumfriesshire) and their Descendants,
Percy W.L. Adams. Privately published. The Sydney Press: Bedford. 1921

Scotch Deer Hounds and their Masters. George Cupples, with biographical sketch by James Hutchinson Stirling, LLD, Wm Blackwood & Sons: Edinburgh & London. 1894



Through the generosity of the descendants of Mrs Cupples’ brothers and sisters the Children’s Historical Collection contains twenty-three of Mrs Cupples’ books. We are extremely fortunate to have these books as they are significant for a variety of reasons.

First of all, there is the New Zealand connection explained in Elspeth White’s memoir. While none of these books was written in New Zealand, Mrs Cupples kept in close touch with her family and joined them for the last four years of her life.

In addition, her writings are a valuable resource for any student of Victorian children’s literature. Mrs Cupples is an excellent example of the professional woman writer of the period. Her writing style is an accomplished one and she could turn her hand to whatever the market required. Consequently her range of books represents a microcosm of popular genres in children’s writing of the mid-Victorian period. For older readers she produced tales of nautical adventure and Robinsonnades. Moral tales and natural history stories were written for a variety of age‑groups.

Some of her best stories about animals make good use of her intimate knowledge of Scottish working life. She also produced a number of ‘picture page’ books for the very young, writing stories, to fit illustrations supplied by the publisher.

The topics and themes she chose are typical of what was considered suitable for young readers in this period. Within this framework her characters are often robust and adventurous, and humour as well as piety can be found.

Mrs Cupples was well‑served by her publishers who ensured a good standard of illustration and binding for her books. Their decorative and often pictorial covers made them among the most attractive books of their era in the collection. Displayed together they provide the onlooker with an overview of many key features of publishing for children in the 1870s.


The adventures of Mark Willis London : Nelson, 1872
168p. Coloured frontispiece. Engraved illustrations. Inscribed ´To Mr Robert L Cupples with the authors kindest regards 27th Nov 1873

The adventures of Mark Willis London : Nelson, 1897
167p. Pictorial cover. Frontispiece missing

Bill Marlin’s tales of the sea. Edinburgh : Johnstone, Hunter, 1870
Comprises two stories: Miss Matty : or, our youngest passenger 145p. and The little captain : a tale of ‑the sea, 96p. Carries the printed dedication ´To my two little sisters in New Zealand H & J, these tales are affectionately inscribed.´

A book about house work : a convenient manual for mistresses and maids with useful hints and receipts in the various departments of housekeeping. 3d ed. Edinburgh : J. Menzies, 1878.
96p. Paperbound.

Edenside : the lights and shadows of our village Edinburgh : The Religious Tract and Book Society of Scotland, 1881.
163p. Engraved illustrations.

Helpful words from a barn door   Edinburgh : John Maclaren, 1879.
19p. A threepenny religious tract.

The hidden talent : or, use in everything London : Nelson, 1875.
61p. Pictorial cover. Engraved illustrations.

Hugh Wellwood’s success : or, where there’s a will there’s a way London Nelson, 1869.

48p. Engraved illustrations.

Katty Lester : a book for girls London : Marcus Ward, 1873.

118p. The chromographs are facsimiles of the original drawings made for Vere Foster, Esq., by Harrison Weir.

The lost rabbit : or, look at everything and touch nothing. London : Nelson, 1875.

61p. Engraved illustrations.

Mamma’s stories about domestic pets London : Nelson, 1876.
168p. Pictorial cover, red binding. Engraved illustrations.

Mamma’s stories about domestic pets. London : Nelson, 1876.
168p. Pictorial cover, green binding. Engraved illustrations. This copy is sub‑titled about wild animals on cover, perhaps through a bindery confusion with Talks with Uncle Richard about wild animals issued in identical binding the same year.

My pretty scrap‑book : or, picture pages and pleasing stories for little readers.
London : Nelson, 1883.
92p. Pictorial cover. ´With eighty‑two illustrations´. Includes on p.79 ´A New Zealand chief´

Norrie Seton : or driven to sea Edinburgh : William P Nimmo, 1869.
422p. Engraved illustrations. Publishers catalogue for 1871 appended.

Our parlour Panorama London : Nelson, 1882.
92p. Pictorial cover. “With eighty‑two illustrations”.

Singular creatures and how they were found : being stories and studies from a domestic zoology of a Scotch Parish Boston : Lee and Shepard, 1872.
333p. US edition of Sep/75Tappy’s chicks. Inscribed ´To the author Mrs George Cupples with the affectionate regards of her nephew J.G. Cupples Boston, Mass. USA May 23/78´.

Talks with Uncle Richard about wild animals London : Nelson, 1876
167p. Pictorial cover Engraved illustrations.

Tappy’s chicks :Sep/75 and other links between nature and human nature London Strahan, 1872

321p. ´With nineteen illustrations´. Inscribed ´To my beloved mother from her affectionate daughter The Author, 2nd April 1872´

Terrapin Island : or adventures with the ´Gleam´ Edinburgh : Gall & Inglis, 1876

288p. ´Eight woodcuts´

Tim Leeson’s first shilling : or, try again London : Nelson, 1875.

64p. Engraved illustrations.

Walks and talks with Grandpa London : Nelson, 1876.

120p. Pictorial cover. Engraved illustrations.

Young bright‑eye : or, Charlie Harvey’s first voyage Edinburgh : Gall & Inglis, 1875.

224p. ´Four full‑page cuts´. 2 copies. One is inscribed ´To Archie D Burns from his aunt wishing him many happy returns of his birthday 29th Sep/75´

Also held in the Dorothy Neal White Room are three books by Mr George Cupples, the authors husband:Sep/75

Cupples Howe, mariner: a tale of the sea Boston : Cupples, Upham, 1885.

The green hand : adventures of a naval lieutenant : a sea story for boys London : Routledge, 1879.
448p. Engraved illustrations. Preface dated 1878 states this is a ´revised edition, freed from various expressions now to a certain extent obsolete or otherwise unsuitable, so as to make it more thoroughly fit for juvenile readers´

The two frigates London : Routledge, 1859.
387p. This edition issued as part of ´Routledge’s Railway Library´

The British Library General Catalogue of Printed Books to 1975

Cupples (Anne Jane) See Glen (William) Author of Poems chiefly Lyrical. The Poetical Remains of William Glen. With a memoir by the Rev. C. Rogers …and an account of the Aberfoyle orphanage conducted by the poet´s widow and daughter, by Mrs George Cupples. 1874. 8°. 11652. a. 7.

______Aboard the Mersey: or, Our youngest passenger… Illustrated. pp 96. Blackie and Son: London, [1886] 8°. 12811. a. 49.

______[Another edition] pp.112. Blackie and Son: London, [1926]8°. 12805. u. 41.

The original publication continues through two pages of small print from The British Library General Catalogue of Printed Books to 1975. For up to date holdings of the British Library go to their online catalogue at and search under Cupples, Anne Jane.



Patron Dorothy Ballantyne
President Mary Hutton
Secretary Mary Atwool
Treasurer Trevor Mowbray
Committee  Audrey Cooper
  Lorraine Crozier
  Alison Grant
  Carmel Jones
  Bruce Morris

The Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection
Dorothy Neal White Room
National Library of New Zealand
Te Puna Matauranga 0 Aotearoa
Molesworth Street
PO Box 1467


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