Patchett, Mary Elwyn

About the author

Mary Elwyn Patchett (1897–1989) was an Australian author who lived most of her life in Britain. She wrote under the names Mary Elwyn Patchett, M E Patchett and Mary Patchett. The Bibliography of Australian Literature mentions that she is supposed to have written under the name David Bruce, but no works have been found (despite extensive searching) under that name.

Mary Elwyn Patchett grew up on a cattle station in Texas, Queensland. She was a solitary child, spending her time with pets and the animals from the bush, and it is this world on which she drew for her books. The dustjacket of Tam the Untamed said ‘humans, especially young ones, were looked upon by her in the way most people regard tigers.’ After working as a journalist in Australia, she lived and worked in England from 1931. Although she only returned to Australia for holidays, it is there that her books are set. Her first book, Ajax the Warrior, which was originally broadcast on BBC Children’s Hour, drew heavily on her childhood.

She continued to work for Children’s Hour over the years, and continued to write for children on many subjects. Inspired by the idea of space flight, she wrote Lost on Venus and Kidnapped in Space. She acted, and also owned a beauty salon for a time (which inspired her career novel, The Lee Twins, Beauty Students (1953). Her books were translated into many different languages, and she was considered to be the most widely read Australian children’s author of her time.

Mary Elwyn Patchett wrote one major pony series: The Brumby. Her Ajax series does involve horses, but apart from Tam the Untamed, horses are peripheral. Her Summer on Wild Horse Island is a standalone book. Whatever you might think of its story, the book is notable for having some of the nastiest cover illustrations in the pony book world. Not one edition is a winner.

Her books, though, are excellent reads. She does not flinch from the harsh realities of the Australian bush, and neither does she drift off into the romanticised oddities which afflicted the last of Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series. The Brumby series does have one peculiarity: Rebel Brumby’s dustjacket says it is the eighth Brumby book, but Austlit in her entry mentions only seven, as listed below. It may be the series’ hero, Joey Meehan, pops up in another, otherwise unrelated, book, so if you know which it is, do please let me know. The bibliography below is only intended to include her horse books. It’s perfectly possible that I’ve missed some, so again, please let me know if you’ve spotted things I’ve left out or got wrong.

NOTE: the National Library of Australia has Mary Elwyn Patchett’s date of death as 1972. I believe this is incorrect. A search of death records in the UK shows Mary Osborne E Patchett dying in Berkshire in 1989. This is also the date used by Austlit, and the Bibliography of Australian Literature, ed Arnold.

Finding the books
If you want to read her, the first two books of the Brumby series, which were printed in paperback by Puffin, are very easy to find indeed. Alas the same is not true for the rest of the series, though you might be able to find some of them in their American printings, which are more widely available. Most of the Ajax series can be difficult.

Links and sources
20th Century Children’s Literature, 3rd edn, ed Chevalier
The Bibliography of Australian Literature
Children’s Series Fiction, NCC, 2004
The Brumby series – dustjackets
Many thanks to Hannah Fleetwood, Susan Bourgeau, Lisa Catz. Elizabeth Williams, Claire Noble and Fuzzipariah for help with the photographs and summaries.


The Brumby Series
The Brumby
Come Home, Brumby
Circus Brumby
Stranger in the Herd
Brumby Foal
The Long Ride
Rebel Brumby

The Ajax Series
Ajax the Warrior
Tam the Untamed
Treasure of the Reef
Return to the Reef
Outback Adventure
The Call of the Bush
The End of the Outlaws
The Golden Wolf
Ajax and the Drovers
Ajax and the Haunted Mountain

Bibliography (pony books only)

Ajax the Warrior

Lutterworth, London, 1953, 183 pp. Illus Eric Tansley
As Ajax, Golden Dog of the Australian Bush, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1954

This is the story of a girl and her animals: Ajax the dog, her ponies Buck and Belle, and all sorts of other pets. She lives a free, solitary life on her father’s cattle station, and has many adventures.

Tam the Untamed

Lutterworth, London, 1954, 176 pp. Illus Joan Kiddell-Monroe
Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1955, illus Gerald McCann

Second of the Ajax series. Tam is a beautiful, wilful silver horse whom only his mistress can handle. He is the son of the famous buckjumper Bobs, and has inherited his hatred of strangers and his savage fury. Eventually, Tam’s real needs are recognised.

The Brumby

Lutterworth, London, 1958, illus Juliet McLeod
Puffin, Harmondsworth, 1964, 190 pp.
Lutterworth, new edition, 1969
Lutterworth, new edition, 1974, cover Michael Charlton
As Brumby, the Wild White Stallion, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1958

Joey dreamed of building up a ghost herd after a silver horse runs with the brumby herd on his father’s land. The herd is scattered by stockmen, and Joey’s favourite horse, The Brumby, is a killer, but he still believes one day the horse will return to the lands where he was born.

Come Home, Brumby

Lutterworth, London, 1961, 192 pp, illus Stuart Tresilian.
Puffin Books, Harmondsworth, 1972, 175 pp, illus Stuart Tresilian.
Various reprints.
Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1962

Just as Joey’s fencing is nearly complete, the Brumby leads the herd off into the mountains. Joey is determined to go after them and bring them home.

Circus Brumby

Lutterworth, London, 1962, 190 pp, illus Stuart Tresilian.

Joey wants to become a veterinary surgeon, but thinks he has no chance, until Doc, the vet with a famous circus, invites Joey to spend six months with the circus as his assistant. Joey brings Florian, his horse, with him to be trained in haute école. It’s a tricky six months: Joey nearly dies, and finds the circus animals are a world away from horses.  

Stranger in the Herd

Lutterworth, London, 1964, 160 pp, illus Stuart Tresilian
Duell, Sloan & Pearce, New York, 1967

Joey’s beautiful mare, Amanda, is stolen, and her daughter is adopted by a brumby herd.

Brumby Foal

Lutterworth, London, 1965, 124 pp, illus Victor Ambrus

Joey’s Lipizzaner colt, Star, is stolen by a brumby mare.

Summer on Wild Horse Island

Brockhampton Press, Leicester, 1965, 120 pp, illus Roger Payne
Meredith Press, USA, 1967
Knight, London, 1975, 120 pp.

Danny and David discover an island off the Great Barrier Reef, on which there are abandoned horses.

Quarter Horse Boy

Harrap, London, 1970, 159 pp, illus Roger Payne
Carousel Books, London, 1972, 156 pp.

Tod is a stable boy and horses are his whole life. When the owner of the ranch where he lives buys Quarter Horses to start a new breeding line, Tod loses his heart to Perina. He thought of the foal as his own – but owner Nakimer has other plans. Rather than be separated from Perina, Tod runs away with him into the outback.

The Long Ride

Lutterworth, London, 1970, 140 pp, illus Michael Charlton

In 1862, an explorer and his mare trekked 4,000 miles through Australia. Joey Meehan,on his grey mare Polly, sets off along the same trail.

Rebel Brumby

Lutterworth, Guildford, 1972, 158 pp, illus Roger Payne

Joey finds drawings done by Walli, an outcast aborigine boy, showing a herd of wild horses. Joey has to decide who has a better claim to the horses, but meanwhile there are other men who have seen and coveted the wild horses.