Biography

Elwyn Patchett, Mary

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
Austlit
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.