Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Bombay Anna

Bombay Anna: The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of theKing and IGoverness

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 300
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Bombay Anna
    Book Description:

    If you thought you knew the story of Anna inThe King and I,think again. As this riveting biography shows, the real life of Anna Leonowens was far more fascinating than the beloved story of the Victorian governess who went to work for the King of Siam. To write this definitive account, Susan Morgan traveled around the globe and discovered new information that has eluded researchers for years. Anna was born a poor, mixed-race army brat in India, and what followed is an extraordinary nineteenth-century story of savvy self-invention, wild adventure, and far-reaching influence. At a time when most women stayed at home, Anna Leonowens traveled all over the world, witnessed some of the most fascinating events of the Age of Empire, and became a well-known travel writer, journalist, teacher, and lecturer. She remains the one and only foreigner to have spent significant time inside the royal harem of Siam. She emigrated to the United States, crossed all of Russia on her own just before the revolution, and moved to Canada, where she publicly defended the rights of women and the working class. The book also gives an engrossing account of how and why Anna became an icon of American culture inThe King and Iand its many adaptations.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93399-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. ONE Introduction: A Life of Passing
    (pp. 1-10)

    On June 25, 1859, a woman with two young children stepped off a steamship onto the dock of Singapore, island city and British colony at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. The family was arriving from the small island of Penang in the British Straits Settlements, a convenient port up along the northwest coast of the peninsula. The woman was no one important or famous, just a woman, a nobody. She was one minor member of that vast underclass of traveling Victorians outside Britain who are now almost impossible to trace. Their personal histories have vanished because neither their genealogy...

  7. TWO Ancestors: A Methodist, a Soldier, and a “Lady Not Entirely White”
    (pp. 11-28)

    On a steaming July day in 1810, the air still wet after the morning rain, a young Englishman leaned on the railing of an East India Company frigate at anchor in the Bay of Bombay. He was of medium height, with the brown eyes and even darker brown hair that bespoke his Welsh heritage. William Vawdrey Glascott, named after a family friend in Cornwall, William Vawdrey, who in turn gave two of his sons the middle name of Glascott, answered to the name of Billy or Will. He was to become Anna’s grandfather. But at the moment he was twenty-one...

  8. THREE A Company Childhood
    (pp. 29-41)

    Anna Leonowens was born on November 26, 1831, in the presidency her grandfather had loved so well. She was christened Anna Harriett Emma Edwards. Her mother, Billy’s eldest child, was still mostly a child when she married in 1829, eight years after her father died in the Persian Gulf. She was just thirteen years old. Life in Bombay Fort required that British, and particularly Anglo-Indian, children not stay a financial burden on their parents. For the orphan children of company men who were lower officers or in the ranks, the situation was extreme. It was common to talk of the...

  9. FOUR Daughter of the Deccan
    (pp. 42-55)

    There is almost no information about Anna Harriett Edwards’s early years. Without public records, a biographer can usually turn to personal records. But Anna herself has been the greatest obstacle to discovering anything of her personal history. She threw away or destroyed any records, family letters, or souvenirs and replaced them with lies. When she was quite old in Canada, and pressed by her grandchildren to provide them with a record of her adventurous life, Anna did write that infamous narrative about her earlier times. This brief story included the claim that she and her older sister, Eliza, were born...

  10. FIVE Love and Bombay, at Last
    (pp. 56-69)

    Anna Harriett had only one romantic love in her life. His name was Thomas Louis Leon Owens. He was from a middle-class Protestant family, literate but not well-off. John Owens and Mary Lean, Tom’s parents, had married in 1810 in the diocese of Ossory, Ireland. Their son was one of thousands who emigrated to escape the economic blight caused by the potato famine that swept Ireland from 1845 to 1850. Most of these young men went west, flooding into America. But some went east, to the Company’s India, hoping to find a career and a life. Tom Owens immigrated to...

  11. SIX Metamorphosis: “A Life Sublimated above the Ordinary”
    (pp. 70-87)

    On June 25, 1859, a woman got off a boat in Singapore. She was nobody special, part of that vast underclass of travelers in the far reaches of the British Empire in the mid-nineteenth century, and just a woman at that. There is no reason for us to know she existed, much less to know that she arrived in Singapore that June of 1859. But passenger arrivals in that port were recorded, I am happy to say. The boat was theHooghly,coming from Penang, and the arrival notice in the following Saturday’s edition of theSingapore Straits Timesannounced...

  12. SEVEN A Teacher and a King
    (pp. 88-103)

    Mrs. Leonowens and her son, Louis, age five and a half, arrived in Bangkok in March 1862. Anna was thirty years old. The daughter she left behind with Mr. Cobb was seven and a half, considered old enough in those times to be sent from her family to board at school. But Anna kept Louis with her, perhaps because she could not afford to, or bear to, lose both children, and certainly because Louis was too young for boarding school anyway. He was not yet six, usually the youngest age at which British families would consider sending their children away,...

  13. EIGHT A Job in a Palace
    (pp. 104-117)

    By the early summer of 1862, Anna and Louis were comfortably settled near the Grand Palace. They missed Avis terribly. She had sent a simple note to them after they left Singapore, “Mamma good-bye now goodbye for Louis, your own child, Avis Leonowens.” Anna wrote a cheerful letter back:

    Birds sing sweetly and brightly the sun beams as Mamma reads her darling’s dear little note, be good and brave my Child and never cry when kind friends are near for that will make them and Mamma too sad, but look up to the fair blue sky every evening for Mamma...

  14. NINE “The Noble and Devoted Women Whom I Learned to Know, to Esteem, and to Love”
    (pp. 118-135)

    Anna’s schoolroom in the palace complex was the marble-floored grand hall of one of the many temples—Wat Khoon Chom Manda Thai, Temple of the Mothers of the Free. This beautifulwat(temple) was located behind the inner wall of the Grand Palace, within the royal harem. The king’s children who were old enough were expected to attend Anna’s classes. But anyone in the harem was welcome to come to the schoolroom, just to observe or to participate. Anna and the king shared a strong belief in the enormous value of learning. The king encouraged his various wives and concubines...

  15. TEN Settled in Bangkok
    (pp. 136-152)

    Anna had an enthusiastic and intense personality, always fascinated with the world about her. She was a sociable being who liked to be among other people, and she made many friends during her years in Bangkok. Most of her friends were Siamese women. These relationships evolved both because she spent almost all of her time among the women and children of the royal harem and because there were very few foreign women in Siam anyway. As with the friendships of most of us, Anna’s friendships were forged among the group of people daily surrounding her.

    The basis of Anna’s friendships...

  16. ELEVEN The Paths to Good-bye
    (pp. 153-166)

    Anna had been ill in the fall of 1865 and, though she recovered, in the summer of 1866 and on through 1867 she still felt worn out. She began to think seriously about taking some time away from Bangkok. Anna’s plan was to start with a visit to Singapore. But her real goal was to take passage from Singapore with Louis for what would be their first visit to England, to see Avis again at last. Avis would be twelve years old in October 1866. She was arriving at the age when girls were finished with school. Louis was completely...

  17. TWELVE An American Writer
    (pp. 167-185)

    When Anna and her daughter landed in New York, they were not planning to stay. Anna’s fragile plan for her future, which she had worked out at the Wilkinsons, was simply to delay making any final plan until the following spring. She was waiting for a reply from King Mongkut sometime in April or May 1868 to her November 1867 letter requesting a salary advance. That was the time when, as her brother-in-law put it, “you may naturally expect to hear from the King, and when you must decide as to your future career” (LC, VIC, 4:2). Even having decided...

  18. THIRTEEN The Canadian Grande Dame
    (pp. 186-206)

    Tom and Avis spent all of that summer of 1878 on their honeymoon. They went home to Tom’s family in Scotland. His father, Alex, was a farmer and Tom, along with siblings Sandy, Peter, and Jane, had grown up happily in the country in Easter Balbeggie, near Kirkcaldy. In London, Tom and Avis visited Tom Wilkinson, whom Avis pronounced to be very conservative, and Avis wrote that long lovely letter to Anna about her feelings on seeing her old school and the depth of her love for her mother. Anna had written her in June that “it was a dreadful...

  19. FOURTEEN “Shall We Dance?”: Anna and U.S.-Thai Relations
    (pp. 207-224)

    Although Anna did achieve some fame during her lifetime, she did not really “live,” with all the media pizzazz attached to that term, until she had been dead for some thirty years. Anna came back to life in May 1944 as the heroine of Margaret Landon’s runaway bestseller,Anna and the King.Her resurrection has turned out to be phenomenal, in both its impact and its longevity. That resurrection is going on even now. At the beginning of this millennium yet another actress—this time, Jodi Foster—was seduced by the chance to play Anna, almost one hundred years after...

  20. APPENDIX ONE: The Magnificent Charter: How the British Got to India
    (pp. 225-234)
  21. APPENDIX TWO: The Women of British India
    (pp. 235-244)
    (pp. 245-260)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 261-274)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-276)