42 Facts About Anna Leonowens


Anna Leonowens became well known with the publication of her memoirs, beginning with The English Governess at the Siamese Court, which chronicled her experiences in Siam, as teacher to the children of the Siamese King Mongkut.


Anna Leonowens was born in Ahmednagar in the Bombay Presidency of Company-ruled India, on 5 November 1831, three months after the death of her father.


Anna Leonowens' maternal grandfather, William Vawdrey Glascott, was an English-born commissioned officer of the 4th Regiment, Bombay Native Infantry, in the Bombay Army.


For most of her adult life, Anna Leonowens had no contact with her family and took pains to disguise her origins by claiming that she had been born with the surname "Crawford" in Caernarfon, Wales, and giving her father's rank as captain.


Anna Leonowens attended the Bombay Education Society's girls school in Byculla that admitted "mixed-race" children whose military fathers were either dead or absent.


Anna Leonowens later said she had attended a British boarding school and had arrived in India, a supposedly "strange land" to her, only at the age of 15.


Anna Leonowens's husband was Edward John Pratt, a 38-year-old British civil servant.


One of their sons, William Henry Pratt, born 23 November 1887 upon their return to London, was better known by his stage name of Boris Karloff; Anna Leonowens was thus his great-aunt.


Anna Leonowens later said she had gone on a three-year tour through Egypt and the Middle East with the orientalist Reverend George Percy Badger and his wife.


Anna Leonowens gave birth to her first daughter, Selina, in December 1850.


The journey from Singapore was long and while on board Anna Leonowens gave birth to a son, named Thomas.


Ten days later Anna Leonowens, Thomas, their newborn son and Glasscott arrived in Perth.


Glasscott and Thomas Anna Leonowens quickly found employment as clerks in the colonial administration.


In 1855, Thomas Anna Leonowens was appointed to Glasscott's former position with the commissariat at Lynton, and the family moved there.


At Lynton, Anna Leonowens gave birth to a son, Louis.


The Anna Leonowens family left Australia abruptly in April 1857, sailing to Singapore, and then moving to Penang, where Thomas found work as a hotel keeper.


In or before the first week of May 1859, Thomas Anna Leonowens died of "apoplexy" and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Penang.


Anna Leonowens returned to Singapore, where she created a new identity as a Welsh-born lady and widow of a British army major.


In 1862, Anna Leonowens accepted an offer made by the consul in Singapore, Tan Kim Ching, to teach the wives and children of Mongkut, King of Siam.


Anna Leonowens sent her daughter Avis to school in England, and took her son Louis with her to Bangkok.


Anna Leonowens succeeded Dan Beach Bradley, an American missionary, as teacher to the Siamese court.


Anna Leonowens served at court until 1867, a period of nearly six years, first as a teacher and later as language secretary for the king.


In 1868, Anna Leonowens was on leave for her health in England and had been negotiating a return to the court on better terms when Mongkut fell ill and died.


Anna Leonowens did not invite her to resume her post but they corresponded amicably for many years.


At the age of 27, Louis Anna Leonowens returned to Siam and was granted a commission of Captain in the Royal Cavalry.


Anna Leonowens expanded her articles into two volumes of memoirs, beginning with The English Governess at the Siamese Court, which earned her immediate fame but brought charges of sensationalism.


Anna Leonowens claimed to have spoken Thai fluently, but the examples of that language presented in her books are unintelligible, even if one allows for clumsy transcription.


Anna Leonowens was a feminist and in her writings she tended to focus on what she saw as the subjugated status of Siamese women, including those sequestered within the Nang Harm, or royal harem.


Anna Leonowens said the book influenced Chulalongkorn's reform of slavery in Siam, a process he had begun in 1868, and which would end with its total abolition in 1915.


Anna Leonowens became estranged from his mother and did not see her for 19 years.


On behalf of The Youth's Companion magazine, Anna Leonowens visited Russia in 1881, shortly after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, and other European countries, and continued to publish travel articles and books.


Anna Leonowens initiated a reading circle and a Shakespeare club, was one of the founders of the Local Council of Women of Halifax and the Victoria School of Art and Design.


From 1888 to 1893, Anna Leonowens lived with her daughter Avis and her grandchildren in Kassel, Germany.


Anna Leonowens had returned to Siam in 1881, had become an officer in the Siamese royal cavalry and a teak trader.


Anna Leonowens met Chulalongkorn again when both visited London in 1897, thirty years after she had left Siam.


Anna Leonowens studied Sanskrit and classical Indian literature with the renowned Indology professor Ernst Windisch of the Leipzig University, while her granddaughter studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music.


Anna Leonowens delivered her last lecture at the age of 78.


Anna Leonowens died on 19 January 1915, at 83 years of age.


Anna Leonowens was interred in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.


Anna Leonowens appears as a character in Paul Marlowe's novel Knights of the Sea, in which she travels from Halifax to Baddeck in 1887 to take part in a campaign to promote women's suffrage during a by-election.


Anna Leonowens kept the actual facts of her early life a closely guarded secret throughout her life, and never disclosed them to anybody, including her family.


Anna Leonowens's findings were published in the 1976 book Louis and the King of Siam, and later writers have expanded on this line of research, including Leslie Smith Dow in Anna Leonowens: A Life Beyond The King and I and Susan Kepner in her 1996 paper "Anna and the King of Siam".