What Mariana Starke was not

Mariana Starke was not born in India

Since its first edition the printed edition of the DNB has stated that Mariana Starke was born in India, where her father, Richard Starke, was governor of Fort St George and that she spent her early years there. Furthermore ,the latest edition – when issued – went on to say that this early observation of Anglo-Indian life bore fruit in two of her plays, The Sword of Peace (1788) and The Widow of Malabar (1791). This information has been accepted without investigation by the increasing number of scholars who have become interested in Mariana Starke but it is incorrect. My researches – and those of one or two others who independently reached the truth – have led to an amendment to Mariana’s entry in the online edition of the ODNB.  Mariana Starke, although eventually earning for herself the soubriquet ‘The Celebrated Tourist’ was born in Surrey – in late-September 1762 at Hylands House in Epsom.

Nor did Mariana, although well-travelled, ever live in or visit India. However her family did have a long association with the continent, dating back to c 1711 – and India and the East India Company would have been a topic much discussed in the Starke household.

In a similar fashion there may have been family reminisces about the success in business of Mariana’s great-grandfather, Thomas Starke, who in the late-17th century, was a Virginia landowner and one of the first – and leading – London slave traders. One of Mariana’s plays, The Poor Soldier (1789), recounts the story of Charles Short, American Loyalist of South Carolina. I do not know that any scholar has yet made the connection between America and her family’s history – and it is not one I would want to labour. I am, however, very interested in Thomas Starke’s life and work and will recount something of it in the next ‘Mariana Starke’ post.


Information about the reality of Mariana’s early life was passed to the ODNB and her entry duly altered.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.


  1. #1 by Isobel Grundy on September 27, 2012 - 5:08 pm

    I just love these posts – new information, and SO interesting. _Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present_ (by subscription at cambridge.orlando.org) has been one of the innumerable sources recycling errors about Starke, but not any more. Wait for the next update, early next year, to see Woman and her Sphere cited. Isobel Grundy

    • #2 by womanandhersphere on September 28, 2012 - 7:15 pm

      Delighted to have made contact and to discover that Mariana (although, like Tristram Shandy, not yet quite born) is proving of interest. Lots more Starke posts to come.
      I’m a regular visit to Orlando – via the British Library.

      • #3 by Isobel Grundy on September 28, 2012 - 9:08 pm

        Lots more to come? Yippee! So glad you’re enjoying Orlando. Let us know if you find anything amiss! Best, Isobel

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