Wolverhampton BTW

Mary Martha Sherwood

Sherwood, Mary Martha née Butt, 1775—1851

by Benjamin Colbert

Martha Mary Sherwood, née Butt, was born at Stanford, Worcestershire, the daughter of the Reverend George Butt (1741-95; ODNB) and Martha Butt, née Sherwood (d. 1817). She received her initial education at home, principally from her mother, while her father and brother taught her Latin and Greek respectively (Demers). At the age of 13, her family moved to Kidderminster, and from 15, she boarded at the Abbey School, Reading. After her father’s death in 1795, the family relocated to Bridgnorth, Shropshire, where Mary Butt and her sister Lucy ran a Sunday school, influenced by Hannah More whom she later met in 1799 on a visit to Bath.

From an early age, Sherwood enjoyed narrating tales to her younger sisters and, with her father’s encouragement, published her first novel in 1795, The Traditions: A Legendary Tale – a Miss Austen from 'Steventon, near Overton’ (either Jane Austen or her sister Cassandra, both of whom attended the Abbey School), appears among the list subscribers to the volume. Shy of acknowledging authorship at first, Sherwood went on to publish prolifically as many as 400 works, including novels, children’s tales, tracts, and devotional works, as well as journalism.

After her marriage to a cousin, Captain Henry Sherwood (1776-1849), on 30 June 1803, Sherwood followed her husband’s regiment first to the north of England and then, from 1805, to India, where they remained until 1816. During this time she raised a growing family, opened and ran schools, and produced works on Indian colonial family themes, including Little Henry and His Bearer (1815), which became a popular favourite and helped established her renown. She continued to draw on this matter for her fiction after returning to England, but stopped short of contributing to the growing body of women’s non-fictional travel writing on India.

Sherwood’s foray into travel writing, per se, was Sabbaths on the Continent (1835), a work that combines her evangelical Sabbatarianism with a lively account of cultural habits in European cities on the tourist track. While finding other Europeans wanting in their Sunday observances, Sherwood enjoyed her time abroad and frequently toured the Continent in the 1830s.

Sherwood remained based in Worcestershire through much of her life, but, in 1849, relocated with her husband to Twickenham, Middlesex. Here Sherwood died on 20 September 1851, just over nine months after her husband.


Demers, Patricia. 'Sherwood [née Butt], Mary Martha (1775–1851), children's writer and educationist'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 19 May 2011. Oxford University Press. Web. 10 Dec. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/25397

Sherwood, Mary Martha. The Life of Mrs Sherwood, (Chiefly Autobiographical). Ed. Sophia Kelly. London: Darton and Co., 1857. Print.

–––. 'List of Subscribers'. The Traditions: A Legendary Tale. Written by a Young Lady. London: Printed for William Lane, Minerva, 1795. [v]. Print.


Title Published
Sabbaths on the Continent 1835

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