Sterndale, Mary née Handley, 1766—1840
by Benjamin Colbert
Mary Handley Sterndale was born in Derbyshire. Her mother, also Mary Handley, kept a druggist's shop in Sheffield, although Mary Sterndale's reminiscences in Vignettes place her earliest memories near the villages of Hathersage and Eyam in the Peak District. As a child, she knew the clergyman poet Peter Cunningham (d. 1805; ODNB), from 1776 curate to Thomas Seward at Eyam, and it is perhaps from that time that she became friends with Seward's daughter, the poet Anna Seward (1742-1809; ODNB). Little more is known of her early years or the date in which she married John Sterndale (d. 1833), surgeon, after which time she seems to have resided predominately in Sheffield.
In 1807, she launched her writing career with a sonnet to her friend Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841; ODNB) published anonymously in the Sheffield Iris (20 January), as well as a two-volume series of sketches, The Panorama of Youth (1807), later reprinted in Philadelphia (1816). Mary Sterndale went on to write a novel, The Life of a Boy (2 vols, 1821), as well as Vignettes (1824), but aside from further contributions to the Iris, appears to have written nothing further. She died at the age of 74 at Ashford, Derbyshire.
Panorama includes a posthumous dedication, dated April 1806, to Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806; ODNB), and Life of a Boy, an almost posthumous dedication to her sister, the countess of Bessborough (1761-1821; ODNB), both anticipating the idealized portraits of the duchess and countess in Vignettes and perhaps bespeaking a larger connection to the Devonshire family whose seat, Chatsworth, is not far from Ashford. Mary Sterndale’s son, William Handley Sterndale (1791?-1834?), wrote verses set to music by his friend John Bennett that were dedicated to the duke of Devonshire in 1815 (and Bennett honoured his friend by naming the composer, Sir William Sterndale Bennett [1816-1875; ODNB] after him).
Holland, John. Memorials of Sir Francis Chantrey, R.A. Sculptor in Hallamshire and Elsewhere. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmay, . Print.
Hunter, Joseph. Biographical Notices of some of my Contemporaries who have gained some celebrity, chiefly in the literary world. MS. Add MS 36527. British Lib., London.
Leader, Robert Eadon, ed. Reminiscences of Old Sheffield, its Streets and People. Sheffield: Leader & Sons, 1875. Print.
The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, no. 1093 (Sat., 2 Jan. 1841): 2. Gale Databases: 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II: 1800-1900. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
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