Sailing up the River Gambia in 1846; spending time as the only white woman living in Monrovia the capital of Liberia in 1849 - these were two experiences which awaited the child born in a rectory in County Cork, Ireland in 1820. Anna Godwin had an adventurous spirit, a passion for human rights, and an extended family which all contributed to her unusual life.
At the age of 26 years Anna accompanied her brother, an army surgeon, to the West African colony of The Gambia. Upon her return she accepted a teaching post in the newly created republic of Liberia, where she spent nine miserable and lonely months. The story then moves to Sierra Leone where she lived for a further two years. Before her marriage there to the Colonial Engineer Edward Bage in 1852, she worked briefly re-settling men and women who had been intended for slavery and re-captured by the British from slave ships off the coast. Anna’s time spent in West Africa was forty years before Mary Kingsley published her books about her travels in the region, which were then such a novelty. After leaving Sierra Leone, (on a voyage which embraced being nearly shipwrecked in the Atlantic, and the unexpected early birth of a son at sea) the family moved to Australia where they lived in Geelong during the goldrush era, and then in isolated Colac before finally settling in favoured professional suburb of East St Kilda. Here Anna was to mix with many of the people who influenced the direction of Victoria in its formative years as an independent colony. At that time she was also involved with demanding charity work amongst the poor in neighbouring Prahran.
Anna Bage’s concerns for her extended family remained a part of her life and show the way the heart of a migrant in Australia was constantly torn between two hemispheres. Six of her brothers served in the British military, so her story also touches briefly on the Ashantee wars of the 1820s, the Sikh Wars, the Maori Wars and the Crimean campaign.
The story of her life, which provides a window on widely differing colonial societies, ends with her death in East St Kilda in 1891. Although Anna and husband Edward did not achieve prominence, several of her descendants inherited her independence and initiative and did make notable contributions to Australian society.