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 Anna Harriet <I>Edwards</I> Leonowens

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Anna Harriet Edwards Leonowens

  • Birth 6 Nov 1831 India
  • Death 19 Jan 1915 Montreal, Montreal Region, Quebec, Canada
  • Burial Montreal, Montreal Region, Quebec, Canada
  • Memorial ID 2663

Folk Figure. Current scholarship indicates that Anna was born Ann Harriet Edwards in 1831 India to a British father, Thomas Edwards, a cabinetmaker, and a half British, half East Indian mother, Mary Anne Glasscott. In 1849, Anna met and married Thomas Leon Owens, a clerk. After the death of their first child they left India. They would eventually have two more children, Avis and Louis. When her husband found work in Malaysia as an hotel manager, the family traveled there with him. He died of apoplexy in Penang in 1859 at 33, leaving Anna an impoverished widow. To support herself, she opened a school for the children of British officers in Singapore. When her school proved inadequate financially, she accepted an offer made by the Siamese consul as a teacher of English at the Siamese court. King Mongkut, was an enlightened and cultured man who was breaking new ground for Siam simply by conceiving the idea to educate his wives and children. Anna's daughter was duly sent to school in Britain while she and her son traveled to her new post in Bangkok. Although her life at the Siamese court as depicted in popular media is an undoubted exaggeration, she probably did indeed wield a modicum of influence on the children she taught. She taught the royal children English for a period of five years but was never accepted by the small British expatriate community there despite her position at court. One contemporary described Anna as "a dumpty, middle-aged, half-caste schoolteacher." She left Siam in 1867, a year before Mongkut died. She wrote the new king a letter of condolence. He replied politely, but did not invite her back to Siam. She then traveled to England with Louis. He was left there at school and Avis accompanied her mother to America. Anna tried to make a living by lecturing and writing about her travels. Her foray into writing was not particularly successful. In 1867, Anna moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she became involved in women's education, and was a suffragette. She was one of the founders of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Anna died in 1915 and was interred in the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, Quebec. After the 1940s, author Margaret Landon wrote a fictionalized account of the original Leonowens memoirs, after which the story of Anna and her stay in Siam became very popular. It was quickly made into a film, Anna and the King of Siam, which took more liberties with accuracy than even Anna had; and was followed by a musical which made even more drastic changes. All of the movies based on these writings have long been banned in Thailand (formerly Siam) due to historical inaccuracy and what Thai censors perceive as a disrespect for the monarch. Anna's grand-nephew was the actor Boris Karloff.

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 2663
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Anna Harriet Edwards Leonowens (6 Nov 1831–19 Jan 1915), Find A Grave Memorial no. 2663, citing Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal, Montreal Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Find A Grave .