"We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words."

Anna Sewell was born on 30 March 1820 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk into a devoutly Quaker family. Her father was Isaac Phillip Sewell and her mother Mary Wright Sewell, who was a successful author of children’s books.

Anna Sewell was largely educated at home, a regime heavily influenced by her mother's religious and educational convictions. When Anna was twelve years old, the family moved to Stoke Newington, where she attended school for the first time and gained instruction in areas new to her, such as mathematics and foreign languages.

Two years later, however, she slipped while walking home from school and severely injured both of her ankles. Her father took a job in Brighton in 1836, partly in the hope that the climate there would help to cure her. Despite this, and most likely because of mistreatment of her injury, Sewell was lame for the rest of her life and was unable to stand without a crutch or to walk for any length of time. For greater mobility, she frequently used horse-drawn carriages, which contributed to her love of horses and concern for the humane treatment of animals. At about this time, both Anna and her mother left the Society of Friends to join the Church of England, though both remained active in evangelical circles. While seeking to improve her health at European spas, Sewell encountered various writers, artists, and philosophers, to which her previous background had not exposed her.

Sewell's only published work was Black Beauty, written between 1871 and 1877, after she had moved to Old Catton, a village outside Norwich. During this time her health was declining. She was often so weak that she was confined to her bed and writing was a challenge. She dictated the text to her mother and from 1876, began to write on slips of paper which her mother then transcribed. Sewell sold the novel to local publisher Jarrolds for £40 on 24 November 1877, when she was 57 years old. Although now considered a children's classic, she originally wrote it for those who worked with horses. The book's sales broke publishing records, and is said to be the sixth best seller in the English language.

Sewell died of hepatitis or phthisis on 25 April 1878, five months after her book was published, living long enough to see the book's initial success.


Author image