Fanny Emily Penny was born in Covehithe, England, the daughter of the Rev. John Farr and Emily Caroline Cobbold. Her great uncle was novelist Richard Cobbold. In 1877, she married the Rev. Frank Penny and the couple moved to Madras, India. They had two children, a son and a daughter. While in India, Penny contributed articles on Indian life for the Madras Mail. In 1888, the couple moved to the Nilgiri Hills. It was there that Penny met novelist Bithia Mary Croker who encouraged Penny in writing fiction. She wrote over thirty books, many of which included Indian characters and settings. Early in the twentieth century, the family moved to Ealing. Her husband wrote a history, The Church in Madras (1904). He died in 1928 and she died in 1939 in Ealing.
Mrs. F. E. Penny
Novelist of Life in India
Mrs. Fanny Emily Penny, the novelist of life in India, died at Park Hill, Ealing, W., on December 22 at the age of 91.
Born at Covehithe, near Dunwich, Suffolk, on December 29, 1847, she was the daughter of thce Rev. John Farr and Emily Caroline Cobbold, and grand-niece of the Rev. Richard Cobbold, author of “The Hlistory of Margaret Catchpole.” On June 21, 1877, she was married to the Rev. Frank Penny, who was appointed in that year a chaplain on the Madras Ecclesiastical Establishment. Her husband, who died in 1928, was a cultivated man who is still remembered for his history of the Church in Madras. Her arrival in India synchronized with a period of famine, which, indeed, became known as the Great Famine Year, and her experiences during that time were incorporated in several of her books. Sir Charles Lawson, the editor and proprietor of the Madras Mail. gave her her first commission to write articles dealing with phases of Indian life. In 1888 Mr. Penny was transferred to the Nilgiri Hiils as chaplain to the military station at Wellington, and Mrs. Penny met there the late Mrs. B. M. Croker, to whose encouragement and example she owed her beginning as a novelist. She possessed a gift of sympathy and understanding, observation, and humour, which, with her long residence in India, enabled her to draw the pictures of the complexity, colour, and character of Oriental life. Her first novel, “Caste and Creed,” which appeared in two-volume form in 1891, was followed by more than 30 others, among the best known being “The Forest Officer,” “Sanyasi,” a story of an Indian religious fanatic who leads a double life, “A Mixed Marriage,” in which she shows the drawbacks of such unions in India, “The Outcaste,” “A Question of Colour,” and “Magic in the Air.” The scene of several is laid in Ceylon. Her later books were “The Old Dagoba” (1934): “Patrick,” “The Elusive Bachelor,” and “A Spell of the Devil (1935); “The Familiar Stranger” (1936) “Chowra’s Revenge” (1937); “Treasure, Love and Snakes” (1938); and “Jackal and Others” (1939). She also wrote a history of Fort St. George, “On the Coromandel Coast,” a book of sketches, and a book on Southern India.
Her husband retired early in the present century, and settled at Ealing. where he and his wife had many friends. They had a son and a daughter. Mrs. Penny was well known to many members of the Writers’ Club, and for some years was actively identified with the Girl Guides movement, both nationally and locally.
The Times, 27 December 1939 p. 9