Lady Anne Barnard (née Lindsay) was born at Balcarres House in Fife, the eldest daughter of James Lindsay, Earl of Balcarres. As a beautiful, cultured woman she had many suitors but some were rejected by her parents as being insufficiently wealthy to deserve her and others did not appeal to her. For this reason she was rather unfairly labelled as being fickle. Her younger sister Margaret’s first love, James Burges, was also blackballed by her parents because they did not think him good enough for her. This doomed love affair became the subject of Anne’s most famous poem, Auld Robin Gray, written in 1772 and published anonymously in 1823. At the age of seventeen her sister married Alexander Fordyce, a wealthy banker, and they moved to London where Anne joined them. When his bank collapsed in 1772 Anne moved back to Scotland.
In 1776 she returned to London and moved in elevated social circles but often in company with some of the capital’s less respectable members including the young Prince of Wales, the future George IV, and his mistress Mrs Fitzherbert. In 1993, after having declined several offers of marriage, to general surprise, she married Andrew Barnard, the impoverished son of the Bishop of Limerick, who was twelve years her junior. Through her aristocratic connections she secured the post of Colonial Secretary for him at the Cape of Good Hope in 1797, and Lady Anne moved there with him, staying until 1802. Her account of her time there, South Africa a Century Ago, was published in 1901, three quarters of a century after her death and provides a fascinating insight into the people, events, and social life of the time.
After the reconquest of the Cape in 1806, Barnard was reappointed Colonial Secretary, a post which he held until his death a year later. Back in London Anne’s unconventional behaviour was arousing unfavourable comment, which she seems to have largely ignored. After his death she and her sister established a literary salon and Anne charitably took into her home an illegitimate mixed-race six-year old South African girl her husband had fathered in her absence, as well as two of her late husband’s grandchildren. In 1812 her sister Margaret married her former sweetheart James Burges but the marriage was short-lived as she was to die just two years later. Anne herself died in 1825 at her home in Mayfair, having spent her last few years reclusively, drawing and writing her memoirs, which she never wanted published.