Stretton, Hesba

Popular author, born on 27 July 1832, Sarah Smith was the daughter of Benjamin Smith, a bookseller and local preacher in Wellington, Shropshire. The pseudonym 'Hesba' under which she wrote was an acronym formed from her own and her four siblings' initials. She became a leading evangelical author of 'waif' children's books, her best-selling Jessica's First Prayer, first serialized in 1866, topping 2 million copies by 1911 and being translated into fifteen languages. Her older sister sent her first story to Dickens without her knowledge, giving rise to the legend that she was his friend. He encouraged her and printed a number of her stories in his periodicals. She helped to found the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, forerunner of the NSPCC. She wrote 56 books, mostly as Sunday School prizes for the Religious Tract Society, helping to form the social conscience of the late nineteenth century. Her attempts at novels about the upper classes were unsuccessful. Sarah and her sister Elizabeth were very close and lived together at Ham Common, Richmond during their closing years. She died there on 8 October 1911.

  • Margaret Nancy Cutt, Ministering Angels: a study of nineteenth' century evangelical writing for children (Wormley, 1979)