Helen Bannerman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Helen Bannerman
Helen Bannerman
Helen Bannerman
Born(1862-02-25)25 February 1862
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died13 October 1946(1946-10-13) (aged 84)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Resting placeGrange Cemetery
EducationUniversity of St. Andrews (LLA)
GenreChildren's books
Notable worksLittle Black Sambo
SpouseWilliam Burney Bannerman
RelativesPatrick Heron Watson

Helen Brodie Cowan Bannerman (née Watson; 25 February 1862 – 13 October 1946) was a Scottish writer of children's books. She is best known for her first book, Little Black Sambo (1899).


The Bannerman grave, Grange Cemetery

Bannerman was born at 35 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh.[1] She was the eldest daughter and fourth child of seven children of Robert Boog Watson (1823–1910), minister of the Free Church of Scotland and malacologist, and his wife Janet (1831–1912), daughter of Helen Brodie and the papermaker and philanthropist Alexander Cowan.[2] Between the ages of 2 and 12, she lived in Madeira, where her father was minister at the Scottish church.[1] When the family returned, they spent much time with their maternal aunt, Mrs Cowan, at 35 Royal Terrace on Calton Hill.[3]

Because women were not admitted into Scottish universities, she sat external examinations set by the University of St. Andrews, attaining the qualification of Lady Literate in Arts (LLA) in 1887.[1] She then married Dr William Burney Bannerman, a physician and an officer in the Indian Medical Service (IMS).[1] The couple then moved to India in 1889, taking up residence in Madras (modern-day Chennai),[4] capital of the state of Tamil Nadu on the southeastern seacoast, populated mostly by the Tamil ethnic group. During their 30 years in India, they had four children: daughters Janet (b. 1893) and Day (b. 1896), and sons James "Pat" Patrick (b.1900) and Robert (b. 1902).[1]

She died in Edinburgh in 1946 of cerebral thrombosis.[1] She is buried with her husband in Grange Cemetery in south Edinburgh.[citation needed]

She was the grandmother of the physicist Tom Kibble, who discovered the Higgs–Kibble mechanism and the Higgs boson.[5]


The illustrations and settings of Bannerman's books are all about Indians and their culture. Little Black Sambo has ghee, tigers, and a bazaar, The Story of Little Black Mingo has jungle, a mugger (a kind of crocodile), a dhobi, and a mongoose, Little Black Quasha has a bazaar and tigers, and The Story of Little Black Quibba has mangoes and elephants.

  • The Story of Little Black Sambo, 1899[6][7]
  • Story of Little Black Mingo, 1901
  • The Story of Little Black Quibba, 1902[8]
  • Little Degchie-Head: An Awful Warning to Bad Babas, 1903
  • Little Kettle-Head, 1904
  • Pat and the Spider, 1905
  • The Story of the Teasing Monkey, 1907
  • Little Black Quasha, 1908
  • Story of Little Black Bobtail, 1909
  • Sambo and the Twins, 1936
  • The Story of Little White Squibba, 1966 Finished by her daughter

See also[edit]


  • Hay, Elizabeth (1981), Sambo Sahib: the story of Little Black Sambo and Helen Bannerman (1st ed.), Edinburgh: Paul Harris Publishing, ISBN 0-904505-91-X
  1. ^ a b c d e f "Bannerman, Helen Brodie Cowan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  2. ^ "Rootsweb, Helen Brodie Cowan Watson".
  3. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1862
  4. ^ Jeyathurai, Dashini (4 April 2012). "The complicated racial politics of Little Black Sambo". South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA).
  5. ^ "Tom Kibble, Physicist Who Helped Discover the Higgs Mechanism, Dies at 83". Yin, Steph (July 19, 2016). The New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2021.
  6. ^ Stories for Little Children, p. 376 (1920) Houghton Mifflin, New York
  7. ^ Mary Stone, ed. (1908) Children's Stories that Never Grow Old, p. 173, Reilly & Britton Company, Chicago
  8. ^ Helen Bannerman (1902) The Story of Little Black Quibba

External links[edit]

Media related to Helen Bannerman at Wikimedia Commons