Born in Highgate, London, Jessie Catherine Couvreur was of Dutch, French, and English descent, with her father, Alfred James Huybers, originally a merchant from Antwerp. She arrived in Tasmania with her family in December 1852 and received her education in Hobart. In June 1867, she married Charles F. Fraser and moved to Melbourne. She wrote under he pseudonym name Tasma. Unfortunately, the marriage did not fare well and was dissolved in December 1883 due to adultery and desertion of more than two years.

Tasma continuously lamented the ‘ball and chain’ of marriage and womanhood. A diary entry dated 20 April 1890, provides an indication of some of the sacrifices she made as a result of social values placed on a woman’s marital status. While her estranged husband, Fraser, carelessly entered upon a de facto relationship with the couple’s former housemaid,

Couvreur visited Europe in 1873 and gave lectures in French at various European cities between 1879 and 1883, while also writing for the Nouvelle Revue. Her contributions to French literature earned her the decoration of Officier d’Académie from the French government. Although she returned to Tasmania briefly, Couvreur ultimately decided to settle permanently in Europe and married Auguste Couvreur, a well-known Belgian politician and publicist, in 1885.

At just 16 years old, she already had her poetry published in the Australian Journal, and she went on to contribute essays and short stories to the Australasian and the Melbourne Review. Her first novel, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, was published serially in the Australian Journal in 1888 and later released in London in 1889 under the pseudonym Tasma, which became an immediate success. She continued to produce more novels, including In her Earliest Youth (1890), A Sydney Sovereign and other Tales (1890), The Penance of Portia James (1891), A Knight of the White Feather (1892), Not Counting the Cost (1895), and A Fiery Ordeal (1897).

After her husband’s death in 1894, Madame Couvreur took up his duties as a correspondent for The Times in Brussels and was known for her thorough and conscientious journalism. She held this position until her death on October 23, 1897. Described as tall and beautiful, with a highly cultured mind, Couvreur’s best work is considered to be her first novel, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, although In her Earliest Youth and The Penance of Portia James are also highly regarded.

Madame Couvreur, ‘Tasma’, 1890
Tasma in Turkish costume, 1889.