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Coral Magnolia Lansbury (14 October 1929 – 3 April 1991) was an Australian-born writer and academic.[1] She was the mother of Malcolm Turnbull, the 29th Prime Minister of Australia.

Coral Lansbury
Coral Magnolia Lansbury

(1929-10-14)14 October 1929
Melbourne, Australia
Died3 April 1991(1991-04-03) (aged 61)
George Edwards
(m. 1953; died 1953)

Bruce Turnbull
(m. 1955; div. 1963)

John Salmon
(m. 1963; div. 1969)
ChildrenMalcolm Turnbull
RelativesAngela Lansbury (cousin)
Bruce Lansbury(cousin)
Edgar Lansbury (cousin)


Early life and familyEdit

Coral Magnolia Lansbury was born in Melbourne, Victoria, to an English mother, May (née Morle), and an Australian-born father, Oscar Vincent Stephen Lansbury.[2] Her paternal grandparents were Arthur Thomas Lansbury from London, who came to Australia in 1884 and Australian Ellen Smith whose paternal grandparents were Irish and maternal grandparents English.[3] Her parents were stage actors in London. She was a distant cousin of the British film and television actor Angela Lansbury.[4][5]

Lansbury attended North Sydney Girls High School and sat the NSW Leaving Certificate[6] in 1945, entering the University of Sydney in 1947 as an unmatriculated student.[7] In 1948 she won the Henry Lawson poetry prize for Krubi of the Illawarra.[8] She studied Arts (history, anthropology and archaeology) and achieved first-class honours but was ineligible to graduate as she had not matriculated. Her student card is in the University of Sydney Archives.[9] Lansbury was the recipient of the George Arnold Wood Memorial Prize (aeq) and the Maud Stiles Memorial Prize (aeq). The George Arnold Wood Memorial Prize was awarded annually for proficiency in History II. The Maud Stiles Memorial Prize was awarded annually to a woman student for proficiency in History II.

At 19, she started work at the Australian Broadcasting Commission (as it was then known).[10] Lansbury's father worked in the early radio industry in Australia with the ABC, and he got her a part in a radio drama.[5]

Her first marriage was to radio producer George Edwards,[4] her godfather and friend of her father,[8] on 20 February 1953. Edwards had enjoyed some fame as Dad in Dad and Dave from Snake Gully. Lansbury was his fourth wife and was 40 years his junior. The next day, he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and on 28 August 1953 (six months later) George Edwards died.[11] She had a "whirlwind romance" with Bruce Turnbull who became her second husband, and in 1954, she gave birth to her son Malcolm Turnbull prematurely.[8] She worked for the ABC into the 1960s but as television supplanted radio drama she turned more to academic interests.[5]

In 1963 she moved to New Zealand and subsequently married John Salmon, a university professor.

Her son, Malcolm, was raised by his father after she left the family home when he was 10 years old.[12] She then moved to New Zealand after the separation.[13] She gained her doctorate at the University of Auckland before moving to Philadelphia in the United States in 1969 where she lived until her death.[4]


In AustraliaEdit

Lansbury worked as both a scriptwriter and actor in radio during its heyday. The National Film and Sound Archive holds a collection of many radio programs. They feature many of the great actors from the time, many of whom also became famous in Australia, and some overseas, for theatre, film and television work. The NSA list of the productions with which she is associated includes:[14]


  • Becket: Re-enactment of the relationship between Henry II and Thomas Becket. 104 x 15-min. episodes
  • Empty Arms: Drama serial about adoption and the effect on the mother. 104 x 15-min. episodes
  • Fallen Angel: Angel, a successful model whose husband dies leaving her with a newborn child. 146 x 15-min. episodes (1955)
  • Judith: Based on the biblical story of Judith, played by actress Judi Farr. 104 x 15-min. episodes.
  • The Reverend Matthew: A story about a country minister. 1105 x 15-min. episodes (1956–59)
  • Stairway to Fame: Cast included Sheila Sewell, Ray Barrett, Dinah Shearing, Lyndall Barbour, John Meillon, Max Orbiston, Margo Lee, Neva Carr Glyn, Ruth Cracknell, Queenie Ashton. 208 episodes (c. 1954)
  • Thirty Minutes To Go: Mystery drama. 30 minutes.
  • This Was Sylvia: Dramatic story of a beautiful and insatiably ambitious woman. 208 x 15-min. episodes. 1956
  • True Dog Stories: Stories about different breeds of dogs. 26 x 15-min. episodes (1960s)

In the United StatesEdit

After leaving Australia, Lansbury worked as an academic in the United States. Her major interest was Victorian literature. Between 1975 and 1984 she wrote four books on Anthony Trollope and other Victorian literary figures. She served as president of the Victorian Studies Association and of the Victorian executive committee of the Modern Language Association.[5]

She was the Professor of English at Rutgers University in New Jersey and first dean of the Graduate School at the Camden Campus of Rutgers University. [15][16]

Lansbury wrote five works of fiction: Ringarra (1985), Sweet Alice (1986), Felicity (1987), The Grotto (1989) and, published posthumously, Opium!

Lansbury's works include:

  • Lansbury, Coral (1970). Arcady in Australia: The Evocation of Australia in Nineteenth-century English Literature. Melbourne University Press. p. 202.
  • Lansbury, Coral (1970). The Reasonable Man: Trollope's Legal Fiction. Princeton University Press. p. 227. ISBN 0-691-06457-1.
  • Lansbury, Coral (1975). Elizabeth Gaskell: The Novel of Social Crisis. Elek. p. 204. ISBN 0-236-31147-6.
  • Lansbury, Coral (1985). The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers, and Vivisection in Edwardian England. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 212. ISBN 0-299-10250-5.
  • Lansbury, Coral (1985). Ringarra. Harper & Row. p. 212. ISBN 0-06-015516-7.
  • Lansbury, Coral (1985). Felicity. Dutton. p. 189. ISBN 0-525-24561-8.
  • Lansbury, Coral (1989). The Grotto. Knopf. p. 537. ISBN 0-394-57438-9.
  • Lansbury, Coral (1989). Sweet Alice. E.P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-24825-0.

One reviewer of one of her books, The Reasonable Man: Trollope's Legal Fiction was her son, Malcolm Turnbull. He wrote in his regular column in The Bulletin magazine in 1981: "It is refreshing, if not surprising, to find someone who maintains that that most pellucid of novelists, Anthony Trollope, owed his literary style to the law....The book provides a fresh insight into the novels of Trollope and to an explanation for his style."[17]


Lansbury died of bowel cancer on 3 April 1991, aged 61, at her home in Philadelphia, USA. She was dean of the Graduate School of English at Rutgers University.[5]


  1. ^ "Coral Lansbury". AustLit.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Malcolm Turnbull’s famous family connections
  4. ^ a b c "Obituary – Coral Magnolia Lansbury – Obituaries Australia". Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e The New York Times obituary
  6. ^ "Leaving certificate results". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 15 January 1946. p. 5. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  7. ^ "University Examination Results for the years 1943-1944-1945-1946-1947" (PDF). University of Sydney.
  8. ^ a b c Chapter "Malco"
  9. ^ "The University of Sydney Archives". Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  10. ^ "Steamy Kind The Dean Writes Novels". 29 April 1986.
  11. ^ "Book Launch at the ANU of "The ADB's Story"".
  12. ^ "I'm no silvertail, says new leader Malcolm Turnbull". The Australian. 17 September 2008.
  13. ^ "The number of political leaders raised in single-parent families is quite a long list". The Courier Mail. 14 July 2013.
  14. ^ National Film and Sound Archive Australian Radio Series 1930s to 1970s Archived 9 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Lee, Sandra (3 December 2006). "A leader in waiting?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 September 2007.
  16. ^ "The Phoenix" (PDF). Rutgers University. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 July 2007. Retrieved 11 September 2007.
  17. ^ Ackland, Richard (17 October 2003). "A sureness that weakens Turnbull's case". The Sydney Morning Herald.