Croker, Bithia Mary (‘B. M.’) (née Sheppard ) (c.1849–1920), novelist and short-story writer, was born in Roscommon, the youngest daughter of the Rev. William Sheppard (d. 1856), Church of Ireland clergyman for the parish of Kilgeffin, Co. Roscommon. She was educated in Rockferry, Cheshire, and Tours, France, and in her youth was a renowned horsewoman who hunted with the Kildares. In November 1871, in Rathangan, Co. Kildare, she married Lieutenant-Colonel John Croker of the Royal Munster Fusiliers.
After their marriage, Croker accompanied her husband on his postings abroad, spending fourteen years in India and Burma. She began writing around 1880, reportedly to distract herself from the hot season, and met an encouraging response when she read her early work aloud to other British women. Her first novel, After long years, attracted the attention of Edmund Downey (then working on Tinsley's Magazine), who renamed the work Proper pride for its publication in England in 1882. A romantic tale set in India, it won approving early reviews, and success became assured when Gladstone was noticed reading it in parliament ‘to while away the tedium of a debate’ (IBL). Croker became a prolific writer of short stories and romantic novels, producing around fifty publications. Many of her novels were set in India and were concerned with the social and romantic intrigues of Anglo-Indian colonial society, though a notable feature of her work was its consistently sympathetic representation of the native people. Several books were set among the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, including In the kingdom of Kerry (1896), Beyond the pale (1897; first serialised in The Times), A nine days’ wonder (1905), Lismoyle (1914), and Bridget (1918). Her adaptation of her Irish novel Terence (1899) for the stage proved successful, particularly in America, where it had a two-year run.
Croker's witty, well-paced novels, which typically included detailed observation of the cultural and geographical peculiarities of her far-flung narrative locations, were extremely popular as well as critically respected. In the early twentieth century she was at the height of her success and commanded huge advances from her publishers, receiving £1,650 for The Spanish necklace (1907). Her books were translated into several European languages (and continued to be reprinted in the 1920s and 1930s), and her novel about Burma, The road to Mandalay (1917), was made into a successful film in 1926. A personable and generous character, Croker befriended and aided many aspiring writers. In 1919 she wrote to her old associate Downey: ‘It is strange to me that I never receive any acknowledgement from my native land as an Irish novelist . . . Irish papers rarely notice me, save The Freeman's Journal, whose abuse is most amusing’ (IBL). The Crokers left India in 1892 and settled in London and Folkestone. After Lieutenant-Colonel Croker's retirement they moved to Bray, Co. Wicklow, where they lived for some time before returning to England. Her husband died in 1911, and Bithia died in London 20 October 1920, and was buried in Folkestone cemetery. She left her estate to her only child, Eileen (b. 1872), reputed to be the model for many of her romantic heroines.