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2002-09, 335, Literature, N H Sinnott, Poetry


In 1996 David Whitehead of Yarck, near Alexandra, Victoria, was commissioned to clear a property at Chum Creek, north of Healesville, in preparation for its sale. It was the deceased estate of James Wright, who had migrated from England many years earlier.

Under the house Mr. Whitehead found a pile of books, covered with dust and bird droppings. Some appeared to be in good condition,so he offered the books to his neighbours, Tim and Caroline Miller, who run the Henke Winery at Yarck.

The Millers noticed that many of the books were about poetry and, as they knew I liked poetry, they accepted the offer. They kept a few books of interest to themselves, then offered the rest to me. (I was living in Alexandra at the time.) I accepted gratefully.

On 6 August 1996 Caroline Henke Miller delivered the books to me. As soon as I had some spare time I worked my way through the pile, cleaning each book as I went. In almost all cases, dirt was confined to the spines and covers, and was easy to remove.

Some of the books were cheap nineteenth-century editions of novels and popular poets. The paper had oxidised and turned brittle, and the spines and binding had broken up. These were beyond restoration and I consigned them to the bin. Other volumes were in better condition, but were the works of poets and authors already represented on my shelves. With the help of the local library I offered these items to people and institutions that wanted them.

The remainder I decided to keep. Some of the books were nondescript editions of British or Irish poets, but I was glad to have them. I also retained two nineteenth-century Melbourne editions (Crawford Brothers) of the poems of Shelley and Thomas Hood (both undated). There were also travel books by John Foster Fraser, and his more reflective Life’s Contrasts (London, 1908). However, among my windfall was a remarkable collection of early editions of Australian poets and of the occasional New Zealander.

The following is a list of these volumes:

The Collected Verses. Adams, Arthur H[enry]. Melbourne: Whitcombe & Tombs, [1913]. Adams was born in New Zealand in 1872, became a journalist, and moved to Sydney in 1898. He later returned to New Zealand and also lived in England for while. Back in Sydney he became editor of the “Red Page” of The Bulletin in 1906, editor of the Lone Hand in 1909, and editor of The Sun in 1911. He died in Sydney in 1936. There is an account of him by B. G. Andrews and Ann-Mari Jordans in the Australian Dictionary of Biography volume 7.

The Land of the Starry Cross and other verses, By “Gilrooney” (R. J. Cassidy). Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1911 (but printed in England). Cassidy contributed to The Bulletin, The Worker (Sydney), the Sydney Mail, Steele Rudd’s Magazine (Brisbane) and other papers.

Poems. Church, Hubert [Newman Wigmore]. Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1912 (but printed in England). Some of the contents had previously appeared in The Bulletin. Church was born in Hobart in 1857, and also lived in England and New Zealand. He died in Melbourne in 1932.

Songs of Love and Life. Cross, Zora [Bernice May]. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1917. In her account of Zora Cross (1890–1964), Dorothy Green (A.D.B. vol. 8) says this book was “the first sustained expression in Australian poetry of erotic experience from a woman’s point of view, a fusion of sensuousness and religiosity, rather than sensuality”. It apparently “attracted favourable if startled reviews”.

The Lilt of Life. Cross, Zora. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1918. Described by Dorothy Green as “a frank, passionate, if somewhat monotonous, expression” of Zora Cross’s love for David McKee Wright.

Wine and Roses, by Victor J. Daley; edited, with a memoir, by Bertram Stephens. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1911. Daley was born in Ireland in 1858, spent some of his childhood in England, and migrated to Australia in about 1878. He died of tuberculosis in Sydney in 1905. According to G. D. Ailwood Keel (A.D.B. vol. 8), “Daley’s fame rested on his lyric poetry, the best of which was written in the 1880s and early 1890s. From the late 1890s he was hailed as pre-eminently a Celtic poet.”

The Secret Key and other verses. Evans, George Essex. London: Angus & Robertson, 1913 (but printed in Sydney; 2nd imp.; first published 1906). Evans was born in London in 1863, arrived in Queensland in 1881, and published and edited a short-lived weekly newspaper,

The Rag (Allora, Qld., 1905). He died in Toowoomba in 1909. There is an account of him in the A.D.B. (vol. 8) by M. D. O’Hagan.

The Complete Poetical Works. Gay, William. Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1911 (but printed in England). Gay was born in Scotland in 1865; migrated to New Zealand in 1885, and arrived in Victoria in 1888. He contributed to Dr. Charles Strong’s publication, Our Good Words (later the Australian Herald), and died in Bendigo in 1897. Joseph Jones (A.D.B. vol. 8) describes Gay as “an ardent proponent of Federation”.

Marri’d and other verses. Gilmore, [Dame] Mary. Melbourne: George Robertson & Co., [1910]. There is an account of Dame Mary’s fascinating life (1865–1962) by W. H. Wilde in vol. 9 of the A.D.B. This was her first collection of poems and, according to Wilde, they were published “on the advice of Bernard O’Dowd who professed to be ‘simply enraptured with their lyric magic’.”

Poems of the late Adam Lindsay Gordon. Gordon, Adam Lindsay.[edited by R. Birnie?]. Melbourne: A. H. Massina, [1884?]. This copy is water stained and in poorer condition that the others in this list. Gordon’s tragic life (1833-70) is too well known to require further description here. His A.D.B. entry (vol. 4) is by Dame Leonie Kramer.

Appassionata; songs of youth and love. Hart, Fritz [Bennicke]. Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1913 (but printed in England). Hart was born in England in 1874, migrated to Australia in 1909, and died in Hawaii in 1949. He was a musician and writer of operas, as well as a poet, and was a friend of Dame Nellie Melba. There is an account of him in the A.D.B. (vol. 9), by Maureen Thérèse Radic.

Australians Yet, and other verses. Hervey, Grant [Madison]. Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1913 (but printed in England). This book and its author almost deserve an article to themselves. Geoffrey Serle’s account ( A.D.B. 9) of Hervey (1880 – 1933) opens by describing him as a “versifier and swindler”. He was born in Victoria as George Henry Cochrane. He was acquitted of attempted murder in 1906, but received prison terms for forgery and swindling on at least three occasions, and wrote a novel, An Eden of the Good, while a librarian at Bathurst prison. His editorship of the Mildura and Merbein Sun ended in October 1921 when he was tarred, feathered and run out of town. Wallace Nelson remarked that Hervey “turned out poetry by the square yard with mechanical regularity”. He specialised in verse extolling manly vigour, mateship and nationalism, and the contents of Australians Yet are no exception, for example, “The Need for Men” and – take a deep breath! – “Have You Set Your Standards High?”.

Stokin’ and Other Verses. Lawson, Will. (2nd edn., paperback) Wellington: Gordon & Gotch, 1909. William Lawson was born in England in 1876, migrated to New Zealand in 1880, and first arrived in Australia (Brisbane) in 1884. He contributed to The Bulletin, the Lone Hand, Steele Rudd’s Magazine and the New Zealand Mail, and specialised in railway themes. A great admirer of his namesake, Henry Lawson, Will collaborated with Henry’s widow Bertha to write My Henry Lawson (1943). Will died in Sydney in 1957. See also Elizabeth Webby’s account of Will in the A.D.B., vol. 10.

Satyrs and Sunlight. McCrae, Hugh [Raymond]. Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1911 (but printed in England; 2nd edn.; 1st edn. 1909). McCrae (1876–1958) was born in Hawthorn, Melbourne, and died in Wahroonga, N.S.W. He played the lead in a silentfilm, The Life’s Romance of Adam Lindsay Gordon, made in Melbourne in 1916. There is an account of him in the A.D.B. (vol. 10) by Norman Cowper and Martha Rutledge, and a bust of him inthe Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The Silent Land, and other verses. O’Dowd, Bernard [Patrick]. Melbourne: T. C. Lothian, 1909 (2nd imp.; 1st edn. 1905). O’Dowd (1866–1953) is one of my favourite Australian poets. I particularly like his “The Windman” (not in this volume), which reminds me of Swinburne and Yeats, but is still the essence of the mature O’Dowd; and I greatly treasure a copy of The Australasian Secular Association Lyceum Tutor (1888), edited by O’Dowd, given to me by the late Harry Hastings Pearce (“Profanum Vulgus”). The A.D.B. (vol. 11) account of O’Dowd is by Christopher Wallace-Crabbe.

The Poetical Works of Brunton Stephens. Stephens, [James] Brunton. Sydney & Melbourne: Angus & Robertson, 1902. Title page embossed “C. A. Innes / Wellington, N.Z.”. Stephens was born in Scotland in 1835, and arrived in Queensland in 1866. He died in Brisbane in 1902. Cecil Hadgraft ( A.D.B. 6) says of Stephens: “For about twenty years after the death of Henry Kendall in 1882 he had been regarded as the greatest Australian poet living, even though his best work had been produced in the 1870s. This repute . . . has decreased considerably.”

An Irish Heart. Wright, David McKee. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1918. Wright was born in Co. Down, Ireland, in 1869, migrated to New Zealand in 1887 and became a Congregational minister. He arrived in Sydney in 1910 and edited the “Red Page” of The Bulletin for a while. From 1918 he lived with Zora Cross in the Blue Mountains (Glenbrook), where he died in 1928. Michael Sharkey ( A.D.B. 12) says of Wright: “Some of his work was collected in An Irish Heart (1918), on which his Australian reputation rested.” The collection also included some Australian editions of prose, including: Truth; Being Volume One of the Cream of Human Thought or Much-in-Little Library, edited by Edward William Cole. Melbourne: Cole’s Book Arcade, n.d. Cole (1832-1918) is too well known to Australian book collectors to require much comment. From E. Cole Turnley’s account of the author ( A.D.B. 3), Truth must have been published soon after 1911.

The Voice of Nature, by Frederick Houghton. Melbourne: Rae Brothers, 1888. This is a mixture of science and philosophy: mainly prose, but three poems at the end.

Things Worth Thinking About: a series of lectures upon literature and culture by T[homas] G[eorge] Tucker. Melbourne: George Robertson, 1890. Tucker was born in England in 1859, and became the founding Professor of Classics at Auckland University College, N.Z., in 1883. In 1885 he was appointed Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Melbourne, where his literary output was “prodigious”. He died in Devon in 1946. For more information see K.J. McKay’s account in the A.D.B. (vol.12).

I have long been interested in the English Civil War, especially in the part played by the Levellers and Ranters, and also in the war’s effect on Ireland. In about 1995 one of the Cromwell Association’s bulletins carried a list of novels set during the Civil War, and mentioned a few written from the Parliamentarian side. The majority of Civil War novels are written with a Royalist bias, the best known and best loved probably being The Children of the New Forest (1847) by Captain Frederick Marryat.

As I worked and cleaned my way through the pile of books from Chum Creek, I was surprised and delighted to find it contained the English edition of The Lion’s Whelp, A Story of Cromwell’s Time, by Amelia E. Barr (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1902). It was first published in the United States a year earlier.

Despite Barr’s uncritical and repetitive hero worship of Oliver Cromwell, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Lion’s Whelp, which was set during the Protectorate of the 1650s, and I resolved to find out more about the author. I discovered that Amelia Barr had written an autobiography, All the Days of My Life (New York & London, 1913), and the Alexandra Library’s indefatigable Libby Kotschet managed to track down and borrow for me a 1981 reprint of the book.

The author was a complex and curious personality, and really deserves an article to herself. Amelia Edith Huddleston was born in Lancashire in 1831, and was the daughter of a clergyman. She married a Scotsman, Robert Barr, in 1850, and in 1853 the couple migrated to the United States. “Australia I had no hesitation in putting out of consideration; its climate, its strange natural conditions, and its doubtful early population, as well as its great distance from England, were definitely against it” (All the Days, pp. 123–124).

The Barrs were in the state capital of Austin when Texas seceded from the Union in 1861 and joined the Confederacy. Amelia describes how a young friend of hers, Lucille, spat on the ordinance of secession in the Texas legislature. The lieutenantgovernor cleaned off the saliva, but not an unchivalrous hand was laid on the teenaged Union protester!

The American Civil War ran right through the Barr household. Amelia was (to my surprise) a staunch supporter of the Confederacy, and even hired slaves (from their masters) as domestic help. Robert detested slavery, was an equally ardent Union man, and was a personal friend of Sam Houston, founding father of Texas and leader of the Union loyalists in the state. (Houston was under virtual house arrest from 1861 until his death in 1863.)

After the war the Barrs moved to Galveston, where Robert died of yellow fever in 1867. Amelia, almost penniless, and with three dependent daughters, moved to New York City and rented rooms once occupied by Edgar Allen Poe. She made a living by writing historical fiction, and gained general recognition with Jan Vedder’s Wife (1885). According to Dorothy Scarborough’s account in the Dictionary of American Biography (1928), Barr “stressed romance rather than the sex element, so that her work could be safely put in the hands of children and young people”. Her writings were written “too fast to be other than superficial, but they had a wide audience in their day”. She died in 1919.

Intellectually and emotionally Amelia Barr was a chimaera of progressive and reactionary views. Despite claiming to be a devout Christian, she was an enthusiastic believer in reincarnation. A staunchly protective but, I fear, overbearing mother, she championed votes for women – white ones at any rate. She did not like Negro men, especially “eddicated” ones. However, she bore no animus against Jews, and had a good word for “the kindly race of editors”.

Barr’s Cromwell fixation makes sense when she describes her widowhood: “I stood absolutely alone in the battle of life, but I was confident, that God and Amelia Barr were a multitude.” The Lord Protector might almost have written it himself!

Amelia quotes from a letter from her sister Jane: “Well dear, do not lose your assurance. Among Indians, negroes [sic], cowboys, and atheists of all kinds, hold fast your assurance.” Amelia’s assurance” did not stop her being friendly with America’s leading agnostic and freethinker, Robert Green Ingersoll, as “in practice he was one of the best Christians I ever knew”.

Of her husband, Amelia wrote: “About certain things he could be so stubborn. Men are made that way. They have prejudices, and they call them principles, and then – sink or swim, they stick to them.”

If ever I get a chance to visit Galveston, Texas, my first duty will be to place some flowers on the grave of the long-suffering Robert Barr.

By now I think it should be clear that this collection of an English migrant’s old books are in the appreciative hands of another Englishman. I will treasure them, and I have certainly learnt a good deal from them



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