Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson (1867-1922), circa 1905. Photos by William Johnson. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Henry Lawson
Born June 17 1867(1867-Template:MONTHNUMBER-17)
Grenfell Goldfields, New South Wales, Australia
Died February 2 1922(1922-Template:MONTHNUMBER-02) (aged 55)
Sydney, Australia
Occupation Author, poet, balladist
Spouse Bertha Marie Louise Bredt
Children Joseph, Bertha

Henry Lawson (17 June 1867 - 2 September 1922) was an Australian poet and short story writer. Lawson is among the best-known Australian poets and fiction writers of the colonial period, and is often called Australia's "greatest writer".[1]


Youth Edit

Lawson was born in a town on the Grenfell goldfields of New South Wales. His father was Niels Herzberg Lawson, a Norwegian-born miner who went to sea at 21 and arrived in Melbourne in 1855 to join the gold rush, along with partner William Henry John Slee.[2] His mother was publisher and feminist Louisa Lawson.Lawson's parents met at the goldfields of Pipeclay (now Eurunderee, New South Wales]. Niels and Louisa Albury (1848-1920) married on 7 July 1866; he was 32 and she, 18. On Henry's birth, the family surname was Anglicised and Niels became Peter Lawson. The newly-married couple were to have an unhappy marriage. Louisa, after family-raising, took a significant part in women's movements, and edited a women's paper called Dawn (published May 1888 to July 1905). She also published her son's first volume, and around 1904 brought out a volume of her own, Dert and Do, a simple story of 18,000 words. In 1905 she collected and published her own verses, The Lonely Crossing and other Poems. Louisa likely had a strong influence on her son's literary work in its earliest days.[3] Peter Lawson's grave (with headstone) is in the little private cemetery at Hartley Vale, New South Wales, a few minutes' walk behind what was Collitt's Inn.

Henry Lawson attended school at Eurunderee from 2 October 1876 but suffered an ear infection at around this time. It left him with partial deafness and by the age of fourteen he had lost his hearing entirely. However, his master John Tierney was kind and did all he could for Lawson who was quite shy.[3] Lawson later attended a Catholic school at Mudgee, New South Wales around 8 km away; the master there, Mr. Kevan, would teach Lawson about poetry. Lawson was a keen reader of Dickens and Marryat and novels such as Robbery under Arms and For the Term of his Natural Life; an aunt had also given him a volume by Bret Harte. Reading became a major source of his education because, due to his deafness, he had trouble learning in the classroom.

In 1883, after working on building jobs with his father in the Blue Mountains, Lawson joined his mother in Sydney at her request. Louisa was then living with Henry's sister and brother. At this time, Lawson was working during the day and studying at night for his matriculation in the hopes of receiving a university education. However, he failed his exams. At around 20 years of age Lawson went to the eye and ear hospital in Melbourne but nothing could be done for his deafness.[3]

In 1896, Lawson married Bertha Bredt Jr., daughter of Bertha Bredt, the prominent socialist. The marriage was ill-advisedTemplate:Vague due to Lawson's alcohol addiction. They had two children, son Jim (Joseph) and daughter Bertha. However, the marriage ended very unhappily.[4]

Career Edit


Henry Lawson (right) with J.F. Archibald, the co-founder of The Bulletin. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Lawson's first published poem was 'A Song of the English' which appeared in The Bulletin, 1 October 1887; his mother's radical friends were an influence. This was followed by 'The Wreck of the Derry Castle' and then 'Golden Gully.' Prefixed to the former poem was an editorial 'note:

"In publishing the subjoined verses we take pleasure in stating that the writer is a boy of 17 years, a young Australian, who has as yet had an imperfect education and is earning his living under some difficulties as a housepainter, a youth whose poetic genius here speaks eloquently for itself."

(Lawson was actually 20 years old, not 17.[3]

In 1890-1891 Lawson worked in Albany, Western Australia.[5] He then received an offer to write for the Brisbane Boomerang in 1891, but he lasted only around 7-8 months as the Boomerang was soon in financial trouble.

He returned to Sydney and continued to write for the Bulletin which, in 1892, paid for an inland trip where he experienced the harsh realities of drought-affected New South Wales.[6] This resulted in his contributions to the Bulletin Debate and became a source for many of his stories in subsequent years.[2] Elder writes of the trek Lawson took between Hungerford and Bourke as "the most important trek in Australian literary history" and says that "it confirmed all his prejudices about the Australian bush.

Lawson had no romantic illusions about a 'rural idyll'."[7] As Elder continues, his grim view of the outback was far removed from "the romantic idyll of brave horsemen and beautiful scenery depicted in the poetry of Banjo Paterson".[8]

Like the majority of Australians, Lawson lived in a city, but had had plenty of experience in outback life, in fact, many of his stories reflected his experiences in real life. In Sydney in 1898 he was a prominent member of the Dawn and Dusk Club, a bohemian club of writer friends who met for drinks and conversation.

Later years Edit

Henry Lawson photograph 1902

Henry Lawson circa 1902. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


Lawson and E.J. Brady at Mallacoota writers' colony. Courtesy Mallacoota Arts Council.

Despite his position as the most celebrated Australian writer of the time, Lawson was deeply depressed and perpetually poor. He lacked money due to unfortunate royalty deals with publishers. His ex-wife repeatedly reported him for non-payment of child maintenance, resulting in gaol terms. He was gaoled at Darlinghurst Gaol for drunkenness and non-payment of alimony, and recorded his experience in the haunting poem "One Hundred and Three" - his prison number - which was published in 1908. He refers to the prison as "Starvinghurst Gaol" because of the meagre rations given to the inmates.

At this time, Lawson became withdrawn, alcoholic, and unable to carry on the usual routine of life.

In 1903 he bought a room at Mrs Issabella Byers' Coffee Palace in North Sydney. This marked the beginning of a 20 year friendship between Mrs Byers and Lawson. Mrs Byers (nee Ward) was an excellent poet herself and although of modest education, had been writing vivid poetry since her teens in a similar style to Lawson's. Long separated from her husband and elderly, Mrs Bryers was, at the time she met Lawson, a woman of independent means looking forward to retirement. Bryers regarded Lawson as Australia's greatest living poet, and hoped to sustain him well enough to keep him writing. She negotiated on his behalf with publishers, helped to arrange contact with his children, contacted friends and supporters to help him financially, and assisted and nursed him through his mental and alcohol problems. She wrote countless letters on his behalf and knocked on any doors that could provide Henry with financial assistance or a publishing deal.[9]

It was in Mrs Isabella Bryers' home that Henry Lawson died, of cerebral hemorrhage, in Abbotsford, Sydney in 1922. He was given a state funeral. His death registration on the NSW Births, Deaths & Marriages index is ref. 10451/1922 and was recorded at the Petersham Registration District. It shows his parents as Peter and Louisa. He is interred at Waverley Cemetery.



Lawson's most successful prose collection is While the Billy Boils, published in 1896.[10] In it he "continued his assault on Paterson and the romantics, and in the process, virtually reinvented Australian realism".[6] Elder writes that "he used short, sharp sentences, with language as raw as Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver. With sparse adjectives and honed-to-the-bone description, Lawson created a style and defined Australians: dryly laconic, passionately egalitarian and deeply humane."[6] Most of his work focuses on the Australian bush, such as the desolate "Past Carin'", and is considered by some to be among the first accurate descriptions of Australian life as it was at the time.(Citation needed) "The Drover's Wife" with its "heart-breaking depiction of bleakness and loneliness" is regarded as one of his finest short stories.[6] It is regularly studied in schools and has often been adapted for film and theatre.[11][12][13]

Lawson was a firm believer in the merits of the sketch story, (commonly known simply as the sketch), claiming that "the sketch story is best of all."[14][15] Lawson's Jack Mitchell story, On The Edge Of A Plain, is often cited as one of the most accomplished examples of the sketch.[15]

Recognition Edit

Australianstamp 1539

Lawson on Australian postag stamp, 1949. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Lawson was the first private citizen to be granted a New South Wales state funeral (traditionally reserved for Governors, Chief Justices, etc.) on the grounds of having been a 'distinguished citizen'.[16] His funeral was attended by the Prime Minister W. M. Hughes and the Premier of New South Wales Jack Lang (who was the husband of Lawson's sister-in-law Hilda Bredt), as well as thousands of citizens.

In 1949 Lawson was honored by being featured on an Australian postage stamp.[17]

He was featured on the first (paper) Australian ten dollar note issued in 1966 when decimal currency was first introduced into Australia. This note was replaced by a polymer note in 1993. Lawson was pictured against scenes from the town of Gulgong in NSW.[18]

Publications Edit


  • Joseph’s Dreams. Adelaide: Hassell Press, 1923.
  • The Auld Shop and the New. Adelaide: Hassell Press, 1923.
  • Winnowed Verse. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1924.
  • Humorous Verses. Sydney: Cornstalk Publishing, 1924.
  • Poetical Works of Henry Lawson. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1925.
  • Collected Verse (edited by Colin Roderick). (3 volumes), Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1967-1969.
  • Poems of Henry Lawson (illustrated by Pro Hart). (2 volumes), Sydney: Ure Smith, 1973-1976.
  • Illustrated Poems (illustrated by Colin Roderick; edited by Peter Lawson). Adelaide: Rigby, 1979.
  • Poetical Works of Henry Lawson (edited by David McKee Wright). North Ryde, NSW: Angus & Roberston, 1984.
  • The Best of Henry Lawson (edited by Margaret Olds). Wingfield, SA: Cameron House, 2002.
  • The Songs of Henry Lawson; with music (edited by Chris Kempster. Ringwood, Vic: Viking O'Neill, 1989, 2007

Short fiction Edit

Non-fiction Edit

  • Henry Lawson: Criticism, 1894-1971 (edited by Colin Arthur Roderick). Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1972.
  • Recollections: A selection of autobiographical works (edited by Leonard Cronin). Frenchs Forest, NSW: Reed, 1987.

Collected editionsEdit

  • A Camp-Fire Yarn: Henry Lawson complete works, 1885-1900. Sydney & New York: Lansdowne, 1984.
  • A Fantasy of Man: Henry Lawson complete works, 1901-1922. Sydney & New York: Lansdowne, 1984.
  • The Roaring Days: The Henry Lawson collection, Volume I (edited by Margaret Olds). Sydney: National Book Distributors & Publishers, 1994.
  • On the Wallaby Track: The Henry Lawson collection, Volume II (edited by Margaret Olds). Sydney: National Book Distributors & Publishers, 1994.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[19]

See also Edit

References Edit

  • Elder, Bruce (2008) "In Lawson's Tracks" in Griffith Review (19): 93-95, 113-115, Autumn 2008
  • Falkiner, Suzanne (1992) Wilderness (The Writers' Landscape), Sydney, Simon and Schuster

Notes Edit

  1. Elder (2008) p. 115
  2. 2.0 2.1 Brian Matthews (1986). "Lawson, Henry (1867 - 1922)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10. MUP. pp. 18-22. Retrieved 2007-07-15. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Percival Serle (1949). "Lawson, Henry (1867 - 1922)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  4. Falkiner (1992), p. 64
  5. Falkiner (1992), p. 62
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Elder (2008) p. 113
  7. Elder (2008) p. 95
  8. Elder (2008) p. 96
  9. Olive Lawson, "The Good Wards of Windsor", Deerubbin Press 2004
  10. Falkiner (1992), p. 63
  11. "Multi-media Theatre: The Drover's Wife, Australia
  12. "Keeping bush ballads alive and well"
  13. "The Drover's Wife: Australian film icon"
  14. 'Three or Four Archibalds and the Writer'
  15. 15.0 15.1 The Penguin Henry Lawson Short Stories (First published 1986) Edited with an introduction by John Barnes - Introduction
  16. NSW Policy on State Funerals
  17. File:Australianstamp 1539.jpg, Wikimedia Commons, December 31, 2010, Wikimedia Foundation. Web, Sep. 16, 2013.
  18. Museum of Australian Currency Notes Accessed on 7 June 2007
  19. Search results = au:Henry Lawson, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Nov. 3, 2014.

External links Edit

Short Stories
Audio / video
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. (view article). (view authors).
This page uses content from Wikinfo . The original article was at Wikinfo:Henry Lawson.
The list of authors can be seen in the (view authors). page history. The text of this Wikinfo article is available under the GNU Free Documentation License and the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.