Henry Lawson

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Henry Lawson, circa 1902
Henry Lawson, circa 1902

Henry Lawson[1] (17 June 1867 - 2 September 1922) was an Australian writer and poet. Along with his contemporary Banjo Paterson, Lawson is among the best-known Australian poets and fiction writers of the colonial period.


  • 1 Career
    • 1.1 Early life
  • 2 Poet
    • 2.1 Later years
  • 3 Collections of Poetry and Prose
  • 4 Popular Poems, Short Stories and Sketches
  • 5 Recurring Characters
  • 6 Recurring Themes of Lawson's Stories
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links


Early life

Lawson was born in a tent on the Grenfell goldfields of New South Wales. His mother was Louisa Lawson (née Albury), a prominent suffragist and owner/editor of The Dawn journal which was partly responsible for Australia becoming one of the first countries to introduce adult female suffrage. His father was Niels Herzberg Larsen, a Norwegian-born miner who went to sea at 21, arrived in Melbourne in 1855 and joined the gold rush.[2] Larsen travelled to different goldfields, and at Pipeclay (now Eurunderee, New South Wales) met Louisa and married her 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.

Henry Lawson attended school at Eurunderee from 2 October 1876 but suffered an ear infection at around this time that left him with partial deafness and by the age of fourteen he had lost his hearing entirely. He later attended a Roman Catholic school at Mudgee, New South Wales around 8 km away; the master there, Mr. Kevan, would talk to Lawson about poetry. He was a keen reader of Dickens and Marryat and serialised 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 and in the Blue Mountains, Lawson joined his mother in Sydney at her request. Louisa was then living with Henry's sister and brother. Lawson studied for his matriculation, but failed.


Lawson's first published poem was 'A Song of the Republic' 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', where memories of the goldfields were an influence.[2]

Lawson 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 trouble. He returned to Sydney and continued to write for the Bulletin who in 1892 paid for an inland trip where he experienced the harsh realities of drought-affected New South Wales. This became a source for many of his stories in subsequent years.[2]

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] 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."[3][4] Lawson's Jack Mitchell story, On The Edge Of A Plain, is often cited as one of the most accomplished examples of the sketch.[4]

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. He married Bertha Bredt Jr., daughter of Bertha Bredt, the prominent feminist and socialist. With Bertha Bredt Jr, had two children, son Jim (Joseph) and daughter Bertha.

Later years

During his later life, the alcohol-addicted writer was probably Australia's best-known celebrity. At the same time, he was also a frequent beggar on the streets of Sydney, notably at the Circular Quay ferry turnstiles. 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.

On his death in Sydney in 1922 he was given a state funeral, 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. He is interred at Waverley Cemetery.

Henry Lawson was featured on the former paper Australian ten dollar note issued in 1966 when decimal currency was first introduced into Australia. This note was replaced by polymer notes in 1993. Lawson was pictured against scenes from the town of Gulgong in NSW.[5]

Collections of Poetry and Prose

  • While the Billy Boils (1896)
  • On the Track (1900)
  • Over The Sliprails (1900)
  • The Country I Come From (1901)
  • In the Days When the World was Wide and Other Verses
  • Joe Wilson and His Mates (1901)
  • Verses: Popular and Humorous
  • The Romance of the Swag (1907)
  • Send Round the Hat (1907)
  • The Rising Of The Court, and Other Sketches in Prose and Verse (1910)
  • Triangles of Life and Other Stories (1913)
  • Children of the Bush

Popular Poems, Short Stories and Sketches

  • "Andy's Gone with Cattle" (poem)
  • "Freedom on the Wallaby" (poem, 1891)
  • "The Babies of Walloon (poem, 1891)
  • "Saint Peter" (poem, 1893)
  • "Scots of the Riverina" (poem, 1917)
  • "The Teams" (poem, 1896)
  • "Up The Country" (poem, 1892)
  • "The City Bushman" (poem, 1892)
  • "The Drover's Wife" (short story, 1892)
  • "The Bush Undertaker" (short story, 1892)
  • "The Loaded Dog" (short story, 1901)
  • "The Iron-Bark Chip" (short story,1900)
  • "Steelman's Pupil" (short story)
  • "The Geological Spieler" (short story, 1896)
  • "A Child in the Dark, and a Foreign Father" (short story, 1902)
  • "The Union Buries Its Dead" (short story, 1893)
  • "A Neglected History" (essay)
  • "Australian Loyalty" (essay, 1887)
  • "United Division" (essay, 1888)

Recurring Characters

  • Joe Wilson
    • "Brighten's Sister-in-law"
    • "A Double Buggy at Lahey Creek"
    • "Water Them Geraniums"
    • "Joe Wilson's Courtship"
  • Jack Mitchell
    • "Mitchell: A Character Sketch"
    • "On The Edge Of A Plain"
    • "'Some Day'"
    • "Shooting The Moon"
    • "Our Pipes"
    • "Bill, the Ventriloquial Rooster"
    • "Enter Mitchell"
    • "Mitchell Doesn't Believe in the Sack"
    • "Another of Mitchell's Plans"
  • Steelman and Smith
    • "The Geological Spieler"
    • "Steelman's Pupil"
    • "An Oversight of Steelman’s"
    • "How Steelman told his Story"
    • "A Gentleman Sharper and Steelman Sharper"
  • Dave Regan, Jim Bently and/or Andy Page
    • "The Loaded Dog"
    • "The Iron-Bark Chip"
    • "Andy Page's Rival"
    • "The Mystery of Dave Regan"
    • "Poisonous Jimmy Gets Left"

Recurring Themes of Lawson's Stories

Main article: Themes of Henry Lawson's works

Many of Henry Lawson's short stories explore similar themes:

  • Roles of women
  • Roles of men
  • Roles of children
  • Loneliness / Isolation
  • Hardship
  • Importance of Humour
  • The Emotional Impact of Bush Life
  • Mateship

See also

  • The Bulletin Debate
  • Serle, Percival (1949). "Lawson, Henry". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. 
  1. ^ He is sometimes shown as Henry Herzberg Lawson, or Henry Archibald Lawson; however, the name on his birth certificate is simply Henry Lawson, and he never used any other variants in his published works
  2. ^ a b c Brian Matthews (1986). Lawson, Henry (1867 - 1922). Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10 18-22. MUP. Retrieved on 2007-07-15.
  3. ^ 'Three or Four Archibalds and the Writer'
  4. ^ a b The Penguin Henry Lawson Short Stories (First published 1986) Edited with an introduction by John Barnes - Introduction
  5. ^ Museum of Australian Currency Notes Accessed on June 7, 2007
  • Henry Lawson Books - Has details of all known books by Henry Lawson published and for sale
  • Works by Henry Lawson at Project Gutenberg
  • Poetry Archive: 125 poems of Henry Lawson
  • Henry Lawson and Louisa Lawson Online Chronology
  • Henry Lawson - Essays, Short Stories and Verse Collections
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