William Gay (poet)

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William Gay (2 May 1865 – 22 December 1897) was a Scottish-born Australian poet.


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Travel and career
  • 3 Legacy
  • 4 Reference
  • 5 External link

Early life

Gay was born at Bridge of Weir, in Renfrewshire, Scotland. His father, an upright religious man, was an engraver of patterns for wallpaper and calico, his mother came from people of education. The family moved not long afterwards to the town of Alexandria, where Gay was educated at a board school. At 14 he became a monitor at the school and winning a bursary went to the University of Glasgow. His father wished him to be a minister, but the boy felt he could not conscientiously follow that profession and went to London hoping to make a living there.

Travel and career

Destitution and illness followed and he had to go back to his people. Again he went to London but his strength was not sufficient and he had to go into hospital in Glasgow. As his lungs were threatened a sea voyage was tried and he arrived at Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1885. He obtained work as a purser's clerk on vessels of the Union Line for nearly two years, when illness again led to his living with some relatives at Hawke's Bay who nursed him back to comparative health. In 1888 he went to Melbourne and obtained a mastership at Scotch College but teaching was beyond his strength. In 1891 he was in the Austin hospital, and in 1893 went to live at Bendigo where he died on 22 December 1897. His first volume Sonnets and Other Verses, published in 1894, was followed by two other volumes Sonnets and Christ on Olympus and Other Poems in 1896. A small selection appeared in 1910 and The Complete Poetical Works of William Gay in 1911. A prose essay Walt Whitman: His Relation to Science and Philosophy was issued in 1895.


Gay was a slight man of medium height and is said to have had some resemblance to Tennyson. There was something in his personality which attracted friends to him wherever he went. When an invalid at Bendigo one of his little volumes yielded him a Profit of £40 and another was even more successful. This could only have happened with the help of friends as the volumes are without popular appeal. It was fortunate that so many discerning and kindly people were able to help him and take care of him until his death, because Gay was worthy of care. His sonnets rank with the best that have been done in Australia, and in a few poems such as "The Crazy World" he has written poetry expressing simple, forceful and unstrained emotion. His life was short and marred by ill-health borne with courage. The amount of his work was small but it holds an honoured place in the history of Australian poetry.


  • Serle, Percival (1949). "Gay, William". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. 

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1949 edition of Dictionary of Australian Biography from
Project Gutenberg of Australia, which is in the public domain in Australia and the United States of America.

External link

  • The Complete Poetical Works of William Gay at the University of Sydney
  • Joseph Jones, 'Gay, William (1865 - 1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, MUP, 1981, pp 633-634.
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