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Henry Lawson
1867 - 1922


 


Born
17 June 1867 at Grenfell Goldfields, New South Wales Niels Herzberg Lawson, (a Norwegian-born miner who went to sea at 21 and arrived in Melbourne in 1855 to join the gold rush) and Louisa Albury.
Parents

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.

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.

Education

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.

His master John Tierney was kind and did all he could for Lawson who was quite shy.

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.

Early Life

In 1883, after working on building jobs with his father in the Blue Mountains, Lawson joined his mother in Sydney.

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.

Marriage

In 1896, Lawson married Bertha Bredt Jr., daughter of Bertha Bredt, the prominent socialist.

The marriage was ill-advised due to Lawson's alcohol addiction.

They had two children, son Jim (Joseph) and daughter Bertha, however, the marriage ended very unhappily.

The Poet

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 20 years old, not 17.)

Mrs Issabella Byers' Coffee Palace

In 1903 he bought a room at Mrs Issabella Byers' Coffee Palace in North Sydney.

Mrs Byers (née 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

This marked the beginning of a 20 year friendship between Mrs Byers and Lawson.

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.

Death

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.

He is interred at Waverley Cemetery.

 


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