For a long time in Australia, up until at least the 1980s, the only Nineteenth century Australian books in print were Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life (1870), Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms (1882) and, to a lesser extent, Henry Kingsley’s The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859). Even today, along with Lawson and Paterson, these three are the only ‘old’ books you will consistently come across in bookshops.
I have written often enough about the role of Dale Spender in getting our early women writers back into print, in Pandora and Penguin in the 1980s, though whether they still are is another matter, and maybe all we have left is Virago. Whatever we might tell ourselves about our urbanity and sophistication, Australians have an endless fascination with men being virile in the Bush.
The Recollections must have remained pretty well-known for at least half a century after publication, as Furphy in Such is Life (1903) went to some pains to express his contempt for the Buckleys – Kingsley’s English gentlefolk who take up a grazing property in the Australian Alps. In fact, a search of Trove shows that The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn ran as a serial in country newspapers in 1871 and again in 1894.
Written in 1859, after be had been five years in Australia, Henry Kingsley’s Geoffry Hamlyn, now appearing in a new edition, published by Ward, Lock, and Bowden Limited (of London and Melbourne) deserves the welcome which one gives to an old and cherished friend. [from The Australasian (Melbourne), Sat 8 Dec 1894].
I can’t find any reviews, but in 1910, the novel was being run for a third, or more likely, fourth, time. One introduction concludes: “It is almost unnecessary to note that the justly celebrated author of Westward Ho !, Charles Kingsley, was our author’s brother”. I’m afraid I only know Charles for The Water Babies which Gee insisted I read to her over a long series of nights, protesting if I ever seemed to be ‘skipping’ (which I would if I could get away with it).
Joseph Furphy writes: “Those whose knowledge of the pastoral regions is drawn from a course of novels of the Geoffry Hamlyn class, cannot fail to hold a most erroneous notion of the squatter. Of course we use the term ‘squatter’ indifferently to denote a station-owner, a managing partner, or a salaried manager”. There are “a thousand types”, but none of them include “the slender-witted, virgin souled, overgrown schoolboys who fill Henry Kingsley’s exceedingly trashy and misleading novel with their insufferable twaddle.” (Such is Life, 164)
Henry Kingsley (1830-1876) left Oxford without graduating and came out to Australia in 1853 to join in the Gold Rush. “For some time Kingsley had little or no money and carried his swag from station to station. Philip Russell stated in 1887 that he employed Kingsley at his station Langa-Willi, and that Geoffry Hamlyn (1859) was begun there. Miss Rose Browne, daughter of Rolf Boldrewood, stated it was on her father’s suggestion that Kingsley began to write. Russell’s story is confirmed by her further statement that her father gave Kingsley a letter to Mr Mitchell of Langa-Willi, that he stayed with Mitchell, and there wrote Geoffry Hamlyn.” (wikipedia). Kingsley returned to England in 1857, wrote some more, and died of cancer of the tongue aged 46.
If you’re wondering about that photo, Victoria’s Western District, the home of our squatting aristocracy, looks more like England than it does like the rest of Australia.
The novel begins with some very tedious, and very Victorian – meaning the era – opening chapters. Introducing first Hamlyn and the Buckleys, in 1857, in oldish age on the verandah of an Australian homestead, about whom Hamlyn has written a book; and then going back half a century to establish the various families on their estates in England.
We’ll ignore their antecedents, and by say, the 1820s, all the principal characters of the novel were gathered in or around a Devon village, Drumston. They are the Buckleys, who, no longer able to afford its upkeep, have given up their ancient estate, Clere and moved into (youthful) semi-retirement; their baby son, Sam; the widowed vicar, his spinster sister Miss Thornton, and his wilful daughter, Mary; Mary’s cousin, Tom Troubridge; Hamlyn; his friend Jim Stockton; Dr Mulhaus, a German aristocrat; George Hawker, son of a villianous farmer and his gypsy ‘housekeeper’, Madge; William Lee, a convict escaped from Tasmania and his off-sider Dick.
George Hawker is led, rather willingly, into a life of crime and gambling by William Lee. Mary is an heiress twice over, and moreover is keen on Hawker, who can act the gentleman as necessary; so Hawker runs off with her to London where they are married, she gets pregnant and he runs through her first fortune. Mary finds her way home, running into Hawker’s cousin and the mother of another of his children along the way. The Vicar dies.
Stockton, who Mary should have married, goes to NSW with Hamlyn, where they take up land and prosper. The Buckley’s decide that sounds like the way to revive their own fortunes and head off after them. Dr Mulhaus, Troubridge, Mary with her son Charles, and Miss Thornton, her aunt, decide to accompany them.
You may remember that when the various sides of Miles Franklin’s family arrived in Sydney, they were forced to go south, into the mountains at the headwaters of the Murrumbidgee and Murray, for free land. Hamlyn and Stockridge have land further south again, on the far side of the mountains where the Snowy rises and rushes south into Bass Strait. Out one day looking for a lost bull, they come across, purely by accident, a party of travellers. Yes, it’s the Buckleys.
Mary Hawker and Tom Troubridge (he’s her cousin remember) take up land on the edge of the mountains, and the Buckleys take up land some miles further out into (relatively) open country, in what is today East Gippsland (Victoria). Dr Mulhaus lives with the Buckleys, and the reformed William Lee is their overseer. Dick turns up one day in the bush, and he becomes Hamlyn’s manservant, because of course he does.
There are a couple of aristocratic families nearby – a widow with a son and two daughters, Capt Brentwood with a son, and a daughter, Alice, away at school, and some Irish families who of course are not aristocratic (and have rather more children). Listen, it’s just an ordinary British adventure book, with all the prejudices that implies. But it also just happens to be the first set in the Australian bush, which is rather better described than you might hope.
A new heaven and a new earth! Tier beyond tier, height above height, the great wooded ranges go rolling away westward, till on the lofty skyline they are crowned with a gleam of everlasting snow. To the eastward they sink down, breaking into isolated forest-fringed peaks, and rock-crowned eminences, till with rapidly straightening lines they fade into the broad grey plains, beyond which the Southern Ocean is visible by the white sea-haze upon the sky.
The properties prosper. The young men grow up together, with little education except that Dr Mulhaus acts as tutor to Sam Buckley. Alice comes home and is of course the most beautiful, intelligent and good natured girl that Hamlyn has ever seen. A notorious bushranger turns out to be another native of Drumston. There’s an exciting battle (if you want some real colonial bloodthirstiness check out the rape of the bridal party in Ralph Rashleigh).
Everyone makes their fortune – without the Goldrush being mentioned, though much of Sam’s comes from speculating in Melbourne property (plus ca change, what) – and they all go back to Britain (or Germany) and resume their rightful titles.
Seeing as these fortunes have all been made on someone else’s land, let’s have a look at that. “The land referred to as ‘East Gippsland’ is country that spans three indigenous nations, these are the nations of Bidewell, Yuin, Gunnaikurnai and Monero (Ngarigo). These nations never ceded sovereignty and continue their custodianship of the land of waters within so called ‘East Gippsland'” (here).
At this point trucking calls. I have two trips back to back, and no time for writing. As I have quite a bit to say about Hamlyn’s unselfconscious settler-colonialism, I will post at this point and write up his representation of settler-Aboriginal interactions as soon as I can.
Charles Kingsley, The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn, first pub. 1859. 474pp.