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Barcroft Henry Boake

1866 - 1892

Australian poet

Barcroft Henry Boake was born at Sydney on 26 March 1866. His father, Barcroft Capel Boake, was a photographer. (Barcroft was an Irish family name.) His mother, originally Florence Eva Clarke, was the daughter of Henry Clarke an accountant. She died in childbirth when he was thirteen.

He had four younger sisters, Adelaide, Violet, Clare and Evie. Boake's sister Adelaide had a daughter, Doris Kerr, who later became a writer (pseudonym of Capel Boake).

Barcroft Henry Boake was educated at a school kept by Edward Blackmore and for a few months at Sydney Grammar School. He showed no particular ability at school, and at 17 years of age

was placed in the office of a Sydney land-surveyor. In July 1886 he joined E. Commins, a surveyor, and had experience as a field-assistant, working for some time in the Monaro district.

One night in July 1888, as a foolish joke, he and another young man pretended to hang themselves, but Boake had put a slip knot in his rope and nearly lost his life. This incident probably affected the remainder of his short life.

After spending two years in the surveying camp Boake was disinclined to return to the city, took service as a boundary rider, and worked in New South Wales and Queensland. In May 1890 he joined W. A. Lipscomb, a surveyor, and remained with him until the end of 1891.

About this time he began to send verses to the Bulletin and was much pleased when they were accepted.

In December 1891 he returned to his home to find it a house of gloom. His father's once prosperous business had now failed, and his father was depressed with money difficulties. His mother had died some years before, and his grandmother, for whom he had much affection, was now an invalid.

He remained at home for some weeks unable to get work and earning nothing except a few guineas from the Bulletin. In April 1892 he one day said to a sister "I have had rather a knock today. I hear that my best girl is going to be married".

On 2 May 1892 he left the house and did not return. About a week later his body was discovered, suspended by the lash of his stockwhip from the limb of a tree, near the shore of Long Bay, Middle Harbour. He was of an habitually melancholy temperament, had a weak heart which had been further depressed by over-smoking, and a combination of unhappy circumstances led him to take his own life.

Boake was normally a courageous, generous and unselfish man who in happier circumstances might have had a reasonable chance of finding life worth living. His work was collected in 1897 and published with a memoir by A. G. Stephens of Where the Dead Men Lie and other Poems. The title poem has deservedly found its way into several Australian anthologies.

Dictionary of Australian Biography, Angus and Robertson, 1949

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