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James Lister Cuthbertson

1851 - 1910

Australian poet

James Lister Cuthbertson was the eldest son of William Gilmour Cuthbertson and his wife, Jane Agnes Cuthbertson. He was born in Glasgow on 8 May 1851, and was educated at Trinity College, Glenalmond, Scotland, where he played in the school eleven. He studied for the Indian civil service, and having been admitted as a probationer went on to Merton College, Oxford. He failed to pass a necessary examination and was obliged to abandon the idea of a career in India. 

 

His father had in the meantime become manager of the Bank of South Australia at Adelaide, and in 1874 Cuthbertson decided to go to Australia too. In 1875 he joined the staff of the Geelong Grammar School as classical master. He founded the School Quarterly, to which he contributed many poems, and the first collection of these was published at Geelong under the title Grammar School Verses in 1879, an exceedingly rare little pamphlet not listed in the bibliographies of either Serle or Miller.

In 1882 he returned to England and continued his course at Oxford, graduating B.A. in 1885. He immediately returned to Australia and rejoined the staff of Geelong Grammar School. In 1893 Barwon Ballads by "C" was published in Melbourne, and at the end of 1896 Cuthbertson resigned his position. After a visit to England he lived for a period at Geelong and then near Melbourne, still occasionally sending verse to the school magazine.

He died suddenly while staying with a friend at Mt Gambier on 18 January 1910. After his death a memorial edition of his poems, Barwon Ballads and School Verses, with portrait frontispiece, was published by members of the Geelong Grammar School.

Much of Cuthbertson's work is occasional verse, only of interest to old boys of the school he loved so much; but he sometimes wrote verse with simplicity and restraint, which gives him a place among the poets of Australia. He is represented in several anthologies. As a school-master he was a strong influence, and set standards which have become traditions of the school.

Dictionary of Australian Biography, Angus and Robertson, 1949

Cuthbertson's works include:

  • 1893  Barwon Ballads
     
     

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