Henry Lawson was an Australian poet, novelist and short story writer. One of the best-known Australian writers of the 20th century (1867 – 1922), Lawson came to be considered one of the foremost practitioners of “bush verse”, also dubbed as “bush poetry”.His difficulties in life shaped his writings and are what makes them an inspiration to many Australians.
Henry Lawson was born on 17 June 1867, on a goldfield in rural Grenfell, New South Wales. His father, Peter Lawson (born Niels Hertzberg Larsen) was a Norwegian sailor who settled in Australia.
Henry’s mother was Louisa Albury Lawson, who was a writer herself. Read her poetry
Lawson’s life was difficult from the beginning. The family was very poor and often on the move as Peter Lawson followed opportunities for work.
With Louisa’s urging, they eventually settled down on a small farm, however Peter was often away for longer and longer periods of time on contracting jobs. Louisa was left alone to do the hard work of caring for the family and farm and enduring the loneliness.
Problems continued to plague Henry’s childhood. At age 9 he went partially deaf as a result of an ear infection. That progressed until at age 14 be became totally deaf. As a shy, sensitive child growing up, he was tormented by children at school. As a result, Henry became a loner spending his time watching instead of being involved with those around him. This provided the pattern for his life and the reason his poems, many feel, capture the Australian way of life.
In 1883 Louisa left Henry’s father and moved to Sydney where she started up a boarding house. Henry later moved to Sydney and was re-united with his mother. In 1887-8 he and his mother edited the Republican, a publication calling for all Australians to unite under the ‘ flag of a Federated Australia’.
Louisa went on to become one of Australia’s early feminists and is credited with helping make women’s vote a precondition of a federated Australia. Henry’s exposure to his mother’s political and journalistic efforts helped shape his writings. In 1888 his first short story “His Father’s Mate” was published in the Bulletin. In 1890 he took up a position writing for the Albany Observer.
Henry fell in love with Mary Gilmore, a fellow writer, but she refused his marriage proposal. Years later in 1896 he married Bertha Bredt and had two children. Seeking a wider audience, the family sailed to England in 1900 where he did some of his best writing. Illness, bankruptcy and the English weather among other reasons caused the Lawsons to return to Australia in 1902.
In an unhappy marriage, Henry and Bertha separated and he started drinking heavily. Lawson’s life was filled with disappointments and he became a bitter man. During the years 1905 to 1910 he was in and out of prison for inebriation and non-payment of maintenance. Henry’s sadness became a theme in many of his poems. It was through his writing that he was able to express his feelings about the hardships of bush life, love won and lost, and living in a world that often confused him.
However, his life was not all sadness. He valued the friendships he made while talking to his mates over a beer. He was also known for his kindness to homeless people down on their luck. It was because he felt he didn’t have much luck in his own life that he felt a connection to them.
At the end of his life Lawson became physically and mentally ill. Although he spent time in mental hospitals and rehabilitation sanatoriums, he never really recovered from his problems. Henry Lawson died 2 September 1922, at the age of 55, in Abbotsford, NSW.
Despite his problems, he never lost the people’s admiration. As a sign of respect, the Australian government gave him a state funeral – the first for a writer.
Lawson’s works include:
- 1887 The Wreck of the ‘Derry Castle
- 1887 Golden Gully
- 1888 The Watch on the Kerb
- 1889 The Roaring Days
- 1893 The Great Grey Plain
- 1896 While the Billy Boils
- 1897 The Lights of Cobb and Co
- 1900 On the Track
- 1901 The Country I Come From
- 1901 Joe Wilson and His Mates
- 1901 The Men who made Australia
- 1902 Children of the Bush
- 1905 The Elder Son
- 1905 When I was King
- 1907 Romance of the Swag
- 1907 Send Round the Hat
- 1910 The Skyline Riders
- 1910 The Rising of the Court
- 1911 The Strangers’ Friend
- 1911 Mateship
- 1915 My Army, O, My Army
More Information updated
- Henry Lawson Memorial & Literary Society
- Henry Lawson Festival
- Australian Geographic Timeline: The Life of Henry Lawson
- Australia Government Henry Lawson: Australian writer
- Gulgong Attractions: Henry Lawson Centre
- Madame Tussauds Sydney: Meet Henry Lawson