Henry Lawson 17 June 1867 – 2 September 1922

Henry Lawson  7 June 1867 – 2 September 1922
Henry Lawson

The following account of Henry Lawson's life was written on the day of his death (2 September 1922), by Arthur H. Adams, and published in The Sun (Sydney) on the same day.


Death This Morning


"Our Poet Laureate"

(By Arthur H. Adams)

Henry Hertzberg Lawson, the unappointed poet-laureate of Australia, died this, morning at Abbotsford, He had been in indifferent health for some considerable time, and recently a paralytic stroke left him considerably weakened and with nothing to do but wait for the end.

Alive, Henry Lawson was a figure inconspicuous and unnoticed in a world that cared little for poetry. He was a child with a singing soul in a world of business men. He was that intrusive, and therefore incomprehensible, thing, a true poet. He went his ways, wrapped in his deafness and his dreams, along the lonely tracks out back, along the crowded Sydney streets lonelier to him amid the throng than the solemn immensities of the sun-burnt plain. His voice was low, his soul was sad, his fine and mournful eyes looked out with a child's wistfulness at this strange world.

He walked amongst us, the living poet-laureate of a now nation, the first articulate voice of our nationhood. Fame was his, though he had no relish for fame; but even the fame he won was confined to the minority that was interested in Australian literature, he happened to be a poet in a world that, as always, is too busy to notice poets. 


Now that he has written "Finis" to his work in prose and poetry it is possible to estimate his claim on the nation's remembrance. More than one critic has claimed for him the proud place of our greatest national poet. His works have attracted the attention of critics overseas, and have been translated into several European languages. Professor Saillens, of the University of Paris, claims for him "a genuine comprehension of what is deeply and eternally human." He was, above all, an Interpreter of Australia. He was a poet who was in the best sense a realist. He was the most typical figure produced in Australian literature. 

The stylist in prosedy may cavil at his lack of form. He utilised long swinging measures that must have marched with his sundowner's slow stride over the plains. His stories and his poems startled by their sudden illumination of the human soul. And to those who love literature some of his songs are house hold words, and some of his characters are as alive as those of Dickens. The simplicity of his method needs no emphasis; but those who wish to recall what poignancy can be put into a little set of verses, telling a simple story, as old as civilisation, should read again "The Slipralls and the Spur." And those who wish to glimpse the soul of the man should read the autography of his schoolboy days and life in the humpy at Pipeclay that he wrote In "The Lone Hand" in 1908.


It was in a tent on the goldfields near Grenfell that on June 17, 1867, a boy was born. He was named Henry Hertzberg Lawson. His father was a Norwegian sailor, whose name was Peter Hertzberg Larsen, and who left his ship at Melbourne, attracted by the gold rush. He wandered from one diggings to another, and married Louisa Albury, the daughter of a man from Kent who boasted of gipsy blood, in his veins.

The bush educated this quiet and reflective lad during the first impressionable sixteen years of his life. The mining fields, the selection, the bush, the plains, the lushness and the drought of the new continent burnt into him their deep impress; and though in time he found the cities, his heart never strayed far from his mother, the bush. It may be said of him that he tramped the city streets carrying his bluey packed with vivid memories of the great Out Back.

With little education he came to Sydney; and the world, not knowing what to do with a genuine poet, decided to make a coachpainter of him. In 1833 he learnt this trade, and, impelled by the need of expression within him, attended a night school and studied for an examination at the Sydney University. But the university, which in the future will doubtless study his works and use his collected poems as a text book of an important phase in the history of Australian poetry, had no niche for an uneducated coachpainter. He failed.

Portrait photographs of Henry Lawson (circa 1915-1922)
Portrait photographs of Henry Lawson (circa 1915-1922)


Made doubly sensitive by his deafness, this ambitious youth had no outlet for his ambition. He was attracted by what may be termed the academic Bolshevism of those days that was shaping the Labor Party into birth; and under the stress of his life-long sympathy with the under-dog he broke forth into verse, his "Song of the Republic" appearing in print when he was in the neighborhood of 20 years old.

He found himself a poet! His way was clear. He would sing Australia. Many a man will remember the shock, the sensation, caused by his "Faces in the Street." A new poet, a mere boy, had broken into Australian literature. And seven years later he penned the remarkable poem, and the still more remarkable prophecy, "The Star of Australasia."

The self-same spirit that drives the man to the depths of drink and crime
Will do the deeds in tho heroes' van that live till the end of time.
The living death in the lonely bush, the greed of the selfish town.
And even the greed of the outlawed push is chivalry — upside down.
'Twill he while ever our blood is hot, while ever, the world goes wrong.
The nations rise in a war, to rot in a peace that lasts too long.
And southern Nation and southern State, aroused from their dream of ease
Must sign in the Book of Eternal Fate their stormy histories.

This graphic picture of the future, when "the sons of Australia take to war as their fathers took to sport," has it not been fulfilled by Anzac and France and Palestine? 

In 1890 he went west to Albury, and returning to Sydney he joined his mother, a forceful personality, in the production of "The Dawn," the first Australian paper that advocated woman's political rights.


Always a rover, in succeeding years he wandered, carrying his swag or travelling steerage, all over Australia and New Zealand, an unskilled laborer with a singing voice and a melancholy soul, singing the woes, the struggles, the mateship and the heroisms of the under-dog, outback or in the slums. During those wander-years he was says his brief biography, "engaged in various occupations." He was really engaged in expressing and perfecting his vision of Australia. Among other "occupations" he painted the fence of the Wellington House of Parliament, taught Maori children at a Government school, worked at a sawmill, and was one of a telephone gang repairing lines through the bush. During a portion of 1893 he wrote for the Sydney "Worker," and was its temporary editor. In Sydney a paternal Government found him congenial employment — in the Government Statistician's office, adding up figures. He found it uncongenial.

He had married in 1896, and in 1900 he and his wife voyaged to London. The world's metropolis did not need this authentic voice from Australia; and two years later he came home. 

His widow and his two children survive him. Mrs. Lawson is an Inspector in the State Children's Relief Department. His son James went through Hawkesbury College, and is now on the land. His daughter. Bertha, recently took her B.A. degree at Sydney University.

Funeral of the late Henry Lawson (Australia's Poet) 1922
Funeral of the late Henry Lawson (Australia's Poet) 1922
  1. Henry Lawson (1922, September 2). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 - 1954), p. 4 (FINAL SPORTING). 
  2. Henry Lawson c.1900 - Contributor: Sir John Longstaff 1861-1941 - Reproduced by special permission of the Trustees of the National Gallery, Sydney - Courtesy State Library of Victoria
  3. Portrait photographs of Henry Lawson (between 1915-1922) - Courtesy State Library of Victoria
  4. Funeral of the late Henry Lawson (Australia's Poet) 1922 - Courtesy State Library of Victoria

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