Childhood & Early Life
Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson was born to Niels Hertzberg Larsen and his wife, Louisa, in the town of Grenfell, New South Wales, on June 17, 1867. Niels, who later changed his name to Peter Lawson to sound more English, was a miner from Norway. His wife was a homemaker who later became a feminist writer and publisher.
On October 2, 1876, the young boy began his schooling at Eurunderee, New South Wales. Due to an infection in his ear, he suffered from partial hearing impairment, which became worse by the time he turned fourteen. With his hearing ability completely gone, a teacher, John Tierney, helped the shy boy cope with studies.
When later Henry joined a school in Mudgee, New South Wales, another teacher, Mr. Kevan, was also kind to the deaf boy, and instilled in him a love for poetry. Since the child couldn't hear, reading formed a major role in his education. He was particularly fond of English writers, Frederick Marryat and Charles Dickens.
By then, his parents, who had a troublesome marriage, were separated, and his mother, Louisa was living in Sydney with her other children. In 1833, Henry moved to his mother's house, after assisting his father in his work, at the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales.
While living with his mother, he studied at night, while going to work in the morning. Despite his best efforts, the young Lawson ended up failing in his matriculation exams.
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On October 1, 1887, Henry's first work of literature, a poem titled 'A Song of the Republic', was published in 'The Bulletin' magazine. He also published the poems, 'The Wreck of the Derry Castle' and ‘Golden Gully'.
He also began contributing to 'The Republican' a newspaper owned by his mother, Louisa. Within the next three years, he had published a few more poems, including 'Andy's Gone with Cattle', and 'Faces in the Street', making a name for himself as a poet.
In 1891, the young poet worked for the journal, 'Boomerang', but quit after 7-8 months. He also wrote for and edited a Brisbane newspaper, 'The Worker', founded by journalist, William Lane. He applied for the job of an editor to 'The Australian Worker', in Sydney, but was rejected.
Lawson continued to contribute his poetry to 'The Bulletin', in Sydney, on a regular basis. The magazine sponsored a trip for the poet to New South Wales, in 1892, where he found employment in an oil field, at the Toorale Station.
He also found that the picture of greenery depicted in poems about the state of New South Wales, was a myth, and the reality was that it was an extremely dry region.
This led to what is known as the 'Bulletin Debate', where Henry's poem, 'Up the Country', was published in the magazine, on July 9, 1892. As a reply, another famous poet, Banjo Paterson wrote the poem, 'In Defence of the Bush', and the debate continued.
In 1896, a book titled, 'While the Billy Boils', containing Lawson's works of prose meant to be an extension of his debate with poet Paterson, was published.
The prolific writer was also known for his 'sketch stories', a genre where the plot is extremely shot, and sometimes even absent. His most popular work of this kind is titled 'On the Edge of a Plain'.
He was also a part of the 'Dawn and Dusk Club', in 1898, where writers would meet up and talk over alcohol.From 1900-02, the gifted writer wrote several short stories like 'Over the Sliprails', 'On the Track', 'The Loaded Dog', and 'A Child in the Dark, and a Foreign Father'. He also published collections of poems like, 'Verses, Popular and Humorous', and 'My Army, O, My Army! and Other Songs'.
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In 1903, Lawson's life was steeped in poverty, and he began staying in a room at North Sydney's 'Coffee Palace'. The inn was owned by Mrs Isabel Byers, who became close friends with the writer, and did all she could to support him financially, as well as help him continue to publish his works.
During 1904-08, Henry continued writing, publishing books like, 'Joe Wilson', 'When I Was King', 'The Romance of the Swag', and 'Send Round the Hat'.
In 1908, the brilliant writer penned down, 'One Hundred and Three', a poem depicting his life at the Australian prison, 'Darlinghurst Gaol'. The prison was where he was held after his wife pressed charges for not paying their child's maintenance and his addiction to alcohol.
From 1909-19, books by Lawson, like 'The Skyline Riders and Other Verses', and 'For Australia and Other Poems', amongst several others, were published.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1896, Henry got married to Bertha Marie Louise Bredt, the daughter of a renowned feminist of the same name. The relationship, though unhappy and short-lived, bore the couple two children, Joseph and Bertha.
Throughout his later years, the writer fought against his dire poverty, and his addiction to alcohol. In this struggle, he was helped extensively by his landlady, Mrs Isabel Byers.
In 1922, the renowned Australian writer succumbed to cerebral haemorrhage, at Mrs. Byer's house, in Sydney's Abbotsford, suburb.
He was the first person to be given a state funeral by New South Wales. The service saw the presence of the seventh Prime Minister Billy Hughes, and several common citizens. He was later buried at the 'Waverley Cemetery', located in Sydney's Bronte suburbs.
This celebrated writer has been commemorated in several ways in his homeland of Australia. Sydney houses a statue of the poet in bronze, at an open space of land called 'The Domain', commissioned in 1927, to artist George Washington Lambert, by the 'Henry Lawson Memorial Committee'.
In 1949, this famous writer from Australia featured on a postage stamp of the country.
His portrait has also been used on the first Australian paper note of ten dollar denomination, in 1966.