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Henry Lawson was born on the Grenfell goldfields not far from the mine workings on June 17, 1867. His parents were Niels Hertzberg Larsen, a Norwegian seaman who jumped ship in Melbourne Victoria in 1855 and Louisa Albury, who was later to be strong supporter of the Australian Women's Suffrage Movement. Henry had four siblings - Charles William, Peter James, twins Gertrude Eloise and Annette Elizabeth, the latter who died in 1878. Henry's early schooling was at Eurunderee Public School and after an ear infection at age nine, he suffered some hearing loss, in the following years he progressively became profoundly deaf by fourteen. He had a very abnormal childhood because of the difficulties of learning and the social stigma that was attached to being deaf of the times, he was psychologically isolated from participating in a normal childhood, he was quite often bullied at school and in later life Lawson wrote that his deafness, "was to cloud my whole life, to drive me into myself, and to be, in great measure responsible for my writing".
The Lawson family moved following each new goldfield find during Henry’s early childhood. In about 1870 they settled on a selection at Eurunderee near Mudgee, where Peter built the two-roomed timber house Henry would later weave into many of his stories later in life. Receiving only three years formal education, Henry helped to run the family selection when Peter's building work took him away from home. Around 1880 Henry left school to work with his father and learned to enjoy the company of working men but also discovered a taste for alcohol which helped him overcome his shyness associated with his deafness. By now his parents marriage had become strained and in about 1882 Louisa Lawson left for Sydney taking all children, Henry later joined her at the boarding house she was running. In 1884 Henry took a job as a carriage painter with Hudson Brothers at Clyde, near Granville, studying for his matriculation at night. Again, he found study and juggling full-time work difficult, and failed his university entrance exams several times.
Louisa Lawson bought shares in the pro-federation newspaper "The Republican" in 1887, Henry helped his mother edit and print this in the family cottage and in 1888 his mother started the publication of the feminist journal "The Dawn" and some of Henry's early works were published in both. His mother's "The Dawn" was to print Henry's first book, Short Stories in Prose and Verse in 1894. It was on October 1 1887 in the Bulletin newspaper that Henry's first poem "Song of the Republic" was published, he was described by the newspaper as a 17 year old young Australian who had an imperfect education when in fact he was 20 years old. He was to work for a number of newspapers but it was to the Bulletin he became a regular contributor. The successfull short story "The Drovers Wife" was published by the Bulletin in July 1892 and in September 1892 he travelled to drought-stricken western New South Wales on the suggestion of J. F. Archibald, co-owner and editor of the Bulletin where he witnessed the hardship and oppression of outback existence. This experience influenced his work for the remainder of his life.
Henry then went to Wellington New Zealand where he met New Zealand Times journalist Tom L Mills who helped Henry get a job as a telegraph linesman in the Malborough district South Island. He returned to Sydney New South Wales on 29 July 1894 and was offered a position on the newly formed Daily Worker only to see it wound up days later. He consoled himself with alcohol and Bohemian exploits with a circle of friends that now included J. Le Gay Brereton and Jack Moses. The release in December 1894 of "Short Stories in Prose and Verse", did little to lift his spirits or his finances. 1895 saw improvements for Henry with his contract to write 2 books for Angus and Robertson and while visiting a famous gathering-point for radicals, the bookshop of Henry McNamara a unionist and socialist, he met 18 year old Bertha Marie Louise Bredt, whose sister married Jack Lang, a future Labour Party Premier of New South Wales. After a short courtship and despite being made aware of Henry's alcohol problem, Bertha married Henry April 15, 1896 in Sydney, it was to be a short and unhappy marriage for both.
Both "In the Days when the World was Wide and other Verses" and "While the Billy Boils" were released in the year of his marriage and both books were a success. Henry was now a writer of note and he embarked on an escapade of all night drinking and meetings with the likes of Victor Daley, Bertram Stevens, Fred Broomfield and of course his old mates, J. Le Gay Brereton and Jack Moses, they were well known in social circles and newspapers as the Dawn and Dusk Club, with one newspaper branding them the Bar Bumming Bards. Henry and wife Bertha sailed for Western Australia in the hope that Henry would gain material by visiting the goldfields. Unfortunately they had little luck in the West, and Lawson's drinking was making him impossible to live with and returned to Sydney in October that year. Henry's infatuation with a young bookkeeper called Hannah Thorburn and his drinking caused his wife Bertha to go to the offices of the Bulletin and ask the editor, J. F. Archibald for two passages to New Zealand, and for letters to people who might help her husband gain work. In March 1897 they went to the eastern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Here Henry was appointed teacher of a little school in a Maori village of Kaikowara, where he worked hard and curbed his drinking, according to Bertha, and began writing "Joe Wilson and his Mates". Bertha became pregnant here and Henry received an offer for rights to a book from Methuen Publishing of London, he resigned his post as teacher in November 1897. The Lawson's son, Joseph Henry was born in Wellington New Zealand on February 10, 1898 and they returned to Sydney March 1898. Henry immediately returning to his old ways as member of the Dawn and Dusk Club and spent time in a sanitorium for alchoholics in late 1898. He steadily wrote for the Bulletin and other papers, as well as the material for three more books, "On the Track" and "Over the Sliprails", both collections of stories, and "Verses Popular and Humorous".
Henry's Daughter, Bertha Marie Louise was born born February 11, 1900 and the family departed for England aboard the SS Damascus on 20 April 1900, Henry was convinced that he could make enough money to keep the family. Their passage had been subsidised by contributions from the governor of New South Wales, Earl Beauchamp, and the wealthy bibliophile David Scott Mitchell. Henry hoped for the kind of literary success in England which he felt the small size of the Australian market had denied him. His career in London began promisingly after he contracted with the prominent literary agent J. B. Pinker, through whom Lawson’s writing including his famous ‘Joe Wilson’ stories were published in influential periodicals like Blackwood’s Magazine. However, Henry soon returned to drinking in London, and Bertha suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalised in an asylum for several months. Desperate for money once again, Henry’s own health deteriorated, the quality of his work suffered, and the family returned to Sydney in early 1902. While on a trip to Melbourne Victoria in July 1902, he discovered that Hannah Thorburn had died June 1, 1902.
From this time his life took a downward spiral into despair, continual drunkeness and poverty. He attempted suicide on December 6, 1902 and the following year his wife Bertha who was 6 months pregnant, obtained a judicial separation from their marriage, citing her husband’s habitual drunkenness and alleging physical abuse. Henry continued to write and published a number of further collections of poetry and of prose, but his best writing was finished and the last twenty years of his life were a sad decline into alcoholism and abject poverty. He had long periods of homelessness and became a beggar on Sydney’s streets, he was frequently gaoled for non-payment of child support, and spent time in asylums and hospitals for mental illness. The generosity of publishers like George Robertson, J. F. Archibald, numerous friends and his landlady Mrs Byers (nee Ward), sustained Henry at times, but his health and state of mind continued to decline. In 1915 WA Holman, the New South Wales Premier, arranged for Henry to live in a house in the irrigation district of Leeton in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, where he wrote pieces publicising the area. It did not take long for Henry to arrange to have grog smuggled in to what, at the time, was classified as a 'dry' area. In 1917 he returned to Sydney, still writing, still drinking, and was often seen with his hat out down at Circular Quay and reciting his works. On 2 September 1922, halfway through writing a story, Henry was to die in the small cottage in which he was living in Abbotsford, Sydney of cerebral haemorrhage.
The Australian Commonwealth Government decreed him a State funeral, in recognition of his services to Australia, the first writer to be given one. In 1949 Henry Lawson was the subject of an Australian postage stamp and Henry was featured on the first (paper) Australian ten dollar note issued in 1966 when decimal currency was first introduced into Australia. This note was replaced by a polymer note in 1993 and Henry was pictured against scenes from the town of Gulgong in NSW.
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