Henry Lawson

Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson (1867 - 1922)

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Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson
Born in Grenfell goldfields, New South Wales, Australiamap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married (to ) in Sydney, New South Wales, Australiamap
Died in Sydney, New South Wales, Australiamap
Profile last modified | Created 28 Apr 2014 | Last significant change: 21 Dec 2018
00:22: Peter Jones edited the Biography for Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson (1867-1922). (Added Find A Grave source) [Thank Peter for this]
This page has been accessed 3,952 times.

Categories: Australian Notables | Australian Journalists | Australian Authors | Australian Poets | Australian Ballad Writers | Sydney, New South Wales | Waverley Cemetery, Bronte, New South Wales | Nominated Profiles | Profile of the Week Winners.

This profile won Profile of the Week the Third Week of December 2014.

  • Jack Thompson Iconic Australian Actor and Orator; ABC interview on Henry Lawson, includes the reading of "The Loaded Dog" which shows classic Australian humour and with the metaphor of Every Dog Has Its Day.


Poster of Australian 1921 film by  director Beaumont Smith
Poster of Australian 1921 film by director Beaumont Smith[1]

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 Home & Post Office, Eurunderee, New South Wales
The Lawson Home & Post Office, Eurunderee, New South Wales

The Lawson family moved following each new goldfield find during Henry’s early childhood. In about 1870 they settled on a selection at Eurunderee[2] 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,[3] 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.

Henry Lawson & J. F. Archibald, co-owner and editor of the Bulletin 1918 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.[4] 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"[5] 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"[6] 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.

Bertha Marie Louise Bredt, 1890
Bertha Marie Louise Bredt, 1890

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.[7] 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[8] 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,[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

Henry Lawson Suicide Attempt. December 6, 1902
Henry Lawson Suicide Attempt. December 6, 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.[12] 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[13] 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.[14]

Henry Lawson's Pen

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.


  1. While The Billy Boils One of 2 books Published in 1896 by Angus and Robertson with short stories and poems by Henry Lawson, and was the title of a movie by Australian Director Beaumont Smith which adapts several stories from the Book.
  2. Lawson Selection The property of Peter Lawson on Gulgong Road Eurunderee, New South Wales, 4 blocks total.
  3. AUSLIT Some of Henry Lawson's short shories feature his experiences working at Hudson Brothers; "Arvie Aspinall's Alarm Clock", Pub 1892. "Two Boys at Grinders Bros", Pub 1900.
  4. sl.nsw.gov.au Selections from A Fragment of Autobiography: Henry Lawson: Vol. 1: "Song of the Republic", 1887. Pages 1 / 7
  5. Song of the Republic This poem promoted notions of brotherhood and equality, and introduced the concept of an ‘Australian identity’
  6. The Drovers Wife Project Gutenburg Ebook, from; While The Billy Boils. Author; Henry Lawson. July 1892.
  7. New Zealand Railways Magazine Title: Henry Lawson: Australia’s Poet and Storyteller: His Connection With New Zealand (vol 9, issue 1). Author; Tom L Mills, Editor of “The Feilding Star. April 2, 1934.
  8. This was 221 Castlereagh Street Sydney, where you could get the books by Engels, Marx, Emile Zola etc, that were prohibited by the Australian Government of the time.
  9. Dawn and Dusk Club The Sydney Morning Herald; Saturday 7 July 1928. Members helped each other whenever they got into difficulties and were true friends.
  10. Teaching Resignation The Inquirer and Commercial News; Friday 19 November 1897.
  11. To Hannah Poem first Published September 1, 1904 as "To Hannah" after Hannah Thorburn's death, but Published as "Spirit Girl" Angus and Robertson 1906, in "When I was King and Other Verses". Henry Lawson was to write many poems in his despair over Hannah Thorburn's death including at least one actual song, Do You Think I Do Not Know
  12. Trove Digital Archives Henry Lawson & Bertha Marie Louise Lawson, Decree Nissi granted on June 4, 1903; The Manaro Mercury, and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser, Friday 5 June 1903.
  13. Leeton New South Wales Description of Henry Lawson's time in Leeton; Author Leeton Shire Council.
  14. Trove Digital Archives Funeral of Henry Lawson; The Australasian, Saturday 9 September 1922.

See also:

  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 21 December 2018), memorial page for Henry Lawson (17 Jun 1867–2 Sep 1922), Find A Grave Memorial no. 8743, citing Waverley Cemetery, Bronte, Waverley Council, New South Wales, Australia ; Maintained by Find A Grave. Find A Grave: Memorial #8743
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography Brian Matthews, 'Lawson, Henry (1867–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published in hardcopy 1986.
  • Author Tour Harper Collins, Publishers Australia. Henry Lawson

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It may be possible to confirm family relationships with Henry by comparing test results with other carriers of his Y-chromosome or his mother's mitochondrial DNA. However, there are no known yDNA or mtDNA test-takers in his direct paternal or maternal line. It is likely that these autosomal DNA test-takers will share DNA with Henry:

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Images: 1
Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson
Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson


On 21 Dec 2014 at 06:25 GMT Cathryn (Hallett) Hondros wrote:

Great read!

On 18 Dec 2014 at 23:07 GMT Judy (Goodman) Wardlow wrote:

Congratulations Terry, Eric! Another solid win!

On 18 Dec 2014 at 20:18 GMT Guy Constantineau wrote:

Congratulations on the winning profile of the week.

On 18 Dec 2014 at 18:42 GMT Laurie Cruthers wrote:

Very impressive profile, Terry. Congrats!

On 18 Dec 2014 at 18:14 GMT Mary Richardson wrote:

Congratulations on the winning profile, Terry. It is great. But all of your profiles are always great.

On 18 Dec 2014 at 17:50 GMT Paula J wrote:

Congratulations on winning Profile of the Week!!

Henry is 31 degrees from Robin Helstrom, 33 degrees from Katy Jurado and 24 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

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