Henry Lawson was born on June 17, 1867, in Grenfell, Australia. He wrote short stories and ballad-like poems, illuminating the lives of rural, working Australians. Lawson is often called "Australia's greatest writer." During the colonial period, he traveled extensively, and was frequently published in the Bulletin. He died impoverished in 1922.
Early Life and Works
Born on June 17, 1867, in Grenfell, Australia, Henry Lawson is considered one of the leading writers of Australia's colonial period. Lawson had a difficult childhood. His father, Niels (also known as Peter), a Norwegian immigrant, spent much of Henry's early years searching for gold, leaving his mother, Louisa, on her own much of the time. Beginning at a young age, Lawson had to shoulder a lot of responsibility in caring for his family.
After his mother helped establish a school in their area, when Lawson was around the age of 8 or 9, he began his education. He experienced a personal setback, however, after an illness left him partly deaf. Lawson only had a few years of schooling, leaving him sensitive about his educational background for the rest of his life.
Lawson joined his mother in Sydney after she separated from his father. There, he published his first poem in 1887. Inspired by the riots against the monarchy during Queen Victoria's jubilee, Lawson wrote "A Song of the Republic," which appeared in the Bulletin. Lawson soon wrote poems and stories for other publications as well, including "Andy's Gone with Cattle," and even became a journalist for a short time with the Brisbane Boomerang.
Popular Poet and Writer
In 1892, Lawson was sent on assignment by the Bulletin to report on life in the western part of New South Wales. He was stunned by the challenges faced by the inhabitants of this drought-stricken region. The trip served as inspiration for a number of his literary efforts. His mother published both the Republican and the Dawn publications. With her help, Lawson was able to put out his first collection, Short Stories in Prose and Verse, in 1894.
Lawson landed a book contract with Angus and Robertson. Through them, he published the poetry volume In the Days When the World Was Wide and the popular short story collection While the Billy Boils—both in 1896. Around this same time, Lawson met his future wife, Bertha Marie Louise Bredt. The pair wed in 1896 and eventually had two children together, son Joseph and daughter Bertha.
In 1900, Lawson went to London, England, with his family, hoping to become a literary sensation, but the trip proved to be a personal and professional disappointment. Lawson did, however, manage to write four stories featuring Joe Wilson during this time—considered to be among his best works of fiction.
In 1902, Lawson moved back to Sydney with his family. He was so despondent that he attempted suicide that December. The following year, his wife officially separated from him. Lawson spent his later life struggling with mental health issues and alcohol. He ended up in jail on occasion for public drunkenness and for failing to pay support for his children.
Lawson died of a cerebral hemorrhage on September 2, 1922, in Abbotsford, Australia. After his death, Lawson was heralded as one of the country's leading literary figures. He was even given a state funeral, which was attended by a number of prominent officials.
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