By Ron Breznay (originally published on December 23, 2008 in Hellnotes)
The Authors and Their Works
Marcus Clarke (1846-1881)
Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke was born in London, England, on April 24, 1846, and had a privileged upbringing. In 1863, after his father lost the family fortune, Clarke moved to Australia, where his uncle, James Langton Clarke, was a judge. He first took a clerk position at the Bank of Australasia, but he had no aptitude for business, so in 1865 he moved to his uncle’s sheep stations on the Wimmera River in Victoria. He enjoyed station life and eventually sought his own land, but that expedition proved disastrous as he lost a great deal of money and a companion lost his life. He returned to Melbourne in 1867. He married Marian Dunn, an actress, in 1869, and they had six children.
Soon after moving to Australia, he started writing stories for Australasian Magazine. In 1867, after returning to Melbourne, he became a staff writer for Argus, penning a column, often humorous, entitled “The Peripatetic Philosopher.” He later went on to the Melbourne Herald, the Daily Telegraph, and the Age. He also wrote for the theater, including pantomimes, comedies, and operettas. He was involved with the Melbourne Public Library, first as a secretary to the trustees and later as an assistant librarian.
His writings appeared in Australian Monthly Magazine, which he later bought and edited (1868-1869) under the new title of Colonial Monthly. He also published in The Australasian and other periodicals, and edited the Australian Journal.
His most famous work is the novel His Natural Life, which was originally serialized in Australian Journal from 1870 to 1872. It was published in book form in 1874, and a different version, For the Term of His Natural Life, was published posthumously in 1884-1885. The novel tells the tale of Rufus Dawes, a young man convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and transported to Australia. The book is a powerful indictment of the harsh and inhumane treatment convicts received, some of whom were guilty of only minor crimes. Clarke based his novel on research as well as a visit to a penal colony at Port Arthur.
Clarke became an important literary figure in Australia and was the center of a bohemian circle of artists. Despite his success, he had financial difficulties. He died on August 2, 1881, in Melbourne, of erysipelas (a bacterial infection).
Jessie Couvreur (aka Tasma) (1848-1897)
Jessie Catherine Couvreur was born in London, England, on October 28, 1848, to James and Charlotte Huybers. She emigrated with her family to Hobart Town, Tasmania, in 1852, where her father had a prosperous warehousing and merchant business. She married Charles Fraser on June 8, 1867, but they proved not to be a good match. In 1879, they separated due to Fraser’s gambling, obsession with horse-racing, financial problems, and roving eye, and Jessie moved back to Europe. She started a successful career lecturing on Australia throughout Europe. She journeyed to Australia in 1883 to divorce Fraser, after which she returned to Europe. In 1885, she married Auguste Couvreur, a Belgian politician and journalist. They lived in Brussels, where she began to write novels and enjoy a life of culture and politics. After her husband died in 1894, she took over as the Brussels correspondent of the London Times newspaper. At the time, it was unheard of for a woman to be a foreign correspondent for the Times.
Jessie, using the pseudonym Tasma, began publishing articles and stories in Australian periodicals in 1877. Her first publication was an article, “A Hint to the Paris Commissioners,” published in the Australasian. Her first short story, “Barren Love,” appeared in 1878. The collection A Sydney Sovereign and Other Tales was published in 1890.
Her first and best-known novel, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill (1888), was well-received in both Australia and England. A London newspaper described her as the “Australian Jane Austen” and also compared her to Charles Dickens and others. The novel tells the tale of a nouveau riche Melbourne family that gained wealth in the Australian goldfields and lived a life of aristocratic pretension.
Her other novels were In Her Earliest Youth (1890), The Penance of Portia James (1891), A Knight of the White Feather (1894), Not Counting the Cost (1895), and A Fiery Ordeal (1897). She used the trials and tribulations of her first marriage in many of her novels.
Jessie died of a coronary thrombosis in Brussels on October 23, 1897.
B.L. Farjeon (1838-1903)
Benjamin Leopold Farjeon was born in London, England, on May 12, 1838. At age 14, he learned the printing trade while working for the Nonconformist, a Christian journal. Religious differences with his parents prompted his move to Victoria, Australia, in 1854. On board ship, he produced several issues of the ship’s newspaper, the Ocean Record, which earned him an upgrade from steerage to cabin class. When he reached Victoria, he worked as a gold miner for seven years. In 1861, he moved to Dunedin, New Zealand, taking a job at a newspaper, the Otago Daily Times, where he started out as a journalist and later became manager and sub-editor. During this time, he began to write novels and plays.
In 1866, he published Shadows on the Snow: A Christmas Story. He dedicated the book to Charles Dickens, who then wrote him a letter. This encouraged Farjeon to return to England in 1868 to write. He penned over 50 books, including crime, mystery, supernatural, and occult fiction, with some of the books related to Australia. Among his horror works were Devlin the Barber (1888), the title character of which is similar to Sweeney Todd; A Strange Enchantment (1889), the tale of an occult detective; The Last Tenant (1893), about the ghost of a cat; Something Occurred (1893), a somewhat humorous tale of an unholy bargain; and the occult tale The Clairvoyante (1905).
In 1877, he married Margaret Jane Jefferson, and they had four children, including three who were involved in the arts. Eleanor was a well-known children’s author most noted for the often-anthologized ghost story “Faithful Penny Dove.” Herbert was a literary critic and dramatist. Harry become a well-known musician and composer.
Farjeon died in Hampstead, England, on July 23, 1903.