Also writes as: Joe Swallow ; An Australian Exile ; Tally ; The Exile ; Smoko (?) ; Jack Cornstalk ; The Ghost ; Rumfellow ; Cervus Wright ; Henry Hertzberg Larsen ; 'Arry
Born: Established: 17 Jun 1867 Grenfell ; Died: 2 Sep 1922 Abbotsford
Henry Lawson was born at Grenfell, New South Wales, in 1867 to Niels Hertzberg (Peter) Larsen and his wife Louisa Lawson. His name was registered as 'Henry (Lawson) Larsen' and both his father and mother later used the anglicised version of their name. Lawson was educated briefly at several schools, but was sometimes kept home by his father to help with his carpentry. At the age of nine Lawson experienced problems with his ears and suffered partial deafness for the rest of his life. Lawson worked for his father until 1883 when he joined his mother, Louisa, in Sydney. Here he worked as a coach painter and became interested in the republican movement. He also assisted his mother with her periodical, the Republican, in which Lawson published his first prose piece. His first poem, 'A Song of the Republic', was published by the Bulletin in 1887.
During the 1890s Lawson wrote his most admired work. His first collection of verse was published by Louisa Lawson's Dawn press in 1894, but his reputation was sealed in 1896 when a collection of his short stories, While the Billy Boils, and an anthology of his poetry, In the Days When the World was Wide, were published by Angus and Robertson. Lawson's enduring reputation is built on his prose works, making While the Billy Boils a landmark in Australian literature. In 1901 Lawson published Joe Wilson and His Mates, adding another classic collection of Australian stories to his name. Lawson became, for many twentieth century critics, the personification of Australian literature. The images of the bush and bush people in Lawson's best stories have remained influential. Some characters, such as the "drover's wife", have become icons that continue to be interpreted from various critical perspectives. But Lawson's subsequent work did not achieve the same quality. The vivid descriptions of Australia and the symbolic resonances in Lawson's earlier work were never matched.
Lawson's artistic decline accompanied his decline into alcoholism and mental illness. He married Berthe Bredt in 1896 and they travelled to New Zealand and England while Lawson attempted to attract more financial reward for his writing. But, following their return to Sydney in 1902, Lawson lived apart from his family. He spent time in gaol for failing to pay maintenance and became a well known figure in Sydney as a drunk and beggar. His friends and supporters found work for him and sometimes removed him from the city. Lawson continued to write prose and poetry, but this work remained far beneath his earlier levels of excellence. In 1920 a pension from the Commonwealth Literary Fund provided some financial security. Henry Lawson died of a cerebral haemorrhage at Abbotsford in 1922.