Louis Becke i(303 works by) (a.k.a. George Lewis Becke; Lewis Becke)
Also writes as: Louis B. ; L. B. ; Tom Denison ; Ula Tula ; Te Matau ; Malie ; Papalagi ; Faifeau
Born: Established: 18 Jun 1855 Port Macquarie, Port Macquarie area, Hastings River area, Mid North Coast, New South Wales, ; Died: Ceased: 18 Feb 1913 Sydney, New South Wales,
Gender: Male
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BiographyHistory

The son of English-born parents, Frederick and Caroline Becke, Louis Becke's father was the Clerk of Petty Sessions at Port Macquarie. Becke did not attend school until age twelve, when his parents moved to Sydney. At 14, however, he accompanied his brother to San Francisco, where he remained for nineteen months and first met the notorious black-birder 'Bully' Hayes, returning to Australia in 1871.

At sixteen he stowed away on a ship to Samoa, where he found work as a bookkeeper in Apia. In 1874 'Bully' Hayes signed him on as supercargo on the Leonora and Becke was aboard when the ship was destroyed during a cyclone in the Caroline Islands. Becke writes vividly of this experience in Ridan, the Devil, and Other Stories (1899). The survivors were stranded until a British warship which had been pursuing Hayes arrived six months later. Although Hayes evaded arrest Becke was transported to Brisbane where he stood trial for piracy, but was acquitted.

Remaining in Queensland, he joined the Palmer River goldrush, worked at Ravenswood Station (1877) and as a bank clerk in Townsville (1878-1879). By April 1880 he was employed as a trader in the Ellice Islands, now Tuvalu. In May 1881 he arrived in Nukufetau, where he married a local girl, Nelea Tikena (see note below). In August he lost everything in a shipwreck and left Tuvalu, leaving his wife behind. He worked briefly in Sydney, then spent several years in New Britain and the Marshall Islands, returning to Australia in 1885.

Becke married Elizabeth (Bessie) Maunsell in February 1886 and worked with the Lands Department in Sydney. In 1888 the family moved to Townsville. In 1890 he worked for the N.S.W. branch of the Royal Geographical Society for a few months before accepting a post as a trader in Noumea. Two years later, in 1892, he returned to Sydney.

Unable to find regular work, Becke turned to writing after meeting Ernest Favenc (q.v.), allegedly in a pub, who introduced him to Bulletin editor J. F. Archibald (q.v.). Archibald encouraged him to draw on his South Sea experiences and his first story 'Tis in the Blood' appeared on 6 May, 1893. A year later he produced his first collection of short stories, By Reef and Palm, and he went on to write thirty-four books, including thirteen novels, six in collaboration with Walter James Jeffery (q.v.), beginning with A First Fleet Family (1895). His further short story collections include The Ebbing of the Tide (1895), Pacific Tales (1897), Rodman the Boatsteerer (1898), Under Tropic Skies (1904), The Call of the South (1908) and 'Neath Austral Skies (1909). Colin Roderick considers his most significant novels 'biographically' are The Adventures of a Supercargo (1906) and The Adventures of Louis Blake (1909).

His books proved popular, but he made little from them because he

had sold them outright. He was declared bankrupt in April 1894,

separated from his wife in 1896, and left for England with his

eight-year-old daughter, Nora, and companion Fanny Sabina Long, with

whom he had two more daughters. His wife attempted to divorce him in

1903 and 1910. Becke, in the meantime, had been through a form of

marriage with Sabina on 22 July, 1908.

Becke managed to raise funds in order to travel to the Pacific to

study folk-lore, but this was apparently unsuccessful as he returned to

Sydney in 1909 and resumed writing for The Bulletin. He was in

debt, persecuted by creditors, and drinking heavily. Ill and alone, he

died of cancer in his hotel on 18 February, 1913. His burial at

Waverley Cemetery was arranged by his Bulletin colleagues. An infant son had predeceased him, dying of lockjaw in 1894, but he was survived by his three daughters.

Principal source: Australian Dictionary of Biography - Online Edition

Notes

  • Day provides the following note (A. Gore Day, Louis Becke, p. 150):

    'The Becke despatch box in the Mitchell Library contains a typewritten letter from W. Telfer Campbell, Deputy Commissioner, Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Betio, 9th October, 1900, to C. R. Swayne, Esq., Nandrulolo, Fiji, as follows:

    "Sir,

    I have the honour to forward herewith, in compliance with your request, a certified extract relating to a marriage performed at Nukufetau, Ellice Group, between Louis (Becke) and Nelea, a native of Nukufetau"

    Fee for application in chambers and for affixing seal of court to the extract amounted to seven shillings and sixpence.'

    No date is given for the marriage. In their book Bad Colonists Thomas and Eves quote a letter from a trader, George Winchcombe, which states that Becke arrived in Nukufetau on 7 May 1881 and left on 14 August 1881. Winchcombe, who admittedly had a poor opinion of Becke, described Nelea Tikena as a 'little girl ... about 14 years old' (p. 118).

Personal Awards

1913 recipient Commonwealth Literary Fund Fellowships Awarded to his widow Fanny Becke
Last amended 3 Nov 2016 10:49:50
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