Henry Kendall was born on the New South Wales south coast in 1839. After a brief education he spent two years at sea on his uncle's ship. His first poetry was published in the Month in 1859. Inspired by Charles Harpur, Kendall's poetry appeared in many newspapers and periodicals in Sydney and Melbourne over the next ten years. His first collection, Poems and Songs, appeared in 1862. These poems attracted praise in Australia and England. In 1868 Kendall married Charlotte Rutter and moved from Sydney to Melbourne, resigning from the civil service and taking up journalism to support himself. He contributed to newspapers and journals, often using pseudonyms, and edited the Humbug, the Touchstone and Williams's Illustrated Australian Annual.
Kendall's marriage soon faltered. Additional family pressures and alcoholism took their toll on Kendall and he was committed to the Gladesville Hospital for the Insane for treatment. By 1876 Kendall had recovered his health. He was rejoined by his wife and children at Camden Haven in Northern New South Wales where he worked as bookkeeper for a sawmill. Kendall's creative output also increased. In 1880, his third collection, Songs for the Mountains, was published. Kendall was appointed inspector of forests in 1881 with the help of Henry Parkes, but this appointment proved exhausting. Kendall fell ill and died in August 1882.
Kendall's literary reputation rests primarily on his lyric poetry, but critics in the 1980s and 1990s revealed the significant themes and controlled narrative skill of Kendall's longer poems. Kendall's occasional verse also attracts interest for the light it sheds on nineteenth century literary culture. Kendall is now widely regarded as one of the most important poets of the colonial period.