CLARKE, MARCUS ANDREW HISLOP (1846–81)
Marcus Clarke was an iconoclastic ‘man of letters’ in Melbourne in the 1860s and 1870s. He entertained and informed that city’s burgeoning middle class with his satirical newspaper sketches and columns, journalism, essays, plays, pamphlets and fiction. His best-known literary work, For the Term of His Natural Life (1874), was initially written as monthly installments in the Australian Journal. A catalyst for Melbourne’s post-gold rush cultural florescence, Clarke helped to establish a string of literary clubs, notably the Yorick and Cave of Adullam, and promoted a new artistic identity—the urban bohemian writer.
Clarke began a journalistic career in 1867 at the Argus. With his column, the ‘Peripatetic Philosopher’, a blasé, cynical observer of the goings-on of Melbourne society and types, he succeeded in Australianising the Parisian flâneur, a wandering recorder of urban life and spectacle. He subsequently worked as a freelance journalist for the Melbourne Herald, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and the Melbourne Age, simultaneously serving as sub-librarian of the Melbourne Public Library.
Clarke self-published and edited the Colonial Monthly in 1868–69; it was a vehicle for emerging writers and illustrators, later absorbed into the Australian Journal (1865–1962), which he edited for a time. For the theatre, he wrote adaptations of French classics, as well as pantomimes, burlesques and comic musicals. Clarke’s sense of the cutting edge was apparent in his slum journalism, drawn from incognito forays into Melbourne’s ‘lower bohemia’ of homeless shelters, brothels and criminal warrens. A growing interest in the psychological and social effects of punishment, and the legacy of convictism, inspired a documentary series of articles on the penitentiary at Port Arthur, and then his novel.
In 1881, an insolvent Clarke lost his position at the library, forfeited his home and died suddenly at age 35. His enduring contribution to the late 19th-century Australian press was the refinement of a modern style of journalism to describe, celebrate and critique the colonial city.
REFs: L.T. Hergenhan (ed.), A Colonial City (1972); A. McCann, Marcus Clarke’s Bohemia (2004).