The material on this page is available to AustLit subscribers. If you are a subscriber or are from a subscribing organisation, please log in to gain full access. To explore options for subscribing to this unique teaching, research, and publishing resource for Australian culture and storytelling, please contact us or find out more.
Will Ogilvie, poet and journalist, was born at Holefield, near Kelso, Scotland, 'in the shadow of the Cheviot Hills'. Ogilvie was educated as a boarder at Kelso High School and by the Reverend D.A. Firth, a noted classical scholar, at St. Michael's Vicarage, Malton in Yorkshire. He went to Fettes College, Edinburgh, at the age of twelve, excelling in athletics and scholarship. He won the major prize for Latin verse. With the support of his parents, he travelled to Australia in 1889, attracted to the country by his love of horses and the verse of Adam Lindsay Gordon. It was his intention to purchase land and settle in Australia but the droughts of the 1890s dissuaded him.
For twelve years, Ogilvie worked in outback Australia as a drover and horsebreaker, travelling throughout Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia. He spent two and a half of those years on Warrego Station on the New South Wales/Queensland border and his last four years at Choegly in the Forbes district. It was here that he became a close friend of Harry Morant. In 1892, Ogilvie was working at Maaoupe, Penola, South Australia when he met his lifelong friend Gordon Tidy (q.v.), tutor to the family. Tidy encouraged Ogilvie's literary development and suggested he submit a poem to the Sydney Bulletin. On 21 April 1894, 'Beyond the Barrier' was published by that magazine under the pen-name 'Glenrowan'.
During his time in Australia, Ogilvie published hundreds of poems in the Bulletin, the Sydney Mail, and other newspapers. His best-known poems include the often-anthologised 'The Death of Ben Hall' and 'Fair Girls and Gray Horses'. Admired by critics such as Vance Palmer and H. M. Green , Ogilvie's verse derived from the Scottish border ballads. On his departure from Australia in 1901, a farewell banquet was organised in Sydney by Louise Mack and Victor Daley; the latter described him as occupying the highest rung in the ladder of Australian poetry. His Australian verse was collected in a number of volumes and he wrote an account of his time in Australia in My Life in the Open (1908). In 1952, R. M. Williams published the compilation Saddle for a Throne in which Vance Palmer wrote that Ogilvie was the only one of the overseas-born poets 'who adapted himself to the spirit of this country, and could write of it with lyrical abandon.' (p.xvi).
In Scotland, Will Ogilvie settled back into the life of a countryman, supported by freelance journalism. He wrote many articles, verse, and prose for magazines in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1905-1907, he was employed by Iowa State College in the United States as an instructor in agricultural journalism but found the academic life 'too narrow and enclosed after eleven years in the Australian bush' (Ogilvie, Will H. Ogilvie: Balladist of Border and Bush 39-40). Ogilvie returned to Scotland and married Katherine Margaret Scott Anderson, daughter of the Master of the Jed Forest Fox Hounds and an Australian mother, in 1908. They had a son and a daughter. During World War I, he volunteered for the Army Remount Department as he was too old for active service. Over the years, Ogilvie published eighteen books of Scottish verse and prose, and became known in the United Kingdom predominantly for outdoor and sporting verse. He died at Ashkirk, Scotland, in 1963.