The themes Henry Kendall wrote about
- steel arms
Thomas Henry Kendall was a nineteenth century Australian poet.
Kendall was born near Ulladulla, New South Wales. He was registered as Thomas Henry Kendall, but never appears to have used his first name. His three volumes of verse were all published under the name of "Henry Kendall". His father, Basil Kendall, was the son of the Rev. Thomas Kendall who came to Sydney in 1809 and five years later went as a missionary to New Zealand.
He received only a slight education. When he was 15 he went to sea with one of his uncles and was away for about two years. Returning to Sydney when 17 years old he found his mother keeping a boarding-school; it was necessary that he should do something to earn a living, and he became a shop-assistant. He had begun to write verses and this brought him in contact with two well-known verse writers of the day, Joseph Sheridan Moore who published a volume of verse, Spring Life Lyrics, in 1864, and James Lionel Michael. Michael, who was a solicitor, took Kendall into his office and gave him the run of his library. He removed to Grafton in 1861 and Kendall was again employed by him for about six months during the following year.
Kendall made another friend in Henry Parkes, who was editing The Empire from 1850 to 1857 and published a few of his youthful verses. In 1862 he sent some poems to the London Athenaeum which printed three of them and gave the author kindly praise. In the same year his first volume, Poems and Songs, was published at Sydney. It was well received and eventually the whole edition of 500 copies was sold. Representations were made to the government, and in 1863 a position was found for the poet in the lands department. He was transferred to the colonial secretary's department in 1864 and appears to have discharged his duties in a conscientious way; his hours were not long and he had some leisure for literature. His salary, originally £150 a year, became increased to £250 and he was able to make a home for his mother and sisters.
In 1868 he married Charlotte Rutter, the daughter of a Sydney physician, and in the following year resigned from his position in the government service and went to Melbourne, which had become a larger city than Sydney and more of a literary centre. Kendall's decision to give up his position must at the time have seemed very unwise. But he had become financially embarrassed before his marriage on account of the extravagance of his family, and his wife found it impossible to live with his mother who had joined the young couple. The elder Mrs Kendall was in fact practically a dipsomaniac, and the poet felt that the only chance of happiness for himself and his wife was to make a fresh start in another city. He was well received by his fellow writers, George Gordon McCrae, Marcus Clarke, Adam Lindsay Gordon and others, but Kendall had none of the qualities of a successful journalist, though some of his work was accepted by the press and George Robertson published his second volume, Leaves from Australian Forests, soon after his arrival. The poem 'Bell-Birds', one of Australia's best-known poems, was published in that volume. The press notices were favourable, one reviewer in his enthusiasm going so far as to say that "Swinburne, Arnold and Morris are indulgently treated if we allow them an equal measure of poetic feeling with Kendall", but comparatively few copies were sold and the publisher made a loss.
The poet found that he could not make a living by literature and, probably by the good offices of George Gordon McCrae, a temporary position was found for him in the government statist's office. Kendall, however, had no head for figures. He did his best but found his tasks hopeless. One day McCrae was called out into the passage to see Kendall, an agitated, trembling figure who told him he must go, he could not stand it any longer. Years later Henry Lawson was to write
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