Biography of Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson was one of Australia’s most famous and beloved writers, distinguished in both poetry and short stories. He is part of the “Bush Ballad” school of poetry, and more generally the realist tradition of writing. He was born on June 17th 1867 in Grenfell, New South Wales. His father worked as a gold prospector and former sailor, and his mother was a feminist and social radical. While a young boy Lawson developed an illness that led to a hearing deficiency, which later became near-deafness. This descent into deafness was one of the most important catalysts for his turn to writing.

Lawson attended school sporadically and then worked for his father, who had become a building contractor. After his parents separated he moved with his mother to Sydney. There he was apprenticed to a coach-painter in Clyde, a suburb of Sydney. Around this time he started writing poems and publishing them in the Sydney press. He took up editing the Republican, a weekly radical paper his mother published. In 1891 he became a reporter for the Boomerang, a radical paper in Brisbane. He contributed poems and political pieces, and decided at this time that he wanted to be a writer.

Sydney was a tough period of Lawson's life; he did not have a permanent abode and drank heavily, but he published many pieces. He turned his attention to the Australian bush, and engaged in a debate with another poet whom Lawson accused of romanticizing the isolated countryside. In 1892 the Bulletin sent Lawson to the bush to report objectively on the lives of the people there; this was an important experience for Lawson, who was deeply impressed with the resilience of the bushmen as they bore out a drought. His time there provided rich material and inspiration for much of his writing in future years.

Lawson engaged with socialist and literary circles. He spent a few months in 1893 in New Zealand, and returned in 1894 to take up a post at the Daily Worker. In the meantime, though, the paper had folded; Lawson continued to drink and carouse. That year, he published his first collection of short stores, Short Stories in Prose and Verse. Other collections followed and were both popular and critical successes. Unfortunately it was not enough to provide him a decent living, and he grew frustrated.

In 1896 Lawson married, but the marriage soon became strained over his dissolution and spending. For a time they lived in New England, where Lawson worked as a teacher, but they returned to Sydney when he grew weary of it. He became a clerk in the public service and wrote more. He entered a rehab center for alcoholism and committed himself to be a teetotaler, which resulted in a burst of creativity and work in 1900.

That year Lawson and his family traveled to England, a trip he had long desired. It was financed by contributions from Australian leaders hoping to promote literary connections. While things started out promisingly enough, Lawson returned to drink and his wife collapsed and had to enter an asylum. This trip to London ended in failure, and the family had to return to Sydney.

Upon the return Lawson tried to commit suicide, and the following year his wife procured a judicial separation. Lawson continued to write, but never again reached the creative heights of his earlier work. His life was difficult, and at times he was homeless, a beggar, and in and out of asylums and hospitals for mental illness; he was also jailed for not paying child support. In September of 1922 he died of a cerebral hemorrhage.


Study Guides on Works by Henry Lawson

The poem Andy’s gone with the cattle is a poem published in 1888 in The Australian Town & Country Journal. The poem is written by the Australian writer Henry Lawson and the poem is followed by a sequel entitled Andy’s return, published in the...

"The Drover's Wife" is one of Lawson's most famous short stories. Set in the Australian bush, it is the tale of a woman facing off against a snake in order to protect herself and her children. The character's stoicism and quiet heroism, as well as...

“Freedom on the Wallaby” is probably Henry Lawson’s most famous poem. Packed with the passion of political revolt, it is a radical act as much as it is a simple bit of verse. The stimulus for Lawson to compose the poem was the Australian shearers’...

“The Loaded Dog” was published in 1901 in Henry Lawson’s short story collection titled Joe Wilson and His Mates. Since publication, the story has continued to be one of the most popular of Lawson’s short stories due to the tale’s universally...

Henry Lawson’s sketch story “On the Edge of a Plain” features a recurring character who pops up time and again throughout the author’s canon. The character and at least a few of the incidents he get involved was partly inspired by a real-life...

“The Union Buries Its Dead” is a story written by Henry Lawson, who is an Australian writer and poet. This work cemented Lawson’s status as an author who has shaped Australia’s national mythology. “The Union Buries Its Dead” was published in 2014....