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Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience



This essay examines Australian books, publishers and writers in England from the beginnings of the twentieth century to the outbreak of the Second World War. By a combination of general overview, individual profiles, case studies and statistical analysis, it aims to show that Australian writers and publishers had an impact on the London literary scene. This was particularly so with Jack Lindsay, P.R. Stephensen and Eric Partridge. Others included W.N. Willis, father and son, issuing pulp fiction under their Anglo-Eastern Publishing Company and Camden Publishing Company imprints. Australian expatriate writers were prolific contributors to the insatiable market for crime and romance novels. Over one hundred Australians had at least one book of creative writing published in London while they were in England at some time between1900-1940. Australian writers who never left their home country had their novels published in London, the phenomenon of the circulating library providing a ready market for now neglected or forgotten writers. Despite the presence of Australians (and Australian originated books) in London, they were not necessary promoting their Australianness or Australia generally. Their contribution was as aspiring writers and journalists who happened to be Australians working alongside, and in competition with, hundreds of others.

There has been much written about the Australian market for English books and visits to Australia by distinguished and successful English writers.1 But what about the trade and movement the other way? Little has been written on the circulation of Australian books in London and the impact of Australian writers and publishers on the English literary scene. This is understandable because there has been a long held assumption that the influence has been negligible or effectively non-existent. But it has not been entirely one-way traffic. This chapter attempts to redress the balance by outlining ways in which Australian books, publishers and Australian writers did have some impact in England, focussing on the period 1900–1940.


In 1900 George Robertson published Henry Lawson’s two books of verse –Verses, Popular and Humorous and Humorous Verses – under a joint Sydney (Angus and Robertson) and London (Australian Book Company) imprint. He had previously published Lawson’s first separate book of verse, In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses (1896), jointly with Young J. Pentland from the latter’s London office. Robertson and Pentland had trained together in Glasgow and remained close friends. Further titles were issued jointly and the two publishers established the Australian Book Company during Robertson’s visit to England in 1899–1900 for the London imprint of Angus and Robertson initiated titles. Robertson also sent copies of his books to Simpkin and Marshall, the London book distributor and publisher.2 As this practice developed the books were sent with a Simpkin and Marshall title-page. In 1902 Angus and Robertson printed 4000 copies of their trade catalogue for inclusion in Whitaker’s Reference Guide of Current Literature. They also made several attempts to compile a list of Anglo-Australians living in London, for ‘[t]hese returned Australians are nearly always wealthy’.3

Two Australians who published their own writings in London in the first decades of the twentieth century were Arthur Maquarie and William Baylebridge. Maquarie, born Arthur Frank Macquarie Mullens in Dubbo, New South Wales, in 1874, changed his name by deed poll to Arthur Maquarie, leaving the ‘c’ out of Macquarie in doing so.4 He graduated from the University of Sydney and then went overseas around 1895. In England he helped prepare Henry Lawson’s London writings for publication and worked as a freelance journalist. He then moved to Florence in Italy and taught English there. He had nine books of verse and plays published by commercial and semi-commercial publishers in London between 1900 and 1915 and it is likely that he paid for or contributed to the production costs. Maquarie reissued some of his books from Florence in attractive bindings from his own Olive Press imprint using sheets printed by the Chiswick Press in London, either those used for the London editions or possibly especially printed for the Olive Press issues. The Olive Press also published some other books by him, the last in 1950. Maquarie died in 1955. William Baylebridge was born William Blocksidge in Brisbane in 1883.5 Educated at Brisbane Grammar School and later by a private tutor, he went to England in 1908, travelled in Europe, and spent some time in the Middle East before returning to Australia in 1919. In London he had three books of verse published by David Nutt under his real name and self-published at least seven books of verse and one of essays either anonymously, as ‘W.B’. or William Blocksidge. Back in Australia he continued to publish his writings privately, mainly as William Baylebridge, including in them revised versions of his earlier works. His published works refer to five other titles that have not been traced and some, if not all of these, may also have been self-published in London. Baylebridge died in 1942.


Two of the more interesting Australians involved in publishing in the second and following decades of the twentieth century were W.N. Willis, father and son of the same name, through their Anglo-Eastern and Camden Publishing companies and ‘their brilliant young author’, ‘Bree Narran’. William Nicholas Willis senior was what might be described as a self-made, knock-about man. Born in Mudgee, New South Wales, in 1858 he followed a variety of occupations, including storekeeper and newspaper proprietor, before winning the NSW Legislative Assembly seat of Bourke as a Protectionist in February 1889.6 In Sydney he established himself as a land and financial agent, advertising that he needed no ‘black-tracker to show him though the land laws’. Holding his seat in 1891, he represented Barwon from 1894–1904. In 1890 Willis co-founded the notorious Truth newspaper. To protect himself from litigation, he sold the paper to partners, including fellow MP, W.P. ‘Paddy’ Crick, and John Norton, although he remained a major shareholder. In 1896 Willis sold his interest to Norton, possibly as a result of blackmail. When his drinking mate and crony, Crick, was Secretary for Lands in 1901–04, Willis was involved in numerous shady land deals. A Royal Commission was appointed in 1905 to inquire into these and Willis promptly fled to South Africa, where he had visited and made money before. He returned to Sydney under police escort in 1906 to face criminal charges with Crick of fraud and conspiracy. But a jury twice failed to convict the pair. Willis left Australia for good around 1909.7

Figure 10.1 This postcard advertisement for one of author Bree Narran’s popular titles stimulates the imagination with images of race, sex, class and a fateful decision about to be made. It was one of many published in Britain by the expatriate Australian father and son team of W.N. Willis and their Anglo-Eastern Publishing Company

Source: John Arnold collection

Cyril Pearl in Wild Men of Sydney summarises Willis’s post-Australian career: He ‘... went to England and became a publisher of cheap pornography. As the “Anglo-Eastern Publishing Company,” he decorated the bookstalls with a series of gaily-jacketed books on prostitution, and gilded vice’.8 There is an implied assessment here based on a judgment of books by their covers and titles rather than one gained by actually reading them. Under his own name Willis was responsible for 15 or so books, most issued by either the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Company or the Camden Publishing Company, but also a few with mainstream publishers. His books campaigned against the evils of ‘the white slave trade’, that is prostitution, and include titles such as Crime of Silence: About the Hidden Plague, The White Slaves of London, White Slaves in a Piccadilly Flat, Why Girls Go Wrong, Western Men with Eastern Morals, and the co-authored The White Slaves of Toil. He also wrote a couple of sporting novels, including Blue Grey: A Sport Abroad and The Lady Jockey.

Willis’s crusade against the evils of the white slave trade was supported, allegedly, by religious figures such as the Bishop of London. He and other dignitaries are quoted in the unsigned preface – headed ‘The Importance of Mr W.N. Willis’s Books’ – to Willis’s Should Girls be Told? The preface begins:


When Mr Willis wrote the first of his several books on the social evil, the public at large was afraid to speak, even in whispers, on the distressing subject. Gradually, however, his untiring and persistent efforts to awaken the national conscience to the system of commercialised vice (with its attendant evil, venereal disease) which thrives in our midst, have succeeded in completely revolutionising public opinion.9

Using the name of Marion Lehane-Willis, Willis wrote a novel entitled The Painted Women. This was another warning against the evils of a sinful life. A young innocent girl, Peg, is taught how to use men by Margaret, a painted woman dying of tuberculosis. Peg must never love any man but must get them to love her so she can use and abuse them at her will: in short to become the ultimate painted woman. Needless to say, after initial success and a life of kept luxury, things go wrong. Peg ends up in the gutter and dies in her late twenties a wreck of a human being.

Although running a campaign to protect girls from the evils of prostitution, and publishing a sexual science series with such titles as Wedded Love or Married Misery and Marriage and Birth Control by ‘Brenda Barwon’, Willis was no supporter of women’s rights. He wrote the following response to Marie Stopes’ Married Love in which she gave a rational and factual account of satisfying sexual intercourse from a woman’s viewpoint:


Let’s us ... in the name of true normal manhood and womanhood and indeed of the name of the British Empire endeavour to keep the imagination down at all costs – never purposely call it into play as suggested by Mrs Stopes ... the human imagination is the most deadly foe to the clean wholesome methods of Nature ...10

Defiance, by ‘Wentworth Oliver’ is one of Willis’s more interesting novels.11 Although melodramatic, Defiance does have an interesting modern theme. It is about a couple, both writers – he successful and established, she just starting out – who deliberately defy convention by deciding to go to Europe to live together. Initially, they have no choice as the man’s estranged wife is still alive, but even after her death the lovers make the conscious decision not to get married despite having children and being snubbed by former acquaintances when they visit England.

The most interesting author in the Anglo Eastern/Camden stable was ‘Bree Narran’.12 He was the author of some 15 novels and numerous translations of risqué French novels such as those by Paul De Kock. The Bree Narran novels are fanciful melodramatic romances, sympathetic to women. They often revolve around an exploitive cad and bounder with a female accomplice who has been trapped into circumstances from which she cannot escape. The cad wins his way into women’s hearts, or cultivates friendship with wealthy young men, and then cleverly relieves them of their money. Good, however, eventually prevails as the villains end up getting their just punishment: usually death, not from the law, but from misadventure when one of their schemes goes badly wrong.

Some have passing Australian references. Six Nights on the Moon involves travel across the world to the Pacific and Australia in an airship. In Seven Nights, set during the war, the heroine is nursing convalescing soldiers, one of whom is a bronzed ANZAC named, somewhat appropriately, Loughlan Macquarie – his Christian name spelt ‘Loughlan’ rather than the ‘Lachlan’ of Governor Macquarie. The nurse and the soldier end up marrying.

Both Cyril Pearl and Miller and Macartney indicate that the Bree Narran novels were written by Willis but his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography suggests they were written by his son, also William Nicholas Willis. A reading of books by Willis senior and those of Bree Narran gave initial support for this interpretation, but further research and correspondence with family members suggests that they were in fact the work of Willis senior.13

The Bree Narran novels appear to have been published from February 1919 to the early or mid-1920s, and possibly none thereafter, while most of the translations by Bree Narran appear to have been published in the early 1930s. It is hard to determine how many were first published before Willis’s death in 1922 and how many after. They are all undated and not all of them are listed in the English Catalogue of Books. Neither are they all held in the British Library.

A further complication is that most of the books, in addition to always having been undated, were also issued at various times by both the Anglo-Eastern Publishing and Camden Publishing companies, although probably initially by the former. Both companies were either formed or owned by Willis senior, although it is possible he had an interest only in the Camden one. This is first listed in the volume of the English Catalogue of Books covering 1906–1910, while both companies appear in the list of publishers in the following volumes covering the years 1911–1935, and then only Camden which continues right up to 1955. At all times, Camden is at the same London address, 323 Upper St, Islington, while the Anglo-Eastern company moves about, but is never at 323 Upper St. Its 1930s and last listed address is in Cecil Court, off Charing Cross Road.

What likely happened was that William Nicholas Willis wrote the Bree Narran books but they were marketed by his entrepreneurial son, Willis Jr, known as Billy. He was born at Randwick, Sydney, in 1898 and enlisted in the 6th Light Horse Regiment of the AIF on March 1916 and as a private saw active service on the battlefields of France.14 He spent a period in London with his father before sailing to Sydney in September 1919 after receiving his discharge. Returning to London a year or so later, he joined his father’s publishing company, taking it over after Willis senior’s death in 1922. As there appears to be little or no publishing activities in the mid to late 1920s, he may have been doing other things during these years, but he reactivated the company in the very early 1930s from the Cecil Court address. However, it was either wound up or went bankrupt in late 1932.15 Willis then moved to Dublin and opened Billy’s Snack Bar, followed by one of the city’s first late night restaurants. In 1939 he opened the Green Rooster and ran it until shortly before his death in 1960. As the Bree Narran novels were still being issued under the Camden imprint in the late 1940s and even in the early 1950s, Willis Jr may have still had an interest, or possibly sold it and allowed the books to be published under license. There are no records so this is all speculation. Various obituaries refer to him as a ‘man of much enterprise and ideas’, ‘a brilliant raconteur’ with ‘a fund of anecdote and reminiscence’.16 Two mention his work in his father’s publishing business but, tellingly, neither makes any reference to his being an author, let alone being ‘Bree Narran’. A 1933 catalogue of the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Company17 lists over sixty titles although it is unlikely that all were actually published. It is here that Bree Narran is described as ‘the world-famous Author, whose sales exceed Three Million Copies’ with One Night and Three Nights leading the way with print runs of over 200,000 each. One has to suspect (or assume) here that Billy Willis is displaying his entrepreneurial and raconteuring skills.

The books of the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Company are more interesting than just postwar cheap pornography, as suggested by Cyril Pearl. They may have had salacious covers, covered somewhat taboo topics, and, today, would be regarded as ‘pulp fiction’. But in the Bree Narran novels and in Defiance, Willis showed that he could write. He certainly had an imagination and there was always a message, whether deliberate or not, in his books. The cad and bounder, in the long run, always got their just punishment. With regard to the novels of Bree Narran, if the company’s sales figures are to be even half-believed, he is without doubt one of Australia’s least known but most successful authors.


In the 1920s, it was three former students from the University of Queensland – Jack Lindsay, P.R. Stephensen and Eric Partridge – who had the most marked influence on the English publishing and literary scene. They were all publishers in the private press movement: Lindsay and Stephensen with the Fanfrolico Press, Partridge with his Scholartis Press and Stephensen with the Mandrake Press.

The Fanfrolico Press18 was founded in Sydney in 1925 by Jack Lindsay and John Kirtley, a stock broker’s clerk but also an aspiring printer. They had already produced a book of Lindsay’s verse19 together and, in 1925, a lavish edition of Jack’s translation of Aristophanes’ verse drama Lysistrata. With the encouragement of Norman Lindsay, they decided to take the press to London. They arrived in May 1926 and issued their first book, a revised edition of their Sydney Lysistrata, the following December. Two further titles followed, Kenneth Slessor’s Earth Visitors and a translation by Lindsay of the complete works of the Roman satirist Gaius Petronius.

With the publication of the Petronius work, Kirtley decided to leave the press and return to Australia. His decision to hand over its operation to Jack Lindsay was due partly to homesickness and partly to scheming between Lindsay and his old University of Queensland friend, P.R. Stephensen, then at Oxford in the last year of his Rhodes Scholarship. Stephensen joined the press as business manager in mid-1927 and brought to it his effervescent energy and enthusiasm. In their 20 or so months together he and Lindsay produced or planned 19 books and launched and published a literary periodical, The London Aphrodite. Their reception and reputation was mixed. Aldous Huxley supposedly parodied the pair in his 1928 novel about postwar bohemian London, Point Counter Point,20 while D.H. Lawrence, in a letter to P.R. Stephenson, was critical of what he saw as their apparent lack of discernment after Jack sent him copies of two Fanfrolico books: ‘[B]ut oh! if you Australians didn’t do it all so easy! It’s as if you could eat a thousand dinners without ever swallowing one of them or having anything in your stomachs: everything just tasty’.21

Stephensen left Fanfrolico to found the Mandrake Press in mid-1929. His place was taken by yet another Queenslander, Brian Penton, later a noted newspaper editor in Australia.22 He joined the Press in September 1929 but only lasted six months or so, his place being taken in turn by Philip Lindsay, Jack’s younger brother and soon to become a prolific historical novelist. By this time the Press was in financial difficulties and it would be declared bankrupt in August 1930. In its four or so years in England, the Fanfrolico Press published 39 books plus the 6 bimonthly numbers of The London Aphrodite (August 1928–June 1929). In terms of overall sales, Fanfrolico was probably second only to the better known Nonesuch Press.23 Looking back some 30 years after the Press folded, Jack Lindsay wrote:


What had we achieved in the Fanfrolico Press? Nothing, if one is to judge by the total absence of any comment in the literary records. True, we played our part in the raising of book-production standards in general, which resulted from the expansion of fine-presses in the Twenties; and we did some useful books ... It was in The London Aphrodite that we made our wider impact, and this was too unconventional a product to meet any recognition from the critics, then or later ...

It seems to me ... that we did have a valid place in the decade and that if we are left out of the picture the intelligibility of that world is lessened.24

In sales, reception, design and content, the Fanfrolico Press had both successes and failures, but the latter far outweighed the former, and in their resurrection of neglected authors and support for freedom of expression, Lindsay and Stephensen made a notable, if minor, contribution to English cultural life. The contemporary chronicler of the private press movement, Will Ransom, wrote that a ‘personal quality ... joyful seriousness ... infuses the Fanfrolico Press’25 while the historian of the private presses, Roderick Cave, wrote: ‘In its brief life Fanfrolico had published some very interesting books, and the 1920s would have been poorer without its attempts to storm the battlements of the English literary establishment with a new critique’.26

New Zealand born Eric Partridge (1894–1979)27 fought in the first war in the AIF and then returned to Australia to study at the University of Queensland. He was awarded the 1921 Queensland Travelling Scholarship over Jack Lindsay to study at Oxford. After completing his degree he taught at Manchester University and then, in September 1926, took up a Lectureship in English at the University of London. Early in 1927 he approached Jack Lindsay with a plan to invest money in, and become a partner in, the Fanfrolico Press. The idea came to nothing, partly because Jack wanted Stephensen as his partner. But Partridge did advance the press £200 to publish his biography of the nineteenth century English poet Robert Landor, along with a selection of his works. This appeared in June 1927. Partridge then formed his own private press, the Scholartis, a made-up word emphasising his aim of combining scholarship with the arts in terms of book production. The colophon on many of its titles was ‘Liberality, Originality, Distinction’ and it was notable for its support of young and emerging writers. The Press28 published over ninety books, including titles by H.E. Bates, John Brophy, Jack Lindsay, R.H. Mottram, Norah Hoult and Osbert Burdett as well as numerous edited literary texts, and it also took over the remaining stock of Partridge’s Fanfrolico Landor book. It gained notoriety when Partridge published Norah C. James’ Sleeveless Errand (1929), a novel about dissolute London bohemian life, only to have to the book banned and withdrawn from circulation.

Like Fanfrolico, Scholartis also issued a periodical, The Window: A Quarterly Magazine. Edited by Partridge and Bertram Ratcliffe, the four numbers were published in 1930. Contributors to the magazine include H.E. Bates, John Brophy, John Drinkwater, T.F. and Lawrence Powys, Edmund Blunden and John Hadfield. Although it published its last book as late as 1935, the Depression, according to Partridge, ‘killed the Scholartis Press’ forcing its proprietor to give up being a publisher.29 He became a full-time author and a noted lexicographer, famous for his dictionaries of soldiers’ and underworld slang.

Stephensen’s Mandrake Press was backed by the bookseller Edward Goldston, who in the early twenties had made a staggering £10,000 profit from buying a Gutenberg Bible from a monastery in Austria and selling it at auction in America. The first book from the press was The Paintings of D.H. Lawrence. It was published in June 1929 in two editions: 10 copies on vellum at £52/10/– and 500 copies at 10 guineas. There were 60 orders for the vellum edition alone and, although production costs would have run to over £2000, it would have provided the new press with around £1500 to £2000 profit.30

Thereafter, Mandrake Press books were more modest but still attractive publications. A further 31 books were produced31 before the Press folded in 1930. In addition to reprints of classics, authors published included Stephensen himself (a collection of short stories entitled The Bushwhackers), fellow Australians Jack McLaren, W.J. Turner and Vernon Knowles, plus books by Liam O’Flaherty, Rhys Davies, Edgell Rickword and Aleister Crowley. Stephensen’s involvement with occultist Crowley, once described as ‘the most evil man in the world’, probably contributed to the press’s eventual bankruptcy.

While with Fanfrolico, Stephensen was active in the campaign against the banning of Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian novel, The Well of Loneliness (1928). Published by Jonathan Cape, the novel was castigated as obscene by columnist James Douglas in the Sunday Express and suppressed at the instigation of the Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks (known amongst his detractors as ‘Jix’). Stephensen, with typical gusto, threw himself into the cause, editing and publishing a witty booklet critique of the censoring entitled The Sink of Solitude.32 Published under the imprint of the Hermes Press, the booklet contained striking drawings by Beresford Egan and a lampoon against both Douglas and Joynson-Hicks that included the following stanza:


In JONATHAN’S office consternation spreads
And while THE MILLION READERS in their beds
Peruse JAMES’ Sunday outburst, weep, and sigh;
Jo: CAPE sits down to write a long reply.
But all in vain – poor JO: is in a fix,
Among the Million Readers one is JIX.
From JIX to JIMMY deep calls unto deep
For moral sheep will follow moral sheep;
While rapidly the book sells out of stock,
Two great men quiver with a holy shock,
Two men now burst with holy indignation
To save the morals of the British nation.33

Stephensen was also involved in two other verse parodies against censorship. One was Policeman of the Lord published by the Sophistocles Press late in 1928 or early 1929, the other was The Well of Sleevelessness, published by the Scholartis Press in 1929. The title was a play on Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness and Norah C. James’ Sleeveless Errand (1929). After the Mandrake Press folded Stephensen worked in a variety of fringe publishing jobs before returning to Australia in 1933 to run the Bulletin-backed Endeavour Press.


The following table extracted from Miller and Macartney34 shows the number of works of creative literature by Australian authors published in England over the period, 1900–1940. The figures in brackets represent the percentage in that genre for each decade of the total for the four decades covered.

Table 10.1 Works of creative literature by Australian authors published in England, 1900–1940

Source: Miller with Macartney, 1956

The grand total is 1923. As one would expect, 90.3 per cent are novels or collections of short stories, while 7.7 per cent are books of verse and the balance (2 per cent) drama or plays. The numbers for the first two decades of the twentieth century are influenced by the prolific output of writers such as Louis Becke, Guy Boothby, B.L. Farjeon, A.G. Hales, E.W. Hornung, Fergus Hume and Morley Roberts.35 The figures for the following two decades reflects both the demand for crime and romance fiction and the influence of the circulating library on fiction publishing in the inter-war period. John Lane, export manager for the Bodley Head, said during a visit to Australia in 1933:


One of the most interesting features of bookselling in Great Britain today is the enormous number of cheap libraries which have been established throughout the country, in which, for a subscription of 2d a week and no deposit readers can obtain a very good supply of first-class literature ... [they] will do much to improve the taste in literature of the industrial classes in England. Already they have mitigated against the sale of the ‘trashy’ penny magazine.36

The Australian writer and critic, Nettie Palmer, in England in 1935, was struck by what she described as the ‘phenomenon of the year in London: the twopenny library’.37

Many writers, both English and Australian, were only published because of the guaranteed purchases by the myriad of circulating libraries.38 Georgia Rivers39 and Jean Campbell40 are two classic Australian examples. Neither left Australian shores but both had several novels published in London by Hutchinson and its subsidiaries Long and Skeffington in the 1930s when the two women were aged in their thirties. But neither, despite their continuing writing, was published in London after the war. Their novels are now not only forgotten but also very hard to obtain. They are neglected writers whose better work is worth reading.41

It is unclear how these Australia-based writers made contact with their English publisher. They possibly worked through the firm’s Australian agent. The manuscript of Jean Campbell’s first novel, Brass and Symbols, was taken to England to place with a publisher by John Gorton, the future Australian Prime Minister, in the early thirties when he was on his way to study at Oxford. Campbell was Gorton’s father’s mistress. The novel was accepted by Hutchinson and published in 1933. Three more followed and in 1937 Hutchinson offered Campbell a £60 advance for three novels, but only The Babe is Wise (1939) appeared. She was one of many writers whose means of getting published was killed off by the war.42

Some of these Australian ‘circulating library writers’ were included in the Australian Authors’ Week exhibition held at Australia House in London in early October 1931. Organised by the Australian Literature Society in Melbourne, approximately 1700 books were on display under various subject headings. Most of the titles were published in the preceding 40 years or so with the combined fiction, poetry, literature, and belles lettres categories accounting for more than half of the exhibited books.43 The display was augmented by a large number of Australian books lent by the Royal Society of Literature.

In terms of royalties, until the late 1930s, according to Debra Adelaide,44 Australian authors published in England still received what was known as the ‘colonial royalty’. This was only half the normal royalty of 10 per cent. So Campbell (and the many others) would have only received a royalty of four-and-a-half pence for each copy of a novel selling in England at the standard 1930s price of 7s 6d. If their novel managed to sell 1000 copies, then their royalty return would be just under £19, the equivalent to about six weeks wages for someone on the basic wage in Australian in the 1930s.

Prolific Australian crime writers of the twenties and thirties included John G. Brandon (42 titles), Carlton Dawe (34 titles), James Francis Dwyer (7 titles), Arthur Gask (22 titles), Gavin Holt/Charles Rodda (25 titles), Paul McGuire (16 titles) and J.M. Walsh (43 titles). Of these, only Gask was based in Australia. Many of the novels of Brandon, Holt and Walsh were translated into various European languages while all bar Dawe also had American editions of many of their books. Brandon, Dwyer, and Walsh, and possibly others, also wrote prolifically for the magazine market, with Brandon, for example, having around 40 complete novels published as single issues of Thriller Magazine: the magazine of a thousand thrills and Detective Weekly over the decade 1929–1939. Of these 40, only about a third to half appeared in book form.45 In addition, Brandon and another Australian writer based in England, R. Coutts Armour, were also two of the main authors of the famous Sexton Blake detective stories for older boys.

The dominant Australian romance writer of the same period was the prolific Maysie Greig (born Maysie Greig-Smith). Her first novel was published in London in 1926.46 Writing under her own name and that of Jennifer Ames and other pseudonyms, she had published another 73 by the end of 1940 and by the time she died in 1971, her total output was a staggering 178 titles.47 Other Australians writing romances in the twenties and thirties were Mary Gaunt (7 titles), Elizabeth Milton (6 titles) Mary Mitchell (10 titles including 3 crime) and Alice Grant Rosman (14 titles).

An English firm that did publish Australian writers independent of the circulating library market was Arthur Stockwell. Initially based in London, the firm moved to Ilfracombe in Devon in 1939.48 Miller and Macartney list 34 books by Australian authors published by Stockwell between 1913 and 1950. Of these 18 are books of verse, 14 are fiction, one is a biography and the other a book of essays. The National Library of Australia holds a substantial number of books of fiction and verse by Australian authors published by Stockwell. Some of these have distinctly Australian titles such as Ruth Young’s Nancy Vane and Other Verse from Gippsland (1933). None could be classed as books that would have been widely read let alone ever being profitable sellers. Why Stockwell published these Australian authors is a mystery. A recent inquiry to the firm elicited a courteous but not enlightening reply.49 It is possible that they were acting, effectively, as a vanity publisher: offering to publish if the author contributed to the cost of publication or agreed to buy a number of copies. How they advertised in Australia and how they attracted Australian authors is unknown.

The majority of the novels published by Australian writers in London in the period 1900-1940 had little or no Australian content. This is especially so for the crime and romance novels. They were mainly written for an English audience and, for many of the authors actually living and working in England, by writers who, one suspects did not specifically see themselves as Australian writers, but simply as writers or journalists. There are, of course, notable exceptions: Henry Lawson’s three collections of stories published in London – The Country I Came From (1901), Joe Wilson and His Mates (1901) and Children of the Bush (1902) – are quintessentially Australian. Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers (1915), written in London and joint winner of the 1914 Hodder and Stoughton £1000 novel prize, is a novel with a distinct Australian setting, as are the early works of Martin Boyd, particularly The Montforts (1928), winner of the inaugural Australian Literature Society Gold Medal. Henry Handel Richardson’s trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (1917, 1925, and 1929), is distinctly Australian, while Christina Stead’s second novel, Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934) is wholly set in Australia, as is John Harcourt’s suppressed novel dealing with Western Australian politics and society, Upsurge (1934). Patrick White’s first novel, Happy Valley (1939) is set in New South Wales. Expatriate Jack Lindsay wrote a children’s novel on the Eureka Stockade published as Rebels of the Goldfields in 1936 and also worked in the 1930s on compiling an anthology of Australian poetry although the project was never finished, while the novels of Jean Campbell and Georgia Rivers referred to above are partly set in Melbourne or its suburbs, as is Capel Boake’s The Dark Thread (1936).


Henry Lawson concluded his 1899 essay ‘Pursuing Literature in Australia’ with the following:


My advice to any young Australian writer whose talents have been recognized, would be to go steerage, stow away, swim, and seek London, Yankeeland, or Timbuktoo – rather than stay in Australia till his genius turned to gall or beer.50

In 1902, Louise Mack, in a letter from London published in the Bulletin, claimed that only six Australians had any reputation in London and they were all singers and actors. She went to say that no artists, writers or poets or musicians ‘had lifted themselves above the middle rank of innumerable English men or women of like professions’.51 Fifteen writers are included in Mrs Leonard Matters’ Australasians Who Count in London (1913).52 The number would have increased substantially if she had she compiled another such compendium on the eve of the Second World War.

An appendix given at the end of this chapter lists some 119 Australian writers, including Henry Lawson and Louise Mack, who did leave Australia and who were working in or were based in or who spent some time in London over the period 1900–1940. Some were established writers, many were aspiring to that classification. Others were journalists working in or seeking to make their mark in Fleet Street. Some were primarily academics, two – Arthur Lynch and R.L. Outhwaite – were MPs, Will Dyson was a cartoonist and artist, while Oscar Asche was an actor as was Mary Marlowe. All had something in common – other than being Australian – in that they had a work of creative writing published in England in the first 40 years of the twentieth century. Of these 119 Australians, it is estimated that 40 to 45 per cent returned to Australia either permanently or for an extended period (for example, Martin Boyd) while just over half are included in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Jack Lindsay in Fanfrolico and After (1962) gives a vivid portrait of his and P.R. Stephensen’s literary and social activities in 1920s London. They were frequent drinkers at the Plough Inn in Museum Street and also the Fitzroy Tavern off Charlotte Street and took many visiting Australians to one or either of these pubs. Both were notable literary and bohemian haunts. Augustus John is alleged to have said: ‘If you haven’t visited the Fitzroy you haven’t visited London’.53

Other Australians active in the London literary scene in the 1920s included W.J. Turner and Bertram Higgins. Turner was born in Melbourne in 1884 and educated at Scotch College.54 He moved to England as a young man and made a name for himself as a poet and drama and music critic. Before his death in England in 1946, he had published 16 books of verse (2 appearing under the imprint of the Mandrake Press) and 6 dramas. Bertram Higgins (1901–74) was another Melburnian working in England. He studied in Oxford55 and in the1920s was assistant editor of the influential Calendar of Modern Letters,56 the first film critic for the Spectator and a frequent reviewer. He returned to Australia in the 1930s. Fellow poet and student Roy Campbell described Higgins in his 1937 autobiography Broken Record as ‘the most interesting of the poets at Oxford’57 while critical comment quoted in the foreword and the introduction by A.R. Chisholm to his posthumous and only collection of published verse makes a strong claim for him as an important modernist poet.58

Anna Wickham was another respected poet of the period. Born Edith Harper in England in 1883, she came to Australia aged 7, living initially in Queensland and then Sydney.59 She published two plays in Sydney under her birth name before returning to England in 1904 to pursue a career as a singer. Her pseudonym of Anna Wickham came from a memory of walking with her father in Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, when he made her promise that one day she would be a poet. She had two books of verse published by Harold Monroe’s Poetry Bookshop and also wrote poetry and music under the name ‘John Oland’. A collection of these was printed as single songs by the Women’s Printing Society in 1911. She also contributed verse to various periodicals including the The London Aphrodite. An edition of her selected poems was published with a foreword by David Garnett in 1971 and Virago published The Writings of Anna Wickham: Free Woman and Poet in 1984.


Can we measure the contribution of the many Australians working and writing in England in the first four decades of the twentieth century? In one sense, their contribution was simply as writers and journalists working alongside and in competition with hundreds of other professional and aspiring writers rather than making or trying to promote their own Australianness or to create a distinct ‘Australian’ presence in London. Many like Katharine Susannah Prichard and Patrick White returned to Australia and became major international writers from an Australian base. Others like J. Murray Allison60 and Max Rittenberg61 stayed on in England and made important contributions to their respective fields of advertising and retailing and marketing.

Two, who probably made the most lasting contribution, were Jack Lindsay and Eric Partridge. Living mainly in the West Country, Lindsay published some 30 substantial books plus a considerable amount of journalism and criticism in the decade from 1931–1941. He also became a committed Marxist in the mid-thirties. After service in the British Army on the Home Front in the Second World War, he returned to full-time writing. His output over the next four-and-a-half decades until his death in 1990 is simply staggering. In all, he wrote some 150 books ranging from historical and contemporary novels to studies of the ancient world, translations of eastern European and Russian poetry and well-received biographies of noted artists such as Turner, Constable and Cezanne. He maintained an Australian interest by writing on Australian literature for Meanjin and Overland. Eric Partridge became a full-time writer in the early thirties focusing on the history and use of words, particularly slang and published numerous books on lexicographical subjects.

Output is a tangible way of measuring the impact of Australian writers and Australian books in London.62 Readership and reception is another and the Australian authors whose main market was that of the circulating library is noted above. However, many of the readers would not have known they were reading a book by an Australian. But through their books and writings, their accents, their carousing in pubs and at parties, Australians in London over the period 1900 to 1940 had a presence and left their mark on the local literary scene. Arguably, the main difference between them and the later generation of expatriates63 is that the former left Australia to further their careers while the latter left not only to further their careers but also to escape.



Arthur ADAMS*
J. Murray ALLISON**
R. Coutts ARMOUR
Oscar ASCHE*
Vere Latham BAILLIEU
Barbara BAYNTON*
Louis BECKE*
Martin BOYD*
Hilda BRIDGES (?)
Mary Grant BRUCE*
Chester COBB*
Florence Rose DARNEY
Carlton DAWE
Dulcie DEAMER*
Emily Elizabeth DICKINSON
Campbell DICKSON
James Francis DWYER*
Peers ELLIOTT (?)
Velia ERCOLE [Margaret GREGORY]
Louis ESSON*
James Griffyth FAIRFAX
Mackenzie FAIRFAX
Hermoine FLATAU
Theodore FLATAU
Frank FOX*
Maysie GREIG*
Evelyn HENTY
William Austin HORN*
Winifred JAMES*
Dora Egerton JONES
Carleton KEMP*
Joice Nankivell LOCH
Sydney LOCH
Arthur LYNCH*
Louise MACK*
under Doris Gentile)
Frederick MANNING*
Norman MCKEOWN / Norman GILES
Irene Rutherford MCLEOD
Tom Inglis MOORE*
Kathleen O’BRIEN
Nettie PALMER*
Mrs Campbell PRAED*
Ambrose PRATT*
Katharine Susannah PRICHARD*
Evadne PRICE [Helen Zenna SMITH]
Arthur J. REES
Rosemary REES
Peter RENWICK(?)
Henry Handel RICHARDSON*
Charles RODDA [Gavin HOLT]
Alice Grant ROSMAN*
Christina STEAD
John Reay WATSON
Arthur Wesley WHEEN
Patrick WHITE


*Australian Dictionary of Biography
**Gibbney and Smith, 1987

NB: Soldiers based in the UK during the First World War who had a book or verse published while in London are excluded, e.g. Oliver Hogue (Trooper Bluegum) as they were not really in the UK by choice.

Sources: Miller with Macartney, 1956; Arnold and Hay, 2001–2008; Arnold and Hay, 1995.


1     For example, see Lyons, 2001 and Johanson, 2000, chapter nine ‘Statistics’. Johanson calculates that between 1841 and 1953, British publishers exported a total of 231,269 tons or 4,625,37 hundred-weight of books to Australia. Examples of books on visiting writers include Brissenden and Higham, 1961, and Harman, 1985.

2     For example, 100 copies of Arthur Jose’s The Growth of Empire (1900) and 200 of Sarah Christie Boyd’s Causeries Familiars a Simple French Course (1897) plus 40 additional copies for review were sent to Simpkin and Marshall.

3     Details of Angus and Robertson’s London links taken from Allison, 1997, 74–75, 101–102.

4     Biographical details taken from Miller with Macartney, 1956, 323. See also Austlit 2008.

5     Biographical details from Miller with Macartney, 1956, 53–54; Bonnin, 1979.

6     See Rutledge, 1990.

7     The date of his departure is uncertain. Rutledge, 1990 suggests around 1910 but it was probably a year or so earlier. Whatever, he left for his own and arguably his country’s good, making him ‘a true patriot’.

8     Pearl, 1958, 190.

9     Willis, 1917, Should Girls Be Told?, Preface, vii. The book was later reissued by the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Company as part of its ‘Social Science Series’.

10    Quoted in Rose, 1993, 114.

11    Knowing that this is the author’s only title and the significance of the name ‘Wentworth’ in Australian history, I am assuming a pseudonymous work and that it is by Willis. Although undated, the British Library copy was received in May 1910, shortly after Willis arrived in London.

12    The ‘Bree’ and the ‘Narran’ are two rivers in northern New South Wales, in the area that Willis once held a seat in the New South Wales Parliament.

13    Rutledge, 1990 A view supported by Holden, 1950, in which he discusses Bree Narran, 1919, Cora Pearl, ‘The lady of the pink eyes’, London: Anglo-Eastern Publishing Co.

14    Biographical details from official sources and correspondence with and copies of letters supplied courtesy of family members, Willis Jnr’s daughter, Magda, and grand daughter, Joanne Finnegan.

15    The Times, 2 February 1932 and 22 November 1932.

16    Undated press cuttings, copies supplied courtesy of family members.

17    Issued with early thirties reprints of the Bree Narran novels by the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Company. For details on the novels of Bree Narran and other works by W.N. Willis see Arnold and Hay, 2001–2008, 726–727.

18    See Arnold, 2009; Arnold, 2004, 65–74.

19    Lindsay, 1923, Fauns and Ladies.

20    Huxley, 1928, Point Counter Point. See 168 and 178. Although the parody of the Fanfrolico partners (Lindsay as Willie Weaver and Stephensen as Cuthbert Arkwright) is regularly attributed, for example, Munro, 1984, 64, and the character of Arkwright could be a somewhat harsh portrait of P.R. Stephensen, that of Weaver is nothing like Jack Lindsay.

21    Sagar and Boulton, 1993, 4584, 118–117; D.H. Lawrence to P.R. Stephensen, 2 January, 1929, 4584.

22    For an account of his time in London see Buckridge, 1994, ch. 5

23    Lindsay, 1962, Fanfrolico and After, 182n.

24    Lindsay, 1962, Fanfrolico and After, 182, 189.

25    Ransom, 1929, Private Presses and Their Books, 167.

26    Cave, 1971, 206.

27    Serle, 1988; Serle, 1987, Introduction.

28    See Partridge, 1930, The First Three Years: An Account and a Bibliography of the Scholartis Press; Partridge, 1937, Appendix, ‘A bio-bibliographical note’, 312–317; Fotheringham, 1972, 338–342.

29    Its last title was published in 1935 but its most active period was from 1927 to 1931.

30    See Munro, 1984, 84–87 for details on the publication of The Paintings of D.H. Lawrence and Chapter 6 for the subsequent history of the Mandrake Press.

31    See Carr, 1985 for details of all the Mandrake books published.

32    For an interesting assessment of this parody and the two others produced by Stephensen, see Doan, 2004.

33    Stephensen, 1928, The Sink of Solitude, no pagination.

34    Essays, books of criticism and anthologies listed by Miller with Macartney, 1956 are not included in the tabulations in the table, nor are children’s books.

35    It can be argued whether or not these men are really Australian writers with only two – Boothby and Hales – being born in Australia and most of the others having only spent a few years here. Only the two Australia-born are included in the list of Australian writers working in London in the first four decades of the twentieth century given in the appendix to this chapter.

36    Reported in the Argus (Melbourne), 25 October 1933, 9.

37    Nettie Palmer, ‘Some London libraries: a letter from Mrs. Palmer’, All About Books (Melbourne), 12 August 1935, 127.

38    It is estimated that the rental libraries in the United Kingdom attached to the stores of Boots the chemist and the railway stalls of W.H. Smith numbered up to 10,000 while in 1935 the Publisher’s Weekly estimated that there were 50,000 rental libraries in the United States compared to 10,000 bookstores. Figures from Rassuli and Hollander, 2001. For an account of the phenomenon in Australia, see Arnold, 2001.

39    Georgia Rivers. Pseudonym of Marjorie Clark (1897–1989). Several of her later unpublished novels are in the State Library of Victoria.

40    Arnold, 2007. The manuscript of one of her unpublished postwar novels is in the State Library of Victoria.

41    For a recent assessment of both, see De Lacy, 2009.

42    Arnold, 2007.

43    Australian Literature Society 1931. Catalogue of Books Shown at Australia House, London. Details from Australian Author’s Week.

44    Adelaide, 2001.

45    Thriller Magazine and Detective Weekly details from collection formerly in the author’s possession.

46    Greig, 1926, Peggy of Beacon Hill. A US edition had appeared two years earlier.

47    Rutledge, 1996.

48    Stockwell, 2008.

49    Email to the author from Peter Nicholas, Director, A.H. Stockwell Ltd, 1 January 2006.

50    Bulletin, January 1899. Reprinted in Kiernan, 1976, 225–227.

51    ‘Gouli-Gouli’ [Louise Mack], Bulletin 28 June,1902. Quoted Pesman, 1996, 49.

52    Matters, 1913, Australasians Who Count in London, and Who Counts in Western Australia.

53    See Fiber and Powell-Williams, 1995.

54    Biographical details from Miller with Macartney, 1956, 469–470.

55    See Higgins, 1969, ‘Some autobiographical notes (‘twenties Oxford and London, early ‘thirties Melbourne)’.

56    Bradbury, 1961.

57    Quoted on the back of the dust wrapper of Higgins’ posthumous collection of verse. Higgins, 1981.

58    Higgins, 1981.

59    Jones, 2003.

60    J. Murray Allison was born in Victoria in 1877 and died in London in 1929. After working on the Argus he left for England around 1905. He became involved in Fleet Street publishing in 1926 First Essays on Advertising London: Palmer, several books of verse and a novel. The Times, 10 June 1929. See Gibbney and Smith, 1987; Austlit 2008.

61    See Austlit, 2008.

62    See, for example, relevant entries in Arnold and Hay, 2001–2008.

63    See Alomes, 1999.


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Argus (Melbourne), 1933.

Australian Literature Society. 1931. Catalogue of Books Shown at Australia House, London, at an Exhibition Held Under the Auspices of the Literature Society of Australia [Australian Literature Society] from September 29th to October 5th, 1931. London: Australian Literature Society.

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Greig, Maysie. 1926. Peggy of Beacon Hill. London: Jenkins.

Higgins, Bertram. 1969. ‘Some autobiographical notes (‘twenties Oxford and London, early ‘thirties Melbourne)’. Quadrant 13 (6): 51–54.

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Matters, Mrs Leonard. 1913. Australasians Who Count in London, and Who Counts in Western Australia. London: Truscott.

Partridge, Eric. 1930. The First Three Years: An Account and a Bibliography of the Scholartis Press. London: The Scholartis Press.

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Cite this chapter as: Arnold, John. 2009. ‘Australian books, publishers and writers in England, 1900–1940’. Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience, edited by Bridge, Carl; Crawford, Robert; Dunstan, David. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 10.1 to 10.19.


Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience

   by Carl Bridge