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Introduction

The Hillyars and the Burtons is something of a curiosity in Australian literary history. It first appeared in monthly instalments in Macmillan's Magazine from November 1863 to April 1865. It was published by Macmillan in three volumes in 1865, and reviewed at length, notably by Henry James, under the heading ‘The Noble School of Fiction’.note ‘The story’, wrote James, ‘is composed on the plan of three-fourths of the modern popular novels. The author leaps astride of a half-broken fancy, starts off at a brisk trot (we are all familiar with the cheerful energetic colloquy or description with which these works open), and trusts to Providence for the rest.’ James's judgment, like that of other contemporary reviewers, is severe. By contrast, Australian critics have virtually neglected The Hillyars and the Burtons in favour of The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn. Joseph Furphy's mockery of Geoffry Hamlyn is well known; he does not mention The Hillyars and the Burtons at all. Neither does A. G. Stephens. Until the present day, critics have given it only a passing glance, and even now it attracts little attention. Geoffry Hamlyn has come to represent Kingsley's view of Australian life. But this pastoral romance whose principal characters return to England after a few years of lucrative adventure in Australia, offers at best a partial glimpse of Kingsley's observations of and attitudes to his own colonial experience.

In The Hillyars and the Burtons as in The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn, Kingsley makes use of a highly-coloured romantic plot, but whereas the elements of romance and melodrama are not incongruous with the pastoral idyll of the earlier novel, in The Hillyars and the Burtons Kingsley seems to have peculiar difficulties in organizing his material, and the machinery of his plot creaks under the work he requires it to do. It is easy enough, therefore, to document James's criticism. Arbitrariness is the most obvious feature of Kingsley's plot. A struggle for a family fortune, tenuously linked with a revenge theme (of which the central subject is a convict), and balanced by the success story of a family of respectable


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Chelsea blacksmiths, is a formula not conducive to profound characterization or reflective comment. Luck and sheer coincidence are the driving forces of the novel. Yet granted all its improbabilities and clumsiness, the story has some interesting features. George Hillyar, heir to the title, first appears in Australia as a member of the mounted police. He marries an Australian girl, Gerty Neville, who becomes a homesick exile in the splendour of her English estate, and is finally deserted. The values of the English landed gentry are held up for criticism, and England itself proves unsympathetic to the young Australian heroine. The blacksmith Burtons, on the other hand, are hard-working poor men of goodwill. After migrating to Australia they buy a piece of land which turns out to be solid copper. They enter parliament, become leaders in their adopted community, and marry happily. Australia deals them success, but it also treats harshly even those who are prepared to accept it as home. What Henry James fails to remark is that Kingsley tried to graft on to a romantic plot a story whose direction is hardly romantic at all.

Though he does not pursue it with great vigour or consistency, Kingsley proposes as a theme for the novel the conflict between love and duty, and in doing so he inevitably introduces material which cuts across the success story. The Burtons' emergence as leaders in their colonial society does not obliterate one's sense of a world which acts with unpredictable hostility towards randomly selected victims. F. H. Mares has drawn attention to the simplicity of the moral vision of Geoffry Hamlyn.note ‘Good triumphs', he writes, ‘evil is destroyed or converted to goodness, rewards and punishments are distributed with equity.’ Not so with The Hillyars and the Burtons. George Hillyar may receive his just reward by dying of neglect and dissipation, but Emma Burton's death in a cyclone does not have the same justness or propriety. It is of special interest that the upward trend of material success (demonstrated by the story of James and Joseph Burton) is balanced by the personal failures of George and Gerty Hillyar, and that the proposed tie between the two families is prevented by the death of Emma Burton,


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whose goodness fails to secure her divine protection. In The Hillyars and the Burtons dissipation is not always punished, nor is sobriety always rewarded. Late in the novel Kingsley presents a lengthy discussion on divine justice. The point of view which triumphs maintains that the great error is to believe that ‘the world is a place of rewards and punishments’. Kingsley's comment on Erne Hillyar has a special application to the novel—‘He saw that life was not as one would have it’. Such a view cannot be embodied in fiction without violating the conventions of the romantic plot.

That Kingsley had unusual difficulties with this novel may be inferred from his failure to resolve the differences between his intentions and their expression. But he created other problems for himself that he had not had to face in Geoffry Hamlyn. Unlike the earlier novel, The Hillyars and the Burtons attempts some kind of account of the economic and political development of the colony. Kingsley had been back in England for some four to five years by the time he came to write the novel, and no doubt his memory of particular events was growing hazy. Some time in 1864 he wrote to his friend Henry Campbell, who returned to Australia in that year. ‘Find out for me’, he asked, ‘where I can get at the files of the Colonial papers. There used to be a nice resumé of all of them called the Australian and New Zealand Gazette, which would be better, if I could get the files of it. Do, that's a dear soul, find out for me where I can find the files of the Colonial papers.’ Since the chapter which marks the beginning of Kingsley's concentration on political events and debates appeared in Macmillan's Magazine in September 1864, one might be entitled to assume that he had received the information he requested. Certainly, he tries to annotate some of the events in Victorian politics in the middle 1850s.

In spite of his efforts, however, the geography, chronology, and narrative method of The Hillyars and the Burtons remain peculiarly confusing. Like Geoffry Hamlyn, the novel moves between Australia and England. After Chapter 48, which describes the Burtons' arrival in Australia, the centre of interest shifts to Australia. But Kingsley has to return his readers to England to follow the intrigues of the villain Samuel Burton, to dispose of George Hillyar and to describe Gerty Hillyar's decline into harmless insanity. It is not an easy task to keep the two geographical extremities of the novel in balance, and Kingsley manages it with reasonable


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success. The geographical division is necessary to the novel, for part of its interest lies in seeing people in two environments, and observing their reasons for rejecting the one, and their reactions to the other. (Was he influenced by Martin Chuzzlewit? In an article published in Macmillan's Magazine in June 1865 he describes it as Dickens' best novel.) The rising fortunes of the successful Burton brothers, and their adaptability to their new home, are matched by the fading fortunes of Gerty Hillyar, the Australian heroine transplanted to an alien ‘home' to which she fails to adapt, and where she gradually declines. Kingsley neither exaggerates nor glamourizes his settings. Even when he discourses on Chelsea old church, he is not sentimental. But he understands the divided heart, and the power of childhood memories of home. The geographical poles of the novel, then, represent some part of its whole meaning, as they do in Geoffry Hamlyn. In the earlier novel the Australian episodes, though substantial, are an interlude in the real business of living, which is done in England. In The Hillyars and the Burtons, the movement is away from an unstable, unrewarding England, towards the hope of success and permanent settlement in Australia. The story of James and Joseph Burton conveys the strong sense that life can be shaped, and that they have an opportunity, denied them in England, to determine their own future.

In Geoffry Hamlyn Kingsley resists geographical accuracy by creating a composite landscape out of actual observations of particular places. This tendency is even more pronounced in The Hillyars and the Burtons. Kingsley draws on his memories of Gippsland, the snow country, and the western district of Victoria. While giving the appearance of literalness, he amalgamates fact and fiction. He puts together real and invented place names, claiming exactness for both. He is precise about distances, but these do not always refer to actual places. He gives an accurate account of the route from the diggings at Omeo, across the watershed of the Mitta Mitta to Beechworth, but has the traveller end up at Snake Valley, which is in the Ballarat district. He makes Gerty Hillyar walk with her small child from Albury to a town which is apparently on the Gippsland coast—and variously describes this as a five or six day walk and a distance of 300 miles. Another possible route to the same place, he adds, would be by ‘steamer to Sydney, and thence by New Caledonia, New Zealand, Queensland (then called Moreton Bay), New


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Hungary, New United Italy, New Poland, New Tartary, New Wapping, and New Beloochistan, on to Cooksland' (p. 337). Perhaps this flippant alternative might be seen as a clue to Kingsley's intentions. He wants to be credited with a degree of authenticity (his interest in botany and geological features is clear), but at the same time to be free to combine elements of the landscape to suit the romantic requirements of his plot.

Kingsley's geographical compromises are straightforward by comparison with his chronological adventures. There are specific references within the novel which date certain events, and these are contained within a double narrative. The story is told in part in the third person by the author-narrator, and in part in the first person by James Burton. The third-person narrative is contemporary with the events it describes, while James Burton relates his story retrospectively. Early in the novel (Chapter 6) he appears to be writing in 1863, and at the end he mentions the year 1865. James Burton's story, in other words, corresponds approximately to the actual time of the serial publication of the novel. The two narrators work within separate, though overlapping time sequences. In Chapter 5 James Burton traces the history of the Hillyar family back to the end of the seventeenth century. In Chapter 31 he introduces himself as a boy of eighteen, at which time George and Gerty Hillyar (whose story is narrated by the third-person author) have been in England for six months. The Hillyars' story occupies a short actual time. Four years pass between courtship and desertion, and Gerty stays on in England for about two years after George leaves her. James Burton leaves for Australia before the breakdown of Gerty's marriage, when he is about twenty. The Burton success story too seems to happen in some four years, so that there is an exact parallel in time between the collapse of the Australian heroine's English marriage, and the destruction of her hopes, and the establishment of the English migrants in Australia, and their spectacular rise to prosperity as copper magnates.

In historical time Kingsley appears to have structured the novel between 1855 and 1862, with the emphasis upon the years 1856–8. The opening chapter of the novel is vague in its political references but can hardly be earlier than 1856, though Kingsley's reference to the ‘new Scab Bill’ (assented to in June 1855) suggests an earlier date. The political references


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in the middle section of the novel are not precise either, but suggest that Kingsley is writing of the time of the New Constitution in Victoria—that is, from November 1856 onwards. In Chapter 41, for example, he describes the Lower House as consisting of thirty members ‘elected by universal suffrage of tax-payers' with a property qualification for members of £2000. (In fact the 1856 Constitution gave the Assembly sixty members, not thirty, as Joe states, and Kingsley has over-simplified the workings of universal suffrage.) He has, however, taken into account the fact that the Miners' Right of 1855 entitled diggers to legal rights to their claims and to a vote. Manhood suffrage, which became a reality in 1857, is here shown to be still in the future. References in Chapter 67 to moves towards a coalition government almost certainly refer to the Haines-O'Shanassy flirtation of 1858 which was vigorously criticized in the press at the time. Mr Oxton of The Hillyars and the Burtons is clearly Kingsley's portrait of Haines (Honest Haines, as he was known), and Dempsey the Irish rebel is Kingsley's portrait of Gavin Duffy.

Kingsley makes one or two precise references to the newspaper war between The Argus, representing conservative interests, and The Age, representing the small farmers. The Argus becomes the Palmerston Sentinel and The Age becomes the Mohawk, and Kingsley's version of their political activities fills in the background of the political scene through the first Haines ministry of 1856–7, and the second Haines ministry in which parliamentary opposition to the Land Bill was led by Duffy. Here is Kingsley's brief description of the two papers' comments upon George Hillyar's gallant fight with bushrangers (p. 53):

The papers had leading articles upon it. The Palmerston Sentinel (Squatternote interest, conservative, aristocratic), said that this was your old English blood, and that there was nothing like it. The Mohawk (progress of the species and small farm interest,) said, on the other hand, that this Lieutenant Hillyar was one of those men who had been unjustly hunted out of his native land by the jealousy of an accursed and corrupt aristocracy, in consequence of his liberal tendencies, and his fellow-feeling for the (so-called) lower orders. And this abominable Mohawk, evidently possessed of special knowledge, in trying to prove the habitual condescension of George Hillyar towards his inferiors, did so rake up all his old blackguardisms that Mr. Secretary Oxton was as near mad as need be.




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Kingsley's report of the newspaper war is an accurate reflection of the year 1857, described by Ambrose Pratt as remarkable in the history of Victoria because ‘it witnessed the first assertion of a power always latent in the Press … to shape and even to dictate the course of legislation’.note Characteristically Kingsley satirizes the contrasting styles of the two Melbourne papers, thus giving his own impression of their peculiarities. Minor details, such as the reference to Catherine Hayes, the Irish singer, who returned home from her tour of India, Australia and America in 1857, tend to confirm 1856–8 as the date of the events from the time of the arrival of the Burtons in Australia onwards. In the Australian and New Zealand Gazette of 27 February 1858, Kingsley could have found an account of the discovery of copper near Geelong, in the range abreast of Burnt Ridge, on the dip of the Lal Lal tiers. In short, Kingsley has placed the chief events of his novel within the years of his own residence in Australia, while he announces retrospectively the visit of James and Joseph Burton to the International Exhibition of 1862.

In his political references, as in his observations of the country, Kingsley is hampered by the fictional mode he has chosen. The evidence of The Hillyars and the Burtons points to an unresolved literary problem. Kingsley's liking for romance and melodrama, his exploitation of such devices as lost documents, concealed relationships, and natural disasters, would suggest that his intentions are not very serious, and his literary ambitions modest. On the other hand, the tone of much of his writing (especially his description of the landscape), and his interest in the political actualities of the period he spent in Australia, indicate clearly that his Australian experience cut deep. He was twenty-eight when he arrived in Melbourne in 1853. He saw the beginning of self-government in Victoria, attempts to redress the inequities of land ownership, and the struggle for democratic representation, and I suspect that his genuine interests lay in the description and interpretation of the experiences of these five years. He


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was singularly unfortunate in inheriting fictional forms (from Scott and Dickens) not easily adapted to his own requirements. It has also to be said that he was unfortunate in lacking the degree of talent and concentration which might have enabled him to assimilate the genuine observations which form the basis of both The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn and The Hillyars and the Burtons, and to arrange them within a well-organized, appropriate fictional structure.

Nevertheless, confused in its purposes though the novel is, it reveals a good deal about Kingsley's attitude to his subject. Joe and James Burton come to Australia because they hope to improve themselves, not, like the Buckleys of Geoffry Hamlyn, so that they might return to a life of greater case and security in England. They intend to begin a new life in the new world. The ‘new heaven and new earth’ of Geoffry Hamlyn provides only a temporary halting-place for the Devonshire gentleman; in The Hillyars and the Burtons it becomes home to the new men, who set about steering its future political course. It is thus peculiarly appropriate that Kingsley should bring his new type of migrant to the colony at a time when it was beginning the struggle for political independence, and trying to free itself from the attitudes and policies of its former masters. On his arrival in Australia James Burton remarks (p. 265):

… it is now without the slightest astonishment that I find our humble story, like the story of the life of every one in a very small community with liberal institutions, getting to some slight extent mixed up with the course of colonial politics.

Kingsley got himself mixed up with colonial politics at a complicated and important period in the history of Victoria. It was a time when land reform, the franchise and education were being hotly debated, and when the issues between the old-style landed aristocracy, whom Kingsley admired and supported according to some of his critics, and the leaders of radical democratic thinking were becoming sharply distinguished in parliamentary terms.

The facts that he incorporates into The Hillyars and the Burtons are sketchy and sometimes inconsistent, but if one stands away from the novel, facts of another kind emerge to give some sense of direction to it. Kingsley shows an intelligent interest in the course of parliamentary democracy in Australia. He sets up an argument between those who are in


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favour of the ‘artificial importation of labour’ and those who oppose assisted migration. He also sets up an argument between those who resist the alteration of the old land laws ‘in order to prevent the acquisition of land by the labouring classes’, and the radicals who demand the right to selection. He leads into debate those who want manhood suffrage and those who denounce the folly of putting the government into the hands of ‘the most unfortunate and the most unthrifty of the old country’. The interesting question to consider is where Kingsley himself stands. The conservative views are put by characters whom he clearly satirizes. At the same time the radical views are put by extravagant Irishmen who are burlesque characters. Joe Burton, the hunchback brother of James, the narrator, becomes Minister of Education, is a spokesman for the conservative view, and the architect of a coalition. Joe is talented but not without self-pity. In the face of these facts it is not enough to say, as H. M. Green has done, merely that Kingsley satirizes colonial politics.

The answer to the question of Kingsley's own position may be found in his discussion of the English gentleman. The Hillyars and the Burtons must come as a shock to those who assent to Furphy's description of Kingsley's gentleman as ‘too plump of body and exalted of soul for barrow-work, and too comprehensively witless for anything else’.note George Hillyar, the gentleman, is dissipated, malicious, insensitive and brutal. His father, a genuine old Tory, is largely responsible for George's failure, through his own selfishness and stupidity. Charles Morton, a minor character, is the key to Kingsley's attitude and in fact bears more than a suspicion of a resemblance to Kingsley himself (Chapter 44). He is ‘a young English gentleman of good family, with a public-school education’. He has been to Eton and Oxford, where he has been able to indulge a passion for hunting. He, like Kingsley, leaves Oxford because of his idle extravagance. His ‘incapacity and idleness’ make law and medicine impossible for him. The Church as a career is not likely to pay off his debts. ‘Why Charley, my boy’, said his father, ‘you seem not only to have drunk the punch, but to have swallowed the bowls afterwards.’ ‘Therefore’, remarks Kingsley, ‘there was nothing to do but for him to go to Australia’, neither the first nor the last to be so exiled.




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When the Hon. James Burton, MLC, Cooksland, goes to England as a Commissioner for the 1862 Exhibition, he sees hundreds of Charles Mortons. They have no more faults than most ‘except the very great one of being educated in such a way that no possible career is open to them’. He sees them ‘standing against the rails in long rows, like penguins—each one most wonderfully like the other’. He appeals to them to ‘amalgamate a little more with the middle and lower classes’, and he asks ‘Are the old class distinctions to go on for ever?’ Further, he suggests that if these idle gentlemen have been a little more courteous to their supposed inferiors since the Reform Bill, it is only through fear. ‘Can no one persuade you’, he demands, ‘that the most necessary thing just now is an amalgamation of classes?’ (pp. 237–8).

This is a very different view of Kingsley from the one promoted by Furphy and Stephens and endorsed by some later critics. Kingsley himself claimed that in The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn he was writing history. His claim has been largely ignored, but if we look at two novels together, one thing at least is strikingly clear. Geoffry Hamlyn depicts upper class English migrants exploiting the Australian countryside for their own financial gain and never seeing Australia as a permanent home. The Hillyars and the Burtons, on the other hand, deals with an entirely different kind of migrant, the thrifty, hardworking tradesman whose success story is its main subject. The two novels, taken together, in spite of their factual inconsistencies and confusions, state a particular kind of truth about nineteenth-century Australian history, by describing a significant change in attitudes towards the country itself and by relating this change to the class of migrant entering it. Kingsley is far from being a great novelist. He is not even a very good one. But the difficulties he encountered in handling his Australian experience within the forms of fiction which were available to him as models, are of special significance to any one interested in the origins and growth of a literary tradition.

The present text

The text is of particular interest and is a reproduction of the first American edition of The Hillyars and the Burtons, published in Boston by Ticknor and Fields in 1865. It is closer


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than any other to the original serial version published in 1863–5 and it clearly did not undergo the extensive revision that is evidenced in the first English edition, the Macmillan three-volume edition of 1865. This text was chosen because it is convenient and inexpensive to reproduce, and because later one-volume editions, derived from the Macmillan three-volume text, introduce errors of various kinds.

Most of the differences between this and the Macmillan edition, though numerous, are minor. There are changes in spelling, punctuation and capitalization. Some errors are corrected in the Macmillan text, others are introduced. There are some differences in names, ages, distances and times, which seem to reflect an attempt on Kingsley's part to resolve inconsistencies. Therefore, in dealing with the chronology of the novel in the introduction, I have followed the Macmillan text.

The serial has eighty-one chapters. The Macmillan edition has eighty chapters, having amalgamated Chapters 45 and 46 (‘Gerty in Society’ and ‘The End of a Chapter’) of the serial. The Ticknor and Fields edition has seventy-nine chapters by combining in addition Chapters 78 and 79 (‘The Cyclone’ and ‘The End of the Cyclone’) of the serial. There are minor differences in chapter headings, but only two chapters have quite different titles. Chapter 74 (Ticknor and Fields) ‘The Sky Brightening’ is ‘The Long Courtship Comes to an End’ (Volume 3, Chapter 25, Macmillan). Chapter 75 (Ticknor and Fields) ‘Emma's Angelic Ministrations’ is ‘Emma is Detained’ (Volume 3, Chapter 26, Macmillan). Most of the more substantial textual differences are to be found in the last five chapters of Ticknor and Fields.

Two passages, added to the Macmillan edition, are reproduced here. The first forms the final paragraph of the preface (which did not appear at all in the serial version):

Mrs. Quickly must keep the name I gave her, perhaps in too great a hurry. But the reader will perceive that she is not the Quickly of Shakespear; not the blundering, silly, good-natured, pruriant [sic] old questionable female, of Shakespear; but, perhaps, nearer like a certain old lady, who looks out of a certain window on the right, in a certain march to Finchley; an old lady who continues to reproduce herself, and will continue—until …

The second is inserted in the last chapter, immediately before the final paragraph which begins ‘There is one more figure


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I should like to see before I close and part from the reader' (p. 419):

He emerged from the smoke of Sebastopol, changed from a fanciful, sentimental child, into a thoughtful melancholy man; with the puzzle of life placed fairly before his eyes at last. The misery of the trenches; and the failure of our assault; a failure which he felt with childlike acuteness; had done this much for him. He saw that life was not as one would have it: that one must submit to the failure of our boy-dreams, and not whine over them. One boy-dream he found had faded away, in the rude daylight of frost, hunger and failure; the dream of Emma Burton. She is but as a figure in a dream to him now. The man Erne thinks of the love which the child Erne had to her, as a boy's fancy, beautiful enough, but childish, romantic, and purged from him in those horrible trenches. Do you like Child Erne, or Man Erne the best? It is not for me to decide, but I think I will choose the child.

The old house at Chelsea is pulled down, this long while past. It stood, when I was a boy, where the south side of Paulton Square stands, I think; but the place is so much changed that I am not certain to a few yards. Truly its place knows it no more.

LEONIE KRAMER

University of Sydney January 1972

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