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1. Memoir

JOHN FARRELL was born at Buenos Aires, South America, on the 18th December, 1851 or 1852. There is some uncertainty as to the year; Farrell himself did not know whether it was 1851 or 1852, and no official record can be obtained; but the date first mentioned is that entered in the family papers kept by Mrs. Farrell, and it agrees with other records. His parents were Andrew and Mary Farrell, both of whom were born in Ireland, and came from fairly well-to-do families in the city of Dublin. The father, Andrew Farrell, was left an orphan at an early age, his parents falling victims to an epidemic of cholera which swept through the part of Ireland in which they were living at the time. He was, however, well educated and carefully brought up by his guardians, and was taught the business of a chemist. He married in Ireland, and three of his four children were born there—Andrew, Matthew, and Kate. About 1847 he took his family to South America, and settled at Buenos Aires, where he


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started business and prospered as a chemist. There his youngest child, John, the subject of this memoir, was born The year of his birth was a memorable one in the history of Australia, for it was the year in which gold was first discovered in New South Wales and Victoria. The news soon travelled over the world and in due course reached Andrew Farrell, in Buenos Aires. Stirred by the stories of fortunes quickly made on the diggings, he sold the chemist's shop, and in 1852, with his family, including the baby John, set sail for England in order to get to Australia. They arrived somewhere towards the end of 1852 at Sandridge, where Mrs Farrell and the younger children were left while Andrew Farrell and his eldest son went to the Ballarat diggings. Life at Sandridge at that time was primitive, the price of food and everything else was very high, medical attention was difficult to obtain, and, of course, there were no sanitary arrangements. It was no wonder, therefore, that John was attacked with a severe illness, and almost lost his life.

Andrew Farrell did not find much gold at Ballarat, so he returned shortly afterwards to his family and took them to Bendigo, where he was much more fortunate. Later on he migrated to Whroo, or Rushworth, where he mined for some years, and then bought horses and engaged in the carrying trade—a very profitable one in the ante-railway period. He was soon successful enough to be able to purchase a farm at a place called Baringhup, on the Loddon


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River, not far from the town now called Maldon (Victoria). He continued to trade as a carrier for some time, but eventually devoted himself wholly to farming, aided by his sons, and became fairly prosperous, well-known, and respected throughout the district. He took part in public affairs, and held several positions of local importance, such as those of Secretary to the Agricultural Society of the district, Librarian, and Electoral Registrar. He continued to live at Baringhup until his death on the 17th February, 1897, aged 74. His wife had died in 1862, after a long illness.

John Farrell's parents were of that honest, industrious, self-reliant class, physically strong, and mentally clear and resolute, which forms the backbone of the British people. Andrew Farrell was a man of sterling worth, and John is said to have strongly resembled him in manner and appearance. Both father and mother were educated and fond of reading, and though their time was fully occupied in the early years of their residence in Victoria, they did not neglect the education of their children. The home life was genial and mutually helpful; all the children were fond of books and music, and John acquired the rudiments of a sound education from his parents. The country about their farm on the Loddon River was wild and beautiful. There were very few settlers in the district then and their houses were far apart, so that each family practically depended upon its own resources for culture and amusement. John was fond of roaming at large through


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the bush with his brother Matthew, and occasionally they fished or hunted, but the younger brother had a strong aversion to inflicting pain or killing anything, and never became a sportsman. The children were sent to a private school in 1860. After their mother's death in 1862, however, they had no more schooling. The brief experience passed without any remarkable demonstration on John's part, but it was noticed that he was very anxious to learn and possessed a very good memory. He was popular amongst his fellows, and was regarded as a “very sociable and good-humoured boy.” For some years John worked on his father's farm, and occasionally on neighbouring farms—more for the sake of company than for the remuneration. He was eager to meet new people and hear the stories they had to tell. At shearing time on a station not far from his home he visited the men's hut as often as possible, and listened to their yarns or took part in their discussions. The gold fields had brought a strange medley of people into Victoria from all parts of the world, most of whom were of an adventurous turn and had journeyed in far countries, so young Farrell probably gained a good deal of second-hand experience. He earned such a reputation as a conversationalist and humourist while a boy that his company was sought by neighbours. He learned to play the concertina—“the piano of the bush” in the early days—and later the violin, and with his father and brothers often arranged concerts or took part in local festivities.


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In one of the last articles which he wrote, he referred to his brief career as a musician:—“I, too, have begun with a mouth organ and passed with honours in the concertina, aspiring to play ‘by note.’ As the haughty owner of the first Anglo-German instrument seen by resident Victorians so far inland I have occasionally, but coldly, consented to play polkas, ‘first sets,’ caledonians, and the like, wrought from a very limited repertoire of compositions for the inspiration of uncritical dancing assemblies. These performances, and some truly rascally violin solos, the result of a mistaken ambition, represent my range of accomplishment in one great branch of art; they are all I have done, or ever will do, in music.”

Fortunately, young Farrell had, in addition to his fondness for company and gaiety, a taste for reading, and found ample enjoyment in the works of Mayne Reid and Walter Scott, the only novels at first available. Books were not plentiful in his home or in the district at that time, but he early became acquainted with the works of Byron, Burns and Shakespeare. As with many another boy, Byron was his particular favourite; he read him through and through, and often at local entertainments, when he was asked to recite, he used to reel off passages or poems which he had committed to memory. His thirst for books developed rapidly, and most of his pocket-money was sent to Melbourne for more literature.

Life itself was, however, always more interesting to


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him than the reflection of it in books, and the great world of which he had read and heard beyond the horizon of the farm on the Loddon filled his imagination and made him eager to go out and explore it for himself. Therefore in 1870 he left his father's home, and made a start in life on his own account, by going to Sandhurst (now Bendigo) seeking employment. He was then 19, strong and healthy, jovial, light-hearted, and ambitious. The world was wide and life was pleasant; somehow, somewhere there were great things to be done. Time stretched indefinitely ahead, and it did not matter how one made a start. By chance he found a position in a brewery owned by Messrs. Jackson and Co. Here he worked hard and showed himself quick and trustworthy; he advanced rapidly and became before long a proficient brewer. One of his brothers visited him in Sandhurst some time afterwards, and says that he was struck with the difference that twelve months or so of town life had made in John; he seemed more refined and energetic, he read more than ever, yet found time for social pleasures and dressed stylishly. After he had been working there for two years the brewery changed hands, and Farrell thought it time to continue his quest of fame and fortune elsewhere. He went with one or two companions to the colony of Queensland, visited Charters Towers and travelled a long way north towards the Gulf country on a gold digging expedition. The far North of Queensland was then almost unknown, but gold had been discovered in


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Gympie in 1867, and there were rumours of rich goldfields on the Palmer River which drew many men thither in spite of the difficulties of travelling, the great heat and the hostile blacks. Farrell and his friends found no gold, but met with plenty of adventures and strange experiences. The party suffered many hardships, and Farrell fell ill with fever and ague. A strong constitution stood him in good stead and he recovered; but all his money was gone, and he had to work his way back to Victoria. He entered into a contract to fell timber, which occupied him for six months, and brought him money enough to get to Melbourne and thence home to Baringhup. He had been away two years.

Some months were spent quietly on the farm, and with his father and brothers he entered into the work of planting a vineyard and making wine. He studied the vigneron's business as fully as possible, and intended to devote himself to it, but in 1875 he was tempted by the offer of a good position to return to his first trade—the brewing of beer. One of his Bendigo employers—a Mr. Jackson—established a brewery at Camperdown (Victoria), and asked Farrell to join him. Here for two years he worked as a brewer, and during this time he met Miss Eliza Watts (daughter of James Watts, of Camperdown), who became his wife on the 16th November, 1876, the marriage being celebrated in Melbourne before Mr. Richard Gibbs, the Registrar General. After his marriage, Farrell decided to try farming on his own account and the young couple journeyed to Benalla,


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where they met Matthew Farrell. The two brothers travelled a good deal about the district in search of land suitable for selection, and John decided upon a place called Major Plains, where the Dookie Agricultural Farm is now situated, and there selected a small area of Crown land. The making of a home out of a wilderness requires hard work and immense patience; the clearing, fencing, ploughing, and all the other farming operations were endurable, but the monetary return was a long way off, and the young household was not established with any large amount of capital. Farrell found it necessary to find other and more quickly remunerative work. Abandoning the farm, he took a position in a cordial factory at Benalla, and thence went to a brewery in Melbourne. While at the latter place a firm of brewers in Albury(N.S.W.)—Messrs O'Keefe and Manning—offered him the management of their brewery, and he left for Albury in 1878. Henceforth his life was passed almost uninterruptedly in New South Wales.

Farrell's literary career may be said to have begun in Albury, although he had contributed occasional articles and humorous verse to the Camperdown paper in 1876. He wrote verses for the Albury Banner and the Border Post newspapers soon after his arrival, and in 1878, at the office of the latter paper, was published a little brochure entitled “Ephemera: An Iliad of Albury”—Farrell's first independent publication. The name of the author is printed as “J. O'Farrell,” and some of his newspaper work at this


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time was signed “O'Farrell”—merely to gratify a temporary Celtic whim, for his forefathers had dropped the “O.” The preface to the first canto of the “Iliad of Albury” stated that it was the author's intention, if his leisure would permit, “to write and publish his extravaganza at intervals of about one month.” It is signed—“J. O'F., Turk's Head Hotel, April 24th, 1878.” This first canto consists of 58 stanzas in the ottava rima measure of his admired “Don Juan.” The following is an example:—

“Thus I throw down my gage. Let none imagine
I fear one single man of woman born,
Or institution, which with time worn badge on
Lives as a butt for worth to laugh to scorn;
I mean to hammer, most persistently, the wedge on
Which will burst up the shades and ghosts forlorn
Of old abuses, and of new ones also,—
At least such as we all may safely call so.”

The spirit of this stanza actuated Farrell throughout the rest of his life: he was always a foe of abuses, and a hater of injustice.

I have been able to obtain a copy of the first canto only and cannot ascertain whether or not further instalments were published as promised. It had, at any rate, a considerable vogue locally, and no doubt its success encouraged the author to continue writing verse. In 1879 he wrote an ode for the Melbourne Exhibition in the competition opened by the Victorian Government, which carried his name further afield, though it did not win the prize. It was


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not until 1882, however, that he published any serious essay in verse. This was called “Two Stories, a Fragmentary Poem,” and was printed by A. H. Massina and Co., of Melbourne, “for private circulation only.” It is an unpretentious booklet of 50 pages, small Svo. The poem opens in the flowing line of “Locksley Hall,” in which measure one of the stories is told; the other, “a tale within a tale,” being an interlude in octosyllabic lines. The imagery is occasionally strained and the construction often faulty; but there are some passages of great beauty, and there is ample evidence of genuine poetic feeling and imaginative power. It was reviewed with mild praise by several Australian papers, eulogised by the Sydney Bulletin and noticed by, apparently, only one English paper, which, however, credited the author with a “vivid and picturesque imagination,” and stated that there was much to praise and little to blame.

As far as I can ascertain, Farrell's first contributions to the Sydney Bulletin appeared in 1882. In the issue of the 5th August of that year were printed some satirical verses entitled “An Auto-da-Fe,” dealing, in a thin disguise, with an incident which had aroused considerable feeling in Albury. These verses were subsequently reprinted in a pamphlet relating to the affair, which was published at Beechworth (Vic.). On the 14th October, 1882, the Bulletin printed the first instalment of a long poem in “Don Juan” stanzas, called “Jenny—An Australian Story,” which was


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continued almost every week until the 31st March of the following year. The story is of a kind that might have been continued indefinitely. It is full of topical allusions and slang now obsolete, with some fine patches of description and plentiful incident of a broadly humorous character. The Bulletin was then very young and strenuously unconventional. Its language was racy and free, and it encouraged the class of verse that Farrell had begun to write—satirical, slangy, and vigorous. The publication of a poem in irregular instalments of about a column at a time was an unusual proceeding for the Bulletin or any other Australian paper, but it was apparently appreciated by the readers of the day. Farrell did not venture any further flights in the more ambitious class of verse represented by “Two Stories,” but for many years confined himself to the lower level of fluent humorous narrative.

After “Jenny,” verses appeared at frequent intervals in the Bulletin until 1887. Most of the verses were unsigned, but the more important were printed over the signature—“J. Farrell.” The poem by which he has been most widely known—“How He Died”—appeared in the Bulletin of 21st July, 1883, and was reprinted in a volume of prose and verse by various Bulletin writers, called “A Golden Shanty” It was recited with great success by the well-known actor, Mr. G. S. Titheradge, and appeared in many English and American papers, by some of which it was attributed to Henry Kendall The list


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of poems which is printed in the Appendix is as complete as I could make it, but, of course, some pieces may have escaped my notice. His last poem—“A Hymn Before Battle”—was printed in the Bulletin Special Election Number on 5th December, 1903—a month before his death. His literary life was, therefore, more or less associated with that paper.

Farrell remained in Albury working at the brewery until 1883. When he first arrived in the Border City it was late at night and he was taken to “The Turk's Head Hotel,” kept by one Luke Gulson. He stayed there for some time until he got a suitable house to live in, but with Luke Gulson and his brother Thomas he formed an enduring friendship which was not affected by an incident that occurred early in their acquaintance. On the night of his arrival he found the hotel filled with people. Business was going on as usual, although it was after the time limited by the Licensing Act. Shortly afterwards the hotelkeeper was prosecuted for his disobedience of the Act, and he called Farrell as a witness in his defence. When the witness was asked to describe what he knew about the matter, he guilelessly said “that there was dancing and singing and card playing, and everyone seemed to be having a good time, and he really did not know what the police wanted to interfere for.” Farrell did not seem to understand the laughter of the audience, nor the consternation


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of the hotelkeeper, who declined to call any more witnesses, and was promptly fined by the Magistrate.

In 1879 Farrell had a severe attack of brain fever, and was taken to the Melbourne Hospital. The doctors there gave up all hope of a recovery, and for some time he lay at the point of death. Though he eventually got better, he never entirely recovered from the effects of that attack. For the rest of his life—over twenty years—he was an almost constant sufferer from various forms of neuritis. He bore the pain uncomplainingly, but was continually seeking a cure, and tried innumerable medicines, courses of diet, and treatment. After a temporary breakdown, he went to New Zealand for the sake of the hot baths at Rotorua, and gained some benefit from them, but in the latter years of his life his energy was considerably dulled by the too-frequent pain, for which no permanent remedy could be found.

Anxious to make a bid for fortune, Farrell decided to leave his employment as a brewer in Albury, and persuaded Thomas Gulson to enter into partnership with him in the establishment of a brewery of their own at Goulburn. They accordingly left Albury on the 4th March, 1883, and arrived on the same day at Goulburn, where a brewery was duly established and progressed satisfactorily. Farrell stayed eighteen months in Goulburn, and made many friends and a little money there. He left towards the end of 1884 to start a branch brewery in the town of


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Quean-beyan, not many miles distant. At Queanbeyan he worked away at the brewing of beer for two years, making a living, but certainly no fortune. It is related that one New Year's Eve a number of the lively spirits of the town who were “seeing the Old Year out” called at Farrell's house and asked for drinks. He said to them, “There is nothing here, boys, but I'll give you the keys of the brewery and you can go there and take what you want.” Of course they did so, and Queanbeyan has not yet forgotten the affair. Naturally, a man who ran a business on such lines was not likely to make a fortune. As a matter of fact, Farrell was quite unfitted for business management. He was far more deeply concerned in poetry and politics than in his own beer—which, by the way, he seldom drank. He could, and did, for the joy of the thing and the traditional literary flavour of it, write dithyrambs about rum and lyrical lines referring to ruby and topaz wine, but he cared no more for these famous liquors than he did for the aforesaid brew.

At this time Farrell was a Protectionist. He had grown up in that fiscal faith in Victoria, and while in Queanbeyan he took an important part in an election campaign on behalf of the Protectionist candidate. It happened that Sir Henry Parkes had made a speech in which he referred to the Queanbeyan electors as “yokels.” Farrell obtained control of a local paper and vigorously attacked the Freetrade leader, making the fight the hottest and most exciting Queanbeyan had ever known.




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Henry George's “Progress and Poverty” was first published at the end of 1879, in England in 1880, and quickly spreading over the world was soon circulating in Australia. It came in John Farrell's way some time in 1884, and he read it eagerly and delightedly. His nature was sympathetic; his heart was distressed by the appalling poverty of the mass of the people and the flagrant injustices of modern civilisation. To him, therefore, whose mind was exercised by the bewildering problems of social life, upon which the old Political Economy threw no light, but rather increasing darkness—“Progress and Poverty” came as a wonderful revelation. That which had been hidden was now visible; that which had been perplexing was simple and clear. It was as if one who had been blind were suddenly made to see, and the phenomena of nature, vaguely guessed at in blindness, burst upon his astonished vision. This is not the place to attempt an estimate of the value and influence of Henry George's work, but the reading of “Progress and Poverty” marked an epoch in John Farrell's life. From that time onward he was an entirely devoted and enthusiastic disciple, and all his subsequent writing was coloured to some extent by the philosophy and the faith of the Prophet of San Francisco.

Some time elapsed, however, before Farrell finally abandoned the doctrine of Protection. At first many of the followers of Henry George failed to see that there was any immediate connection between the abolition of


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tariff duties and his scheme for the destruction of land monopoly; and in New South Wales, as elsewhere, the organisations first established to advocate the Georgian theory comprised both freetraders and protectionists. Henry George's “Protection or Freetrade,” published in 1885, finally cleared away any remaining doubts Farrell may have had about the fiscal question. He soon after avowed himself a freetrader, and in October, 1887, wrote, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, a powerful attack on Protection (which he defined as a scheme of salvation by destruction) and Mr. David Buchanan, a prominent politician, whom he designated “the Father of the Smashers.” Throughout the rest of his career he worked unceasingly for land value taxation and freetrade.note

Meanwhile, in Queanbeyan, he had been writing a good deal of verse, and, encouraged by the late William


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Bede Dalley, he made preparations for the publication of the best of his work in book form. To Dalley, a man of culture, warmly interested in Australian letters, many a literary aspirant had turned confidently for criticism and encouragement, and, perhaps, in the future the many services by which Dalley helped to brighten

“….. the life austere
That waits upon the man of letters here”

will be counted as of greater worth than those which won him a Privy Councillorship.

In a letter to Mr. F. J. Broomfield, dated 28th July, 1887, Dalley relates the circumstances which made him acquainted with Farrell—

“It is six years ago—and he was then unknown—when from a distant country town he sent me a few lines containing some of his earliest


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compositions, and sought my judgment upon them. They were marked with occasional strokes of power, but were rude and unlettered, and showed such defective culture that I thought the kindest thing I could do was to tell him frankly that though I was convinced he had ‘the vision and the faculty divine,’ he would require the ‘inspiring aid of books,’ study, patience, and a severe discipline of refinement before he could produce anything worthy of his genius. He thanked me in very touching words, told me he would do what I advised, and when one day I read his poem of ‘How He Died’ I wrote to him on the spot, declaring that I recognised his hand at once. This is the origin of my knowledge of him and a brief history of my appreciation of his powers, concealed as they are partially by a rich veil of modesty.”

The selection of poems was published by subscription through Turner and Henderson, of Sydney, in January, 1887. The volume, consisting of 178 pages, demy Svo, was entitled “How He Died and other Poems,” and was sold for 10s. 6d. It was dedicated to the Right Hon. W. B. Dalley, P.C., in a sonnet strongly deprecating the spirit which rushed us into the Soudan fiasco, but appreciating, nevertheless—

“….. him, who past the blue sweet bay
Hides in a home with love and laurel crowned,
Most honoured by high nations far away,
Most loved by those, who, standing closeliest round,
See all his life …..”




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The book was reviewed at length in the Sydney Morning Herald of 22nd January, 1887, by W. B. Dalley, in the Brisbane Courier by J. Brunton Stephens, and in The Freeman's Journal, while numerous other papers gave it more or less careful treatment, and, generally, ample praise. Dalley pointed out the resemblance of much of the subject matter of the volume to Bret Harte's work, and other reviewers found likenesses to Byron, John Hay, A. L. Gordon, and G. R. Sims. The influence of Byron is, of course, marked in the poem called “Adrift,” which is part of the early booklet “Two Stories” before mentioned. Farrell had read a great deal of the then recent verse of Bret Harte, Joaquin Miller, J. Boyle O'Reilly, and other Americans of the same class. Preferring always the objective to subjective in literature, and direct statement to conventional periphrasis, he highly appreciated their fresh and vigorous verse, and was no doubt considerably affected by it in his own writing Nevertheless, as Brunton Stephens remarked in his review, “the critic would make a great mistake who would insist upon Mr. Farrell's being merely an imitator or a product of the American writer (Harte). It is much more reasonable to suppose that the resemblance is due in large measure to certain features belonging in common to the materials from which both writers draw the sustenance of their spiritual activities.”

A copy of the book had been sent to Tennyson, and Farrell received from him a pathetic note in his own handwriting:—




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“Farringford, Freshwater,

“Isle of Wight.

“I thank you for your volume of poems which has just reached me. I have only read two—‘How He Died’ and ‘No.’ The first is very spirited, and with the other I entirely sympathise. It is not much that I can read, for I have entirely lost the use of my right eye, as far as reading goes, and the left is slowly darkening, and every morning of my life come by post, from all parts of the world, poems—reams of them—with requests that I should pronounce upon their merits, and hardly ever a book of prose; and I cannot live like John the Baptist on wild honey. Nevertheless

“I thank you,

“Tennyson.

“And I may add to this brief note that the praise of your Australian critics, to which you allude so modestly, seems to me, from the little I have read, not unmerited.

“Farewell.”

The book gave Farrell a definite place in Australian literature, and that a high one. The financial results, however, were very small, especially as he gave away a great many copies of the volume.

The passionate enthusiasm for humanity, and the imperative necessity which he felt to spread abroad the newly-discovered economic principles which he considered would


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do so much to improve the condition of the people, made him anxious to find some means whereby he could effectively work for this great cause. His interest in politics was never a personal one; he was naturally retiring and so averse to advertisement that he would never attempt to make a speech at a meeting; but he, of course, recognised that it was only by political action that social reform could be obtained. His brief taste of journalism in Queanbeyan, and the literary position he had attained, showed him that by his pen he could do more to help in bringing about political action in the direction he wished than by any other means. He therefore sold his interest in the brewery at Queanbeyan in 1887, and came to Sydney to look about for an opportunity of obtaining journalistic employment. There was a paper for sale in the mining town of Lithgow, and as Farrell's health was very bad at the time, Lithgow seemed a good place for him to live in. He at once bought this paper, the recently-established Lithgow Enterprise, and went to Lithgow in March or April, 1887. There was another paper published in the town—the Lithgow Mercury—edited by J. P. T. Caulfield, then a Protectionist, which was a formidable rival to its junior contemporary. Farrell entirely changed the character of his paper, which soon became celebrated for the excellent articles which poured from his pen, articles explanatory of the various points of George's economic teaching and trenchant criticisms of current politics. Local happenings


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were often dealt with in satirical verse, making the “Rum and Cloves” column in which they appeared an interesting feature of the paper. The rivalry with the Mercury was continued on different lines, Farrell proving too able an opponent for Mr. Caulfield, who, some time later, became a convert to the Georgian faith. The paper was not, however, a financial success, and after little more than twelve months Farrell was confronted with failure. He was quite unfitted for the management of a newspaper, as he never considered small questions of policy or local interest. A company was therefore formed by a number of Land Nationalisers, with a capital of £2000; the Lithgow Mercury was purchased and amalgamated with the Enterprise, a manager was engaged, and Farrell was appointed editor. The new paper, called The Australian Land Nationaliser, was the first special organ in New South Wales of the Land Nationalisers, or Single Taxers—the name by which the followers of Henry George were subsequently distinguished. The Land Nationaliser brought together the scattered forces of the Single Tax party, and did excellent propagandist work, but it became a very inefficient local newspaper. Of the petty personal and local news which characterises most country papers there was very little, and few of the bucolic readers cared for the lengthy disquisitions on the justification of interest or discussions as to whether rent entered into price—which were the principal features of the paper. While the circulation grew abroad, it declined at home,


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the advertisers fell away, and again Farrell had to face a failure. The directors, therefore, sold out, at a heavy loss, and decided to establish a purely Single Tax paper in the capital.

Farrell left Lithgow for Sydney in 1889 to edit the new paper, which was named The Australian Standard, after Henry George's paper in New York. The paper started off well. Farrell wrote most of the contents of the early issues, including a good deal of verse, and from Sir Henry Parkes and many others he received warmly congratulatory letters upon the high quality of the journal. It was the year of the great Maritime strike, and questions of social reform were the burning questions of the time. The Single Taxers, though not very numerous, were very active, and politically influential. Negotiations were then in progress for bringing Henry George to Australia on a lecturing tour; the newspapers opened their columns to discussions on the Single Tax, and everywhere the question was debated and talked about.

The Daily Telegraph, a young and dashing paper, gave a good deal of encouragement to the new movement, reported single tax meetings fully, and devoted a larger portion of space than did any other daily to correspondence on the question. John Farrell was invited to write a series of explanatory articles for it, the first of which appeared on 24th October, 1889, under the title of “The Philosophy of the Single Tax,” the remainder appearing irregularly up to


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8th February, 1890. Before the series closed, Farrell was offered a position on the staff of The Daily Telegraph as leader writer. He accepted, and commenced work in February, 1890, handing over the Australian Standard to Mr. Frank Cotton, an early and prominent Single Taxer.

Henry George arrived in Sydney from San Francisco by the Mariposa on the 6th March, 1890. It must have been an eventful moment for John Farrell, as no doubt for many another, when first he met face to face the man who had so profoundly affected his life. Farrell wrote a lengthy account of the landing and reception of Henry George for the New York Standard, filling eight columns of that paper, and told how, upon hearing that the Mariposa would arrive early in the morning—a day earlier than expected—he and other Single Taxers secured beds at hotels near the wharf and remained sleeping or on sentry all night. The steamer did not arrive next morning, and all through the day they were in a state of unrest and excitement. In the afternoon they went in a launch to the Heads and waited there till dark, but still without a sign of the Mariposa on the horizon. Another sleepless night was passed, but at length, early on the following morning, the vessel arrived, and they met and welcomed their leader. Farrell attended all the meetings held in Sydney, and accompanied George on his inland tour and, subsequently, to Adelaide. This personal association with the man whom he held in such high regard that he considered him not


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least amongst the few great benefactors of the race was, of course, an immense pleasure to Farrell. That George had a very warm regard for and high opinion of his Sydney disciple is shown by the correspondence which he carried on with him up to the time of his own dramatic end in 1897.

On the resignation of Mr. Ward, in June, 1890, Farrell was appointed to the editorship of the Daily Telegraph. In a letter to The Standard of 30th July, 1890, George expressed his delight at hearing the news, spoke of Farrell's ability and his valuable services to the Single Tax cause, and said—“But, perhaps, the most striking characteristic of the man is the affectionate regard which he seems to inspire in all who know him.” The responsibility of his position was rather too much for Farrell, and perhaps his uncompromising spirit was too much for the proprietary—at any rate he resigned the editorship in September, 1890, but continued as a member of the leader writing staff until June, 1903. He was one of those who contributed to the “Notes of the Day” column in the Daily Telegraph over the signature of “Outis”—a striking journalistic success. Later on the various contributors adopted separate pen-names, that of Farrell being “Neimand.” In 1903, Mr. Ward came back to the editorial control of the Telegraph after a long absence, when Farrell resigned his position on the editorial staff of the paper and became a contributor of promiscuous articles.

It should be mentioned that in February, 1901, Farrell


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received from the directors an increase of salary and leave of absence for a month, and upon his final retirement last year was presented with a handsome cheque, accompanied by a letter which set forth “their high appreciation of his loyal and efficient services during the 15 years he had been associated with them,” and their best wishes for his future happiness and well being. His colleagues presented him with an address and accorded him as hearty a demonstration of friendship at a farewell banquet as any Sydney pressman has ever received.

During the time he was on the Daily Telegraph staff he made a trip to New Zealand for the sake of his health, and about January, 1899, he journeyed to Tasmania—principally for the purpose of visiting the home of John Mitchel, author of “The Jail Journal,” the result of which was a series of fine articles about John Mitchel, which appeared in the Daily Telegraph during February and March, 1899. In 1902 he made another trip to Tasmania with Mrs. Farrell. These were the only breaks in the regular round of his journalistic life, his home all this time being a comfortable cottage called “Wollondale” in the suburb of Lewisham.

After his retirement from the staff, Farrell contributed special articles to The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers. He was offered Editorial positions in other colonies which he did not care to accept, as he felt it would be too hard to sever all his ties with Sydney. He was practically offered


  ― xxxvii ―
the Editorship of the Australian Review of Reviews, and had the matter under his consideration just prior to his death. His health was, apparently, not any worse than usual until about Christmas, 1903. He kept up bravely till the end, only his family knowing how ill and utterly weary he was when he went to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital at the beginning of this year. Even then the doctors thought he would recover and be able to go about again for some time, though they knew he could not last long. Very few of his friends knew of his illness, and when it was announced in the evening papers of 8th January that John Farrell had died that morning of heart failure, resulting from Bright's disease after a few days' illness, the shock was painfully severe to a large number of people who knew him, as well as to the widow and seven children whom he left behind. He died quietly as he wished to die. He was buried at Rookwood on 9th January, in the Roman Catholic portion of the cemetery, in the simplest way possible. Mr. Frank Cotton, his oldest friend present, made a brief, affecting address, and the Rev. W. H. Beale said a prayer, and all that was earthly of John Farrell returned to the earth.

If “to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die,” Farrell will not die to the world that knew him in the flesh for a great many years to come. Few men, it may be safely said, have inspired such genuine affection in those who were associated with them as did John Farrell. He was so considerate and courteous, his manner so easy


  ― xxxviii ―
and good humoured, that one felt on good terms with him on first acquaintance, and as the acquaintance grew, and one discovered the rich qualities of his nature, his generosity, his capacity of appreciation, his intense sympathy with the poor and the oppressed, combined with fine mental powers and a humorous, sanely optimistic outlook on life, one felt that here, indeed, was a man of rare qualities, whose modesty could not conceal his really great worth There is unanimous testimony to his goodness in the numerous obituary notices which have appeared in Australian newspapers, two or three of which are reprinted in the appendix to this volume. There was no need to take refuge in the charitable maxim De Mortuis, for of this man there is nothing but good to be said. His life was full of

“Little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.”

He had a high idea of duty, and, as a citizen and as a friend, he always lived up to it. A thorough Bohemian in spirit, he cared nothing for conventions. What faults he had no one seems to know anything about; what mistakes he made seem to have been forgotten; detractors of his literary merits may arise, but never any enemies of the man. No one can point to a mean or dishonourable action on the part of John Farrell.

His early life as a brewer, and the strain of his later journalistic career, added to almost continuous suffering,


  ― xxxix ―
might easily have made him a hard drinker, but he seldom drank alcoholic liquors at all. He, however, derived a good deal of consolation from his pipe. One of his weaknesses in the latter part of his life was an over-indulgence in mining speculation. He dreaded the possibility of bad health affecting his capacity to earn money for his family, and always had the hope that he might be fortunate some day and make sufficient to put them beyond the fear of want. Alas! all his ventures were

“.… but a fleet of glass
Wrecked on a reef of visionary gold.”

Nothing seemed to disturb his equanimity. Whatever disappointment he felt at the failure of his speculations—and they were all failures—he kept to himself, making jests out of them for his friends.

Few people ever applied to him for help without success. He must have given away a good deal of his income to needy acquaintances, and he always contributed generously to the funds of the Single Tax organisation. He gave, also, what was more valuable—his time and services—to the cause he loved, spending hours almost every evening in replying to letters received from various parts of the world, and every Single Taxer who visited Sydney made a point of calling on John Farrell and taking up some of his time. When the Single Tax—a monthly journal of the league—was established in 1893, Farrell gratuitously edited it and wrote most of the contents for


  ― xl ―
the first year or two. For a number of years he acted as New South Wales correspondent for American Single Tax papers. Everything he could do for the advancement of the Single Tax cause he did cheerfully and well.

Farrell was a very well-read man, but by no means bookish. His preferences in literature were not guided by the principle of “art for art's sake”; the subject matter was his first consideration. “Style is not everything,” he said; “kind hearts are more than style.” On this account he regarded Dickens as one of the noblest of literary geniuses, and amongst living novelists he held Mrs. Sarah McLean Greene in highest esteem. Olive Schreiner's “Story of an African Farm,” Reade's “The Cloister and the Hearth,” and Besant's “Children of Gibeon” were great favourites of his. He was far from being impervious to the charm of style; Tennyson and Swinburne amongst recent poets, and Stevenson as novelist and essayist, were read with constant pleasure. Stevenson he considered to be “the head master of style; a fine, all-round literary artist, who can beautify, without in the slightest degree disguising, everything he touches.” Kipling's early work appealed to him strongly on account of its force and frankness, but with the later Kipling of blatant jingoism he had no sympathy. Browning and Meredith he had grappled with, but failed to appreciate; and he had no interest in the modern symbolistic and mystical movement in literature. He had a high opinion of the works of many Australian writers, and


  ― xli ―
during the period in which he wrote the book reviews for The Daily Telegraph any new novel or book of poems by an Australian author was sure to receive the fullest appreciation possible from Farrell.

As a conversationalist Farrell was finely humorous and interesting. He was fond of talking, and, withal, an excellent listener. He would argue at length, logically and clearly, and with a wealth of illustration on most questions—particularly political economy, which he considered as first amongst the things that matter. When William Lane was in Sydney engaged in organising the expedition to New Australia, he saw a good deal of Farrell, and, I believe, they engaged in an argument on the scheme—an argument which lasted for many hours at a time all through one week. Farrell, an individualist, was opposed to this communistic settlement, and set forth his reasons against it in a series of articles—“For those who remain”—in the Brisbane Worker (February-July, 1893).

His prose was always lucid and persuasive, and he showed considerable ability in handling dry subjects in an interesting way. Without any special training, he developed rapidly into a very capable journalist, and for ephemeral newspaper publication he wrote many finely-phrased and eloquent articles. It should be worth while rescuing some of these, and I am sure that a selection of his contributions on literary and economic subjects would rank amongst the best prose produced in Australia. It is a pity that such a


  ― xlii ―
fine writer should have been practically wasted on journalism—a regret expressed in many of the obituary notices, and Mr. J. Longmuir, in an article on Farrell which appeared in The Newsletter of the 16th January, aptly quoted J. G. Whittier's lines:—

“And one there was, a dreamer born,
Who, with a mission to fulfil,
Had left the Muse's haunts to turn
The crank of an opinion mill,
Making his rustic reed of song
A weapon in the war with Wrong.

Yet, while he wrought with strenuous will
The work his hands had found to do,
He heard the fitful music still
Of winds that out of dreamland blew.”

Still, Farrell himself would not have considered his journalistic work a misuse of his talents, so long as he felt that his leaders were “weapons in the war with Wrong.”

He had a very moderate view of the value of his own writings, and avoided any discussion of them. He knew in later years that the bulk of his early work was crude and diffuse, but he knew, without mock modesty, that he had written a few really good things—such as “Australia,” which appeared as an introduction to the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia in 1888, and “Ave Imperatrix,” which was first printed in the Daily Telegraph in 1897, and he felt himself capable of producing good verse if he had leisure


  ― xliii ―
and freedom from the pain which often made the mere act of writing very troublesome. I well remember meeting him early in the morning before Jubilee Day, 1897, when he told me that he had a poem in his pocket which he would read to me. We went into a room near by, and he rolled out the poem in that rich brogue of his which was the delight of all his friends. I expressed my appreciation, and he said, “Yes, I think it is good myself,” in an honest, dispassionate way. He had been asked by the editor of the Daily Telegraph on the previous day if he could write something appropriate for the celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. He sat down that evening and, writing at a white heat all through the night, had finished “Ave Imperatrix” by the morning. It occupied about a column of the Daily Telegraph on the 22nd June, 1897, and elicited warm congratulations from all parts of Australia. The late J. Brunton Stephens wrote a characteristically generous letter of praise:—

“Brisbane, 8th July, 1897.

“My dear Farrell,

“I must congratulate you or bust. That is really a grand piece of work your ‘Ave Imperatrix.’ I am showing it all round, and everybody to whom I have shown it has thanked me for doing so. To my mind, the poem was the event of the Jubilee Day in Australia. I have read it over and over


  ― xliv ―
again, and each time with increased enjoyment. Go on and prosper. … “Yours faithfully and (I must now say) respectfully,

“J. Brunton Stephens.”

The poem, with slight alterations and a new title—“Australia to England”—was reprinted as a booklet by Angus and Robertson. Copies of this were sent to England and America for review, and the general verdict was highly laudatory. Professor Dowden wrote of it as “a memorable poem, fine and vigorous in spirit, in utterance and in the movement of its verse.” Rudyard Kipling, Cardinal Vaughan, Conan Doyle, Morley Roberts, Miss Jane Barlow, and many others wrote to the author in terms of appreciation.

The selection of poems printed in this volume is practically that made by John Farrell himself when he arranged with Messrs. Angus and Robertson to publish a volume which would comprise the best of the 1887 edition of “How he Died and other Poems,” and some new verses. He was dissatisfied with much of his old work, a great deal of it being occasional verse containing topical allusions, which soon become unintelligible. He hoped to write a good deal of new verse to include in the book, which was announced in 1896; but the opportunity did not come to him, and nothing of any value in verse was written after “Ave Imperatrix.” He had carefully


  ― xlv ―
revised a good deal of his earlier work, and re-written most of the poems here printed. During the last few months of his life he had intended to complete the work of revision, but he became so engrossed in the Federal elections held in December last that he put everything else aside—and he died on the 8th January He was aware of many blemishes, faulty rhymes, and technical errors in his poems, most of which were written rapidly for newspaper publication. A comparison of the present form of “How He Died” with that in which it first appeared will show that Farrell had recognised and removed the principal defects in this case; doubtless the same process would have been applied to the rest. I have thought it best to print them all as he left them. I have included “In Ballarat” in deference to his apparent intention, and omitted those poems which I believe he wished omitted. The selection as it stands may be considered to comprise John Farrell's best work in verse.

June, 1904. Bertram Stephens
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