Know Your Poets

From time to time we will research an Australian poet, post a small biography here, and also print a poem epitomising that poet.

April’s poet is Henry Kendall with research submitted by Eileen Flynn.

Henry Kendall was born in either 1839 or 1841 and died of consumption in 1882. He was born one of twin boys, near Ulladulla on the N.S.W south coast. The family, which had increased with the addition of three girls, moved north to the Clarence River area. Henry’s father died when he was ten and the children were dispersed among relatives. Henry was described by his son, Fredrick, as a nervous and delicate youth but he was put to work as a cabin boy on his uncle’s whaling boat, sailing the Pacific for two years. As an adult he was said to have looked back on those years with horror.
He worked at many clerical jobs in Grafton and Sydney,  married Charlotte and they had a daughter and son. Sadly their daughter died after they travelled to Melbourne so Henry could try to earn a living from writing poetry and prose. Unfortunately he failed. He and a friend, Adam Lindsey Gordon, were discussing the lack of interest and support of their work by the public and were feeling very melancholy. The next day, Adam Lindsey Gordon shot himself. In his depressed and destitute state Henry started drinking, was caught trying to pass a forged cheque to feed his family , declared a lunatic and put in an asylum for a time.
He returned north and found clerical work with the Fagan brothers who were timber merchants and they became good friends. Henry was nursed by Charlotte during the last year of his life in the Redfern home of one of the Fagan brothers, He is buried in Waverly Cemetery and a memorial column was erected by his friends.
Henry Kendall published three books: “Poems and Songs”, “Leaves From Australian Forests”, and “Songs From the Mountains”.

We have “Leaves From Australian Forests” in our library and it is well worth your time to read through his verse.

Three of Henry’s poems were in the set reading books used by Queensland State Schools. They were “Bellbirds” , “Song of the Cattle Hunters”, and “The Last of His Tribe” Because of this exposure, these three poems became favourites of mine and although many years have passed since my school days, I still recall snatches of these poems when prompted by some situation. eg. when I was walking in Canarvon Gorge a thunderstorm developed above the cliffs where there was aboriginal art and in my head was the stanza beginning “Uloola, behold him! The thunder that breaks “.
I have chosen “The Last of His Tribe” as my favourite.
The Last of His Tribe

He crouches, and buries his face on his knees
And hides in the dark of his hair;
For he cannot look up to the storm smitten trees,
Or think of the lonliness there-
Of the loss and the lonliness there .

The wallaroos grope through the tufts of the grass,
And turn to their covers for fear:
But he sits in the ashes and lets them pass
Where the boomerangs sleep with the spear-
With the nulla, the sling, and the spear.

Uloola, behold him! The thunder that breaks
On the tops of the rocks with the rain,
And the wind which drives up with the salt of the lakes,
Have made him a hunter again-
A hunter and fisher again.

For his eyes have been full with a smouldering thought;
But he dreams of the hunts of yore,
And of foes that he sought, and of fights that he fought
With those who will battle no more-
Who will go to the battle no more.

It is well that the water which tumbles and fills,
Goes moaning and moaning along;
For an echo rolls out from the sides of the hills,
And he starts at a wonderful song-
At the sounds of a wonderful song.

And he sees through the mists of the scattering fogs,
The corroboree warlike and grim,
And the lubra who sat by the fire on the logs,
To watch, like a mourner, for him-
Like a mother and mourner for him.

Will he go in his sleep from these desolate lands,
Like a chief, to the rest of his race,
With the honey-voiced woman who beckons and stands,
And gleams like a dream in his face-
Like a marvellous dream in his face.

Henry Kendall


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