By Ron Breznay
Originally published on September 5, 2008 in Hellnotes
The Authors and Their Works
Francis Adams (1862-1893)
Francis William Lauderdale Adams was born on September 27, 1862, in Malta. He spent some of his childhood in Canada and Ireland and attended schools in England and France. While in France, he drafted his first novel. In the early 1880s, he married Helen Uttley and the couple moved to Australia. After arrival, he became a committed republican. He began writing for the Bulletin, the left-wing The Boomerang, and the Brisbane Courier.
His early works included a volume of poems, Henry and Other Poems (1884); an autobiographical novel, Leicester, An Autobiography (1885); Australian Essays (1886); and a collection of radical poetry, Songs of the Army of the Night (1888). A crime novel, Madeline Brown’s Murderer, appeared in 1887. He also wrote social sketches and journalism.
In 1886, Adams’ wife and infant son died. He later married Edith Goldstone, an Australian. They left for England in 1890, and the following year, he started writing for The Fortnightly Review.
Adams had suffered from various medical problems his entire life, beginning with incurable tuberculosis contracted in childhood and including hemorrhages and throat cancer, which led to depression. On September 4, 1893, at his home in Margate, England, he shot himself after he could no longer live with his health conditions.
Among Adams’ supernatural works is “The Hut by the Tanks” (1892), a ghost story set in the bush, in which the narrator takes shelter in an abandoned hut that he finds isn’t quite as deserted as he had first thought.
William Astley (aka Price Warung) (1855-1911)
William Astley was born in Liverpool, England, on August 13, 1855. His family emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, four years later, where Astley received his education. He worked first in a bookstore and then as a journalist. At age 21, he became editor of the Richmond Guardian. In the ensuing years, he worked for many newspapers, for which he traveled around southeast Australia. He finally settled in Sydney in 1891 with his wife, Louisa. In the 1890s, he gained a reputation as a pro-Federation, pro-Labor journalist.
In the 1880s and 1890s, Astley began publishing convict tales in the Bulletin. Many were satires critical of the colonial government. Some of these stories were collected in Tales of the Convict System (1892), Tales of the Early Days (1894), Tales of the Old Regime (1897), and Half-Crown Bob and Tales of the Riverine (1898). He also wrote a novel, Convict Hendy (1898). He was an excellent journalist and was renown for his contributions to the study of early Australian history.
Astley had a nervous breakdown in 1878, following which he had recurrent mental problems. During the latter 1890s, Astley’s health and finances began failing and he became addicted to morphine. He died in the Rookwood Benevolent Asylum in Sydney on October 5, 1911.
Astley’s story “The Pegging-Out of Overseer Franke” (1892) appears in The Anthology of Colonial Australian Gothic Fiction. While not a supernatural story, it is horrific nevertheless in its depiction of convict life and the revenge carried out by the cons on the title character.
Barbara Baynton (1857-1929)
Barbara Janet Ainsleigh Baynton, Lady Headley, was born on June 4, 1857, in Scone, New South Wales, Australia. However, she claimed to have been born in 1862 to “better” parents in order to get into polite circles as a governess. She was educated at home and later worked as a housekeeper and governess. She married Alex Frater, the son of her employers, in 1880, and they lived a hard life in rural New South Wales. She divorced Frater after finding out he was having an affair. In 1890, she married the much older Thomas Baynton, a retired doctor in Sydney. With the improved financial circumstances of this marriage, she was able to write. She published a collection of six stories, Bush Studies, in 1902, which was critically acclaimed. She had this book published in England after she failed to find a publisher in Australia. Her husband died in 1904 and left her his entire estate, after which she led the life of a wealthy widow in Australia and England. She was married again in 1921, to Rowland George Alanson-Winn, the fifth baron Headley, but she left him three years later to return to Australia. She died in Melbourne on May 28, 1929.
She was noted for rejecting Australia’s nationalism, and her stories focused on the struggles of women to cope with the harshness and isolation of life in the Australian bush.
Baynton’s only novel was the heavily symbolic Human Toll (1907), part of Duckworth’s Colonial Library, which tells the story of an apparently illegitimate girl in the outback and includes scenes of death, hidden treasure, grave-robbing, and other gothic themes. Duckworth’s reprinted the stories from Bush Studies along with two additional stories in a collection entitled Cobbers (1917).
Baynton’s horror tales include her first story, “The Chosen Vessel,” also known as “The Tramp,” which was published in 1896 in the Bulletin. The ghost story “A Dreamer” (1902) starts with a chilling description of a young woman’s walk through a dark countryside on her way to see her mother, and then what happens when she reaches the house. “Scrammy’And” and “Squeaker’s Mate” are other tales of terror.
Guy Boothby (1867-1905)
Guy Newell Boothby was born in Adelaide, Australia, on October 13, 1867, and went to England with his mother for schooling. He returned to Adelaide when he was 16 and took a job as a clerk in the Adelaide town clerk’s office, and he later became secretary to the mayor of Adelaide. He eventually began to write for the theater and to act in some of his plays.
After one of his plays failed, he sailed with a friend for England, but they ran out of funds in Ceylon, and proceed to Singapore, Borneo, and Java. They ended up in Queensland and traveled across Australia. Boothby wrote a book about their experiences, On the Wallaby or Through the East and Across Australia. He took the book to England in 1894 and had it published. His first novel, In Strange Company: A Story of Chili and the Southern Seas, appeared that same year. In 1895, he married Rose Alice Bristowe in London. He became a prolific and popular novelist, writing more than 50 books in ten years (his average output was 6000 words a day). His five Dr Nikola novels, published from 1895 through 1901, were sensational books about a hypnotist who studied witchcraft and the occult. The books became international bestsellers. This allowed him a comfortable lifestyle.
Boothby died of pneumonia in Bournemouth, England, on February 26, 1905.
His story “With Three Phantoms” (1897) is perhaps based on his travels across Australia as it deals with exploratory expeditions. A frail, weather beaten man stumbles into a remote desert barracks and tells his tale of being the only survivor of an expedition and wandering the desert for years before three ghostly riders led him to safety.