BRACKEN, Thomas (1843-1898)

BRACKEN, Thomas (1843-1898)
poet and journalist
was born at Clones, near Dublin, in 1843. His mother died soon afterwards, his father when he was 10 years old. About two years later he was sent to Victoria where an uncle was a farmer near Geelong. He worked on his uncle's farm, then in a chemist's shop at Bendigo, and then on a station. In 1867 he published a small volume of verse, The Haunted Vale a Legend of the Murray and other Poems. Two years later he went to New Zealand and for many years was a journalist. His second volume, Behind the Tomb; and other Poems, was published at Melbourne in 1871 and in 1877 Flowers of the Free Lands was published at Dunedin. In 1881 Bracken was elected to the house of representatives for Dunedin Central, but at the 1884 election lost his seat by three votes. He was elected again in 1886 but was not a candidate in 1887 or at any subsequent election. In the meantime he had published in 1884 Lays of the Land of the Maori and Moa, which contains some of his best work. A collection of his poems with illustrations, Musings in Maoriland, was published in 1890. Bracken went to Australia to push its sales, and a large number of copies was disposed of. He also did some lecturing which was not a success. In 1893 a selection from his poems, Lays and Lyrics; God's Own Country and other Poems was published, and in 1894 Bracken was given the bill readership in the house of representatives at Wellington. His health, however, was declining and he returned to Dunedin within a year. He died there in straightened circumstances on 16 February 1898. He had come from Protestant Irish stock but became a Roman Catholic during the last two years of his life. He left a widow and one son.
Bracken was a man of generous temperament and a good journalist, but his reputation as a poet has steadily declined. Some of his work is good popular verse, but the bulk of it is quite undistinguished. He is remembered as the author of the phrase "God's Own Country" as applied to New Zealand, and for a set of verses "Not Understood", the somewhat over-facile sentiment of which has had much appeal to more than one generation of reciters. A selection from Bracken's poems, Not Understood and other Poems, first published in 1905, has since been reprinted in many editions. A list of his works will be found in Serle's A Bibliography of Australasian Poetry and Verse.
Otago Daily Times, 17 February 1898; G. W Otterson, Memoirs of Thomas Bracken.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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