BROWNE, Thomas Alexander, Rolf Boldrewood (1826-1915)

BROWNE, Thomas Alexander, Rolf Boldrewood (1826-1915)
was born in England on 6 August 1826. His father, Captain Sylvester John Browne, formerly of the East India Company's service, emigrated to Australia in 1830. His mother, Eliza Angell Alexander, was his "earliest admirer and most indulgent critic . . . to whom is chiefly due whatever meed of praise my readers may hereafter vouchsafe" (Dedication Old Melbourne Memories). The boy was sent to W. T. Cape's (q.v.) school at Sydney, and afterwards to Sydney College, when Cape became its headmaster. When his father moved to Melbourne in 1840, he remained for some time at the school as a boarder. In 1843, though only 17 years old, Browne took up land near Port Fairy and was there until 1856. He visited England in 1860 and in 1864 had station property in the Riverina; but bad seasons in 1866 and 1868 compelled Browne to give up squatting, and in 1871 he became a police magistrate and goldfields commissioner. He held these positions for about 25 years. In 1865 he had two articles on pastoral life in Australia in the Cornhill Magazine, and he also began to contribute articles and serial stories to the Australian weeklies. One of these, Ups and Downs: a Story of Australian Life, was published in book form in London in 1878. It was well reviewed but attracted little notice. It was re-issued as The Squatter's Dream in 1890. In 1884 Old Melbourne Memories, a book of reminiscences of the eighteen-forties was published at Melbourne, "by Rolf Boldrewood, author of My Run Home, The Squatter's Dream and Robbery Under Arms". These had appeared in the Sydney Town and Country Journal and the Sydney Mail, but only The Squatter's Dream had been published in book form and then under the title of Ups and Downs. In 1888 Robbery Under Arms appeared in three volumes and its merits were immediately recognized. Several editions were printed before the close of the century. Other novels appeared in quick succession, including The Miner's Right, and A Colonial Reformer in 1890, A Sydney Side Saxon (1891), Nevermore (1892), A Modern Buccaneer (1894), The Sphinx of Eaglehawk (1895), The Crooked Stick (1895), The Sealskin Coat (1896), My Run Home (1897), Plain Living (1898), A Romance of Canvas Town (1898), War to the Knife (1899), Babes in the Bush (1900), In Bad Company and Other Stories (1901), The Ghost Camp (1902), The Last Chance (1905). Few of these can be compared in merit with Robbery Under Arms. The Miner's Right has possibly ranked next in popularity and The Squatter's Dream and A Colonial Reformer give interesting and faithful pictures of squatting life in the early days. Browne lived near Melbourne from the time of his retirement in 1895 until his death on 11 March 1915. He married in 1860, Margaret Maria, daughter of W. E. Riley, who survived him with two sons and five daughters, one of whom, "Rose Boldrewood", published a novel The Complications at Collaroi in 1911. Mrs Browne was the author of The Flower Garden in Australia, published in 1893.
Browne was tall and big framed, fond of hunting and shooting. He began to write as the result of an accident. He had been kicked on the ankle by a horse and wrote his articles for the Cornhill while confined to his house. Most of his work after he became a magistrate was written before breakfast and in the evening. There was no waiting for inspiration; once having got his characters together and made a start he could always see the way to the finish. Robbery Under Arms became a classic in the author's lifetime, and will continue to rank as one of the best Australian novels. He knew his subject perfectly, every detail of the life was familiar to him, and all is set down with a simplicity and sincerity that will prevent the story from becoming old-fashioned. Some of his novels are the merely pedestrian work of a ready writer, but his Old Melbourne Memories is a valuable record of the conditions soon after the founding of that city, and interesting sketches of Browne's boyhood at Sydney will be found in the volume In Bad Company and Other Stories.
The Argus, 12 March 1915; The Lone Hand, August 1913; E. Morris Miller, Australian Literature; Rolf Boldrewood, In Bad Company and other Stories, H. G. Turner, The Development of Australian Literature; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; J. H. Heaton, Australian Dictionary of Dates.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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