State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 23 April 1979


J. J. Shillinglaw's Annotations on His Natural Life

One of the most interesting books in the recent La Trobe Library exhibition ‘Celebrating Australian Books’ was the first edition of Marcus Clarke's His Natural Life,1 inscribed by the author to his friend and critic J. J. Shillinglaw,2 who later presented the book to the Library after making detailed annotations in preparation for a newspaper review.3 Shillinglaw wrote in the margins, on the endpapers and across the advertisement leaves, marking sections of the work for further notice, querying the author's purpose and commenting on the development of the plot and the consistency of the characterisation. These notes are a valuable record of contemporary criticism and their presence in this edition, published in 1874, makes an already rare book unique.
Clarke and Shillinglaw had been literary associates and social companions for some years. They were original members of the Yorick Club, founded in 1868 by the editor of the Argus Frederick Haddon as an informal association of journalists.4 When the club developed into a stable institution and membership widened to include representatives of other professions, Clarke and Shillinglaw were among those members who continued to meet informally in a group known as the Cave af Adullam. They were also associated in the production of the Colonial Monthly from March 1868,5 when Shillinglaw was one of an advisory committee that supported Clarke as editor, until September 1869, when Clarke left the magazine to launch the satirical Humbug,6 and Shillinglaw took over as editor and sole proprietor in an effort to keep the Colonial Monthly going. Both magazines ceased publication in January 1870, by which time Clarke was involved in preparation for the writing of his convict novel.
The first instalment of His Natural Life appeared in the Australian Journal in March 1870. Just over four years later the author wrote the following inscription on the title-page of Shillinglaw's copy of the revised version of the completed novel: ‘J. J. Shillinglaw, from the Author, “Thank God!” 30 April 1874.’ Shillinglaw responded with the Memorandum on the front free endpaper:
This Book cost Marcus Clarke some 4 or 5 years hard work on and off which is the reason he writes “Thank God” now that it is finished.
There had been an early indication of Clarke's interest in the penal system of the convict era in his first novel Long Odds, a story of racing life and London society written especially for the Colonial Monthly.9 In Chapter Ten, published in the magazine in June 1868, he introduced a grim story of Norfolk Island into a lighthearted after-dinner conversation. When the Australian Bob Calverley entertains his companions with anecdotes of old colonial days, Rupert Dacre of the Foreign Office repeats the tale of the Sheriff who, after prior discussion with the men concerned, advanced the execution of eight convicts so that he might be free to attend the Governor's picnic. Dacre insists that every word is true.
Similar stories were to be found in ‘the store of pamphlets, books and records of old times, which is found in the Public Library’, the source acknowledged by Clarke in the Preface to the collection Old Tales of a Young Country, published in Melbourne by Mason, Firth & McCutcheon in 1871. The first of these tales appeared in the Australasian in February 1870,10 one month before His Natural Life commenced serialization in the Australian Journal. Both series ran concurrently and there is considerable duplication of the original material. For instance, Clarke's description of Macquarie Harbour, given with acknowledgment to James Backhouse in ‘The Seizure of the Cyprus’,11 is closely followed in the chapter ‘The Topography of Van Diemen's Land’,12 while the story of the recapture of the ‘Cyprus’ mutineers in London is also used in the chapter ‘What Became of the Mutineers of the Osprey’.13
Clarke went to Tasmania with Frederick Haddon in January 1870 so that he could see for himself the conditions under which

Title-page and front free endpaper of the La Trobe Library's copy of the 1874 edition of His Natural Life with notes by J. J. Shillinglaw.

the convicts had suffered existence at Port Arthur. The trip was financed by the Argus, with the assistance of an advance from Clarson, Massina & Company, whom Clarke had approached with the suggestion that they bring out a tale of his, ‘full of thrilling incidents relating to the old convict life in Tasmania’14. Although transportation to the eastern colonies had ceased in 1852 there were still some superannuated convicts at the old penal settlement and Clarke was deeply affected by the forbidding atmosphere of the place. His impressions of Port Arthur formed the basis of a large section of the novel. They were also the source for his report for the Argus, published in three instalments in 1873, under the heading ‘Port Arthur’.15
With ample material reinforced by personal observation, the author was ready and enthusiastic to begin. Two or three chapters appeared in each successive issue of the Australian Journal and the novel was soon well under way. As the story developed, however, it became obvious that it was going to be a far longer work than Clarke and the proprietors of the Journal had at first expected. Instead of being completed in twelve episodes, as proposed, it ran to twenty-seven while public interest declined. In June 1870 Clarke was appointed Secretary to the Trustees of the Public Library. Regular employment meant that the writing of the novel as well as the journalism that augmented his salary had to be done in his free time. He found it difficult to keep up with the regular demands for another instalment although he was not as dilatory as rumour has suggested.16 On one occasion, the monthly instalment was shorter than usual;17 on another, he failed to produce anything at all in time for publication.18
Eventually the serialization was complete and, as had been the case with Long Odds, the author was anxious to have his novel published in book form. He was gaining some reputation as a colonial writer. Long Odds had been quite successful and a second work of a topical and more substantial nature might be expected to be well received. There can be no doubt of Clarke's sincerity in exposing the evils of the transportation system. The intensity of his treatment of injustice is sustained throughout the novel. At the same time, he was desperately in need of the financial assurance that success might bring. His salary, while adequate in moderation, was insufficient to maintain the congenial social life he preferred, let alone support his growing family. Payments received for contributions to newspapers and periodicals were of welcome assistance. Even so, he was often in debt.19
The novel, as serialized, had been too long drawn out for popular taste and it was necessary to spend some time in careful revision of the sometimes hastily written work, tightening up the plot, refining the characterisation and reorganizing the material. Clarke had had some experience in this sort of revision. Long Odds required a certain amount of alteration and correction before it was ready to be published as a book. These alterations were of minor importance, serving mainly as the means for improvement in literary style or, as was the case with Chapter 4 of the serialization that became Chapter 5 of the book, deleting the chapter ending in order to further the requirements of a complete novel rather than those of a serial story. There is evidence of revision throughout, with the most frequent changes being made in the Colonial Monthly instalments for July and August 1868, written by George Walstab while Clarke was recovering from a hunting accident.20
Long Odds was ready for republication almost as soon as the serialization was complete. Revision had not been difficult and Clarke found it necessary to make very few alterations in the final chapters, which were written more carefully with the forthcoming book in mind. It was to be a different matter with His Natural Life. Almost two years passed while the author wrestled with the unwieldy mass that he had created. He sought the advice of his friends and contemporaries, asking for suggestions as to the best manner of improvement before adopting the major alterations incorporated in the book. By the
time he had finished, the beginning and ending of the novel had been rewritten, with consequent changes throughout, and the work had been reduced by half its length.
Clarke's greatest difficulty was to find a convincing motive for Rufus Dawes's silence. In the original version Richard Devine (Dawes under his real name) is arrested and tried for the murder of his German companion. Although innocent of this crime, he refuses to divulge either his own identity or his relationship with the dead man. This information is withheld from the reader until the end of the novel, so that there is always a certain mystery about Dawes's conviction. It is only in the closing chapters that Clarke reveals that the German had been killed for gain of the synthetic jewels that he was attempting to sell in order to raise money for the manufacture of a diamond by alchemy. Dawes, who was married to Blinzler's daughter, kept silence so that he might protect his wife, feeling even more constrained to do so because he no longer loved her. An appeal to his father, Sir Richard Devine, might have saved him, but this is impossible because Sir Richard had disinherited his son by reason of his marriage.
Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, one of the people whom Clarke consulted about the revision, considered the complicated motive inadequate for the justification of a life of self-sacrifice. Duffy suggested that a more sympathetic reason be given for Dawes's silence.21 Clarke's first invention was that Dawes should have sacrificed himself to spare a beloved woman whose own lover has committed the offence for which he is himself condemned.22 This again was unconvincing and, in the final revision, Dawes keeps silent in order that his mother might be saved from disgrace.
J. J. Shillinglaw claimed the credit for suggesting this solution to the problem of finding a credible motive. He wrote at the foot of page 461 of the review copy:
Note — In a book which has been tinkered at by so many hands male and female — including the man to whom it is dedicated [Gavan Duffy] — it is hard to say what new turns of thought have been suggested to the author since this novel appeared first in the “Australian Journal”.
But I claim to have suggested that at least no man would make such a sacrifice as did Dawes except to save say the reputation of a Mother and M.C. instantly saw it. Compare original. But the skill of construction is all his own.
The alteration was put into effect with the substitution of a short Prologue for the original Book One. In this prologue Sir Richard Devine, outraged at his wife's disclosure of the real parentage of her son, turns the young man out as a condition of his agreement to keep the matter secret. Richard leaves his mother to find the body of his natural father Lord Bellasis on the nearby heath and to see Sir Richard Devine hurrying back to his house. He is convicted of murder and robbery on circumstantial evidence and, although he believes that Sir Richard has killed Lord Bellasis in a fit of jealousy, he keeps silent in order to protect his mother's honour.
This change in plot caused a great number of alterations to the text. Any references to Hans Blinzler had to be deleted and those relating to Richard Devine's parents had to be revised. The characterisation of Rufus Dawes was altered so that from the beginning he is more sympathetic figure, brutalized during the course of his imprisonment, but basically of noble character. Other major characters were reconceived: the prison commandant Maurice Frere is presented as a man corrupted by the misuse of power rather than as a natural bully; his wife Sylvia, for love of whom Dawes is sustained, becomes a graver figure, childless and unhappy instead of a coquettish wife and doting mother. Mr. North is treated with the dignity that befits him as an intelligent man, tormented by his own doubts and weaknesses, with a love for Sylvia that is more credible than that of the stammering, infatuated clergyman of the original. Minor characters such as the imposter John Rex, who now stands revealed as the true murderer of Lord Bellasis, are
given more prominence as required by the alterations in the plot.
All this took time and effort in which each major alteration involved a minor chain of related corrections. The ending of the original novel was unsatisfactory. Gavan Duffy considered it to be ‘long and … unduly protracted’ and suggested that it should be ‘mercilessly expunged.'23 Clarke adopted this advice and deleted the last section in which was described the escape from drowning of Rufus Dawes and his subsequent life as a squatter's shepherd in Victoria, the events leading up to the Eureka Stockade and its aftermath, Melbourne society in the years following the goldrushes, the murder of Maurice Frere and Richard Devine's return to Europe to clear his name and to be reconciled with his wife. Once again, these changes involved others. Clarke had to go back through the text to ensure that all the loose threads were tied. He was very thorough: a few minor inconsistences are evident on reading both versions in conjunction but they are of little importance to the novel as a whole.24
Eventually the work of revision was finished. It remained only for an Appendix of historical sources to be compiled and the novel was ready for the publisher. In its new form it was likely to be successful. Clarke had changed and cut down the original to suit popular taste and each alteration had been designed as an improvement on the serial story. Even so, large sections of the author's work had been discarded, and the plot altered, in order to meet practical demands. Shillinglaw gives us an indication of Clarke's regret that this should be so. He wrote on page 480, following the last items of the Appendix:
A curious Appendix might be made as to doubts existing in the Author's mind about the beginning and ending of this Book. If an Edition were ever published in the “Land of Might-have-been” it wouldn't be a bit like this.25
The real edition — not that of the dreamworld — was the one that Shillinglaw now set his mind to review. It was not an easy task and, in relief at its completion, he wrote on the front free endpaper:
In reviewing it [this book] for a Melbourne Paper I have spent 4 days doing nothing else than reading it at feverish intervals and I declare that the effect on my mind at these times, and since, has been so horrible that I would not willingly undertake the job again.
It is a horribly interesting book and an Author must surely require to have a distinctly honest Purpose to serve before he dares to lift such a veil to the eyes of every reader — young or old.
I have been familiar with portions of the monster depicted in the M.S.S. and in its serial form: but in this volume it has become a Frankenstein instinct with a hideous life and it goes to the top of my Bookshelves with another — and very comprehensive “Thank God”.
J.J.S. 3. v. 74.
The horrors of the transportation system were uppermost in Shillinglaw's mind when he wrote on the advertisement leaves at the back of the book, noting floggings, drownings, murders, suicides and other violent forms of death and torture. He was most disturbed by Clarke's account of the inhumane treatment of the young and delicate prisoner Kirkland who, after suffering gross indignities at the hands of his fellow convicts, is flogged to death by Rufus Dawes, acting under forced instruction from the prison authorities. Shillinglaw felt a ‘hot flush of shame and indignation at reading this product of civilization’. He went on to say, ‘Clarke must be very sure and accurate or he should not dare to harrow up our feelings by such a story. Does it serve a good surprise? It makes one's heart sick’.
Clarke's purpose was clearly stated in his dedication to Sir Charles Gavan Duffy:
… I have endeavoured in “His Natural Life” to set forth the working and the results of an English system of transportation carefully considered and carried out under official supervision; and to illustrate in a manner best calculated, as I think, to attract general attention, the inexpediency of again allowing offenders against the law
to be herded together in places remote from the wholesome influence of public opinion, and to be submitted to a discipline which must necessarily depend for its just administration upon the personal character and temper of their gaolers … Some of the events narrated are doubtless tragic and terrible; but I hold it needful to my purpose to record them, for they are events which have actually occurred, and which, if the blunders which produced them be repeated, must infallibly occur again.
Shillinglaw had to concede, as he does in his review, that Clarke, writing with this purpose in mind, had the full support of the Appendix that lists official and other reliable sources for each chapter.
Despite his repugnance at the more sensational aspects of the novel, Shillinglaw was conscientious in preparation for his review. Writing diagonally across the advertisement leaves for George Robertson's recent publications, he noted events and commented on the action with careful attention to detail, working his way page by page through the whole book. When he was satisfied that he had covered every important point, he wrote on the back free endpaper, in parody of Longfellow, the following lines:
Tho’ the mills of John grind slowly
Yet they grind exceeding small.26
Though the mills of God grind slowly,
yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting,
with exactness grinds he all.
Many of Shillinglaw's notes are simple reminders of particular events in context; others are critical remarks, similar to those written in the margins here and there in the text. There is praise for Clarke's ‘great skill’ in introducing John Rex's letter at the dinner party at Captain Vickers’ house and his handling of the subsequent conversation. Shillinglaw was also impressed by the dialogue between North and Dawes when North confesses his drunkenness and asks Dawes's forgiveness for his lack of support. He is critical, however, of Clarke's account of North's secret drinking, remarking that ‘North's wrestle with the brandy's fine’, but remaining unconvinced of the realistic treatment of the problem: ‘… surely if the habit was so strong in him it must have been observed by others, the commandant, etc.’
In another note, Shillinglaw records a flaw in the solution that he and Clarke had adopted when discussing a possible motive for Rufus Dawes's silence. Reminded of the question by the scene between John Rex, Sarah Purfoy and Lady Devine at which the secret of Richard Devine's birth is revealed to the imposters and their schemes of gain are made worthless, Shillinglaw wrote, ‘Is there a thing we forgot. If Dawes was born in wedlock what admission of Lady Ellinor would avail’. At the same time he appreciated the dramatic possibilities of the confrontation, marking sections of the text on page 460 and writing in the lower margin, ‘Would go well on the boards! Eh?'27
The most severely critical of Shillinglaw's comments refers to the occasion of Dawes's final escape from prison, when the interaction of the characters appears to him to be contrived. He writes
That's weak about Gimblett getting drunk —and considering the terms between Frere and Sylvia the length of time he remains on board the Lady Franklin to take leave of his wife … Everybody knows that this kind of thing must be done “Smack smooth”, but really Mr. Clarke clocks wouldn't work so well together not even St. Dunstan where as one walks out the other walks in — And as Gimblett gets drunk North gets assaulted—Dawes makes his confession — North rushes out cloak-less — Dawes rushes out hatless and so forth … and as to getting on board — well! nothing but the exigencies of the case — However —
Here Shillinglaw is being adversely critical of the development of the plot, both in the original version and the revision. There is little variation in the accounts of Rufus Dawes's escape, and ‘the exigencies of the case’ demand the sequence of events that enables Dawes to leave the prison and board the ship without detection. North gives his brandy flask to Gimblett as a bribe to see Dawes; Gimblett, usually deprived of strong drink, is soon overcome by the effects of the brandy; North, who is already agitated, reveals his terrible deceit and rushes out of
the cell, mindless of his cloak and hat. Frere remains on board a long time, but he has been consistently portrayed as a proud, insensitive man and, as such, one who would hardly hesitate to force his presence on his wife in order to keep up appearances before the captain and crew. It may be contrived, but it all holds together quite firmly and the way is prepared for Dawes to reach the temporary safety of the ship under cover of darkness, in the disguise of the parson.
Shillinglaw does not have much to say about the individual characters, being content to note Clarke's descriptions as the more important of them are introduced. He makes an interesting comment, however, on Maurice Frere, whose character is based on that of John Price, the Victorian penal inspector who was murdered by a group of revengeful convicts.28 Shillinglaw wrote on the advertisement leaves, ‘that fiend Frere had his brains knocked out (under the name of John Price 1854)’.29 He also records his own part in the aftermath of the murder on pages 202–3 of the novel:
When I read of Maurice Frere (the prototype of Price, the former Superintendent, Penal Dept. Victoria), I always think of the awful suffering of Price who was murdered by the convicts of Williamstown 1854. That night at John Wilkins house and the yells and screams, and how after his death we had to put the body on a door and sling it up in an empty store (? Bryant's) some feet from the ground to prevent the Rats from eating him!!30
When Shillinglaw's work on the novel was finished he set about writing a review for the Herald that gives little indication of his real opinion of its merits and deficiencies. He begins with an account of Clarke's purpose in writing such a book and commends the author's skill in dealing with the horrible subject. He points out the necessity of correcting, in future editions, the assumption that Lady Ellinor's admission of her son's parentage would have any validity in law.31 Then, pleading lack of space for the omission of an analysis of the plot, he adds a comment on the characterisation of Sylvia Vickers and remarks on the quality of the writing in Mr North's journal. The review concludes with a long extract describing the suicide of the boys at Point Puer.32
Although this review is adequate in comparison with other contemporary reviews where much of the available space is taken up with the discussion of Clarke's treatment of the horrors of transportation,33 it is disappointing when seen as the culmination of four days ‘doing nothing else but reading it [the book] at feverish intervals’. More than any other reviewer, Shillinglaw was in a position to make a critical analysis of the plot, the changes in which were the most important feature of the book as opposed to the serial story. He was, of course, anxious to please his friend with a non-controversial review, one that was favourable enough to promote the sale of the book. He was also ultimately unable to present a dispassionate and considered opinion of the various aspects of the work with which he had been so closely associated. In the end, the task of critical review was beyond the ability of the reviewer. He let the horrors overwhelm him and left only his notes as evidence of his full response to the novel.
Shillinglaw's final word is not to be found in the Herald but on the back free endpaper of the review copy:
Ah! it is easy to find fault with it — to curse & scold at it — to shudder at it — to get frightened and shiver and want brandy & water over it — nay— even to cry over it — to tear it to pieces (agreeable task) — But to write it …
Lurline Stuart

Marcus Clarke (from a photograph in the La Trobe Library inscribed ‘Marcus Clarke, taken 1874, specially for his friend J. J. S. Died 2. viii 1881’)


The longer title For the Term of His Natural Life was not used during Clarke's lifetime. The author's choice of title derives from the ironic use of the phrase ‘His natural life!’ in Chapter 15 of Book One of the novel as it originally appeared in the Australian Journal (Vol. 5, part 59, 1870) to describe the forth coming condition of Rufus Dawes as an incarcerated convict. After Clarke's death in 1881 his publishers were free to choose what they evidently considered to be a more explicit title. Most bibliographical sources give 1885 as the date, but the first edition to bear the longer title actually appeared in 1882, published in London by Richard Bently & Son and in Melbourne by George Robertson.


John Joseph Shillinglaw (1831–1905) was for many years a Victorian public servant. He turned to journalism during periods of intermittent unemployment and was associated with a number of colonial journals as proprietor, editor or contributor. His best-known work is his edition of Historical Records of Port Phillip (Melbourne. McCarron Bird & Company, 1879; ed. C. E. Sayers, Melbourne, Heinemann, 1972). For further details of Shillinglaw's life and activities see Australian Dictionary of Biography, ed. Douglas Pike (1–5) and Bede Nairn (6), 6 vols. (Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1966–76), 6, 121.


The text of the review, as it appeared in the Herald on 9 May 1874, is given at the conclusion of this article.


For further details regarding the membership of the Yorick Club see [T. Carrington], The Yorick Club. Its Origin and Development. May 1868. to December 1910 (Melbourne, The Atlas Press, 1911).


The Colonial Monthly evolved from the Australian Monthly Magazine which was begun by the Australian Monthly Magazine Company (comprising the printer W. H. Williams and his associates Charles Muskett and C. A. Donaldson) in September 1865. The magazine was sold to the printers Clarson, Massina & Company, proprietors of the Australian Journal, in September 1867, when the title was changed to Colonial Monthly in order to avoid confusion with the Journal. Marcus Clarke and a group of associates that included J. J. Shillinglaw bought the Colonial Monthly in March 1868, with Clarson, Massina & Company continuing to act as printers and publishers.


Marcus Clarke and fellow author and dramatist Garnet Walch were joint proprietors of Humbug, which was printed and published by Clarson, Massina & Company.


The Australian Journal, which began in 1865, continued in publication as a popular journal of light and varied reading matter until 1962. Clarke was the editor for about twelve months from 1870 to 1871.


His Natural Life appeared in twenty-seven instalments, beginning in Vol. 5, part 58 of the Australian Journal (March 1870) and ending with Vol. 7, part 85 (June 1872). It was reprinted in the Journal three times: Vol. 17, part 196 — Vol. 18, part 212 (September 1881-January 1883); Vol. 22, part 256 — Vol. 23, part 272 (September 1886 — January 1888); Vol. 48, part 577 — Vol. 50, part 606 (June 1913 — November 1915).


Long Odds appeared in the Colonial Monthly in seventeen instalments, beginning in Vol. 2, no. 7 (March 1868) and ending with Vol. 4, no. 23 (July 1869). Clarke's revision was published in Melbourne in 1869 by Clarson, Massina & Company. The revised version was reprinted as a serial story in the Australian Journal, Vol. 8, part 93 — Vol. 9, part 100 (February-September 1873). It was also serialized in the Brisbane Courier from 17 January — 6 June 1874. In 1896 the original version was reprinted by Hutchinson & Company of London under the title Heavy Odds.


The series appeared in the Australasian at irregular intervals from February 1870 to June 1871. An additional story was written for inclusion in the book. For specific details of Clarke's sources see the Introduction by Joan Poole in the facsimile edition of Old Tales of a Young Country, published by Sydney University Press in 1972.


Australasian, 9 April 1870.


Book 3, chapter 1 of the serialized version of the novel and Book 2, chapter 1 of the revision.


Book 4, chapter 10; Book 3, chapter 10.


See Hamilton Mackinnon. ‘Biography’, The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume (Melbourne, Cameron, Laing & Company, 1884), p. 37. See also ‘A Master Printer: Fifty Years in the Business’, Herald, 2 March 1909.


‘Port Arthur’, Argus, 3 July 1873: 12 July 1873; 26 July 1873. Reprinted in Bill Wannan, A Marcus Clarke Reader (Melbourne, Lansdowne Press, 1963) as ‘Port Arthur Visited, 1870’, pp. 137–48.


See Mackinnon, pp. 37–38. See also Ida Leeson, ‘The Term of His Natural Life’, All About Books, 2, 9 (September 1930), 225–28, in which such exaggerated reports are refuted.


Australian Journal. Vol. 6, part 68 (January 1871).


Australian Journal, Vol. 7, part 79 (December 1871).


See Brian Elliott, Marcus Clarke (London, Oxford University Press, 1958), pp. 176–177, for details of Clarke's financial position at this lime.


Sec Samuel Simmons, A Problem and a Solution: Marcus Clarke and the Writing of ‘Long Odds’, His First Novel (Melbourne, Samuel Simmons, 1946). Simmons concentrates on the July and August instalments. His work is followed up and extended in my unpublished minor thesis, ‘Marcus Clarke: the writing and revision of Long Odds and His Natural Life’, English Department, Monash University, 1973.


See Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, My Life in Two Hemispheres, 2 vols. (London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1898), ii, 313.


As referred to in a letter to Duffy made public in My Life in Two Hemispheres ii, 314.


Duffy, p. 313.


The revised version is the one usually published. In 1929 Hilary Lofting edited an almost complete version of the original (published in Sydney by Angus & Robertson), omitting only a section of one chapter dealing with the causes and the prevalence of hurricanes. This chapter is cut down still further in the New Century Press edition published in Sydney in 1939. Up until 1970 when the Stephen Murray-Smith edition appeared in the Penguin English Library series, the complete novel had not been published in book form.


‘The wondrous Land of Might-have-been’ was the product of Clarke's imagination. As he described it in the story ‘Holiday Peak’ (published in two instalments in the Australasian on 18 and 25 January 1873 and reprinted in The Austral Edition of the Selected Works of Marcus Clarke, ed. Hamilton Mackinnon, Melbourne, Fergusson & Mitchell, 1890 and Australian Tales, Melbourne, A. & W. Bruce, 1896), it was the place where ‘everything has happened as it should have happened’.


The original aphorism is a translation from the Sinngedichte of Freidrich von Logau, entitled ‘Retribution':


Dramatic versions of His Natural Life were produced in 1886 by George Leitch and Alfred Dampier respectively. Shillinglaw kept press cuttings of notices and reviews of these and later productions among his private papers (La Trobe Library MS. Box 247/3), including a news item from the Argus of 29 June 1886, referring to the arrest for forming a procession of six men in convicts’ dress employed to advertise the play.


For further details of John Price's life and activities see John Vincent Barry's ‘study of the exercise of naked power’, The Life and Death of John Price (Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1964).


The murder actually took place on 26 March 1857.


Shillinglaw was based at Williamstown at this time in connection with his official duties. As Barry describes it (The Life and Death of John Price, p. 108). the ‘unconscious and shockingly battered Inspector-General’ was lifted on to a barrow by some of the convicts and wheeled to the lighthouse where Dr. John Wilkins, the medical officer to the hulks where the convicts were confined, was called to his assistance. Price was then carried to an up stairs room in the doctor's house.


The correction was never made: it would have involved a considerable amount of rewriting, affecting as it did Rufus Dawes's motive for silence.


Pp. 313–17 of the 1874 edition. The latter part of this extract was included in The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume, pp. 223–24, under the title ‘The Children's Suicide’.


For a detailed survey of English and American reviews see L. T. Hergenhan, ‘The Contempory Reception of His Natural Life’, Southerly, 31, 1 (1971), 50–63.

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