Henry Kendall – Australia’s Pioneering Bush Poet
Henry Kendall was one of Australia’s first nationally recognized poets, known for lyrical depictions of the natural landscape that shaped a vision of Australian identity.
Born Thomas Henry Kendall in 1839 in rural New South Wales, he later dropped his first name. Kendall grew up in the villages and forests that inspired his nature writing. As a teenager, he went to sea on a whaling voyage that stirred a longing for adventure.
- Kendall was one of the first native-born poets of Australia, along with Charles Harpur. His early poems focused on capturing the Australian landscape and environment.
- He was born in 1842 in Ulladulla, New South Wales. His father was cultured and educated. Kendall had Irish ancestry on his mother’s side.
- As a boy he went to sea with his uncle, visiting the South Sea Islands. This fostered his love of nature.
- He started writing poetry as a teenager, with early poems like “The Curlew’s Song” showing promise. He published his first works in newspapers.
- Kendall had important literary mentors and supporters like Lionel Michael who helped develop his talent. Michael gave him access to books and philosophical works.
- He held government jobs in the Lands Department and Colonial Secretary’s office in the 1860s, while continuing to write poetry.
- He moved to Melbourne in 1869 seeking more literary success. Though he published prolifically, he struggled financially and developed drinking problems.
- After returning to Sydney, he recovered with the help of friends. He found stability working in a business in Gosford, while regaining his poetic voice.
- His 1880 collection “Songs from the Mountains” cemented his reputation as a leading Australian poet. He became widely beloved for his bush poetry.
- Kendall overcame early struggles to become the “uncrowned laureate” of Australia, with his work intrinsic to the emerging national identity.
In the early 1860s, Kendall published his first poems to praise in colonial newspapers and magazines. He soon found patrons, including prominent journalist and politician Henry Parkes, who helped secure Kendall a government job while encouraging his writing.
Kendall’s early poetry collections like “Leaves from Australian Forests” pioneered a romantic, quintessentially Australian style of bush poetry. He became renowned for beautifully capturing the harsh majesty of the Australian wilderness and its unique flora and fauna. Poems like “Bell Birds” and “The Voice of the Native Oak” remain classics.
However, Kendall struggled with personal demons and poverty. Unable to support his family by writing, he descended into alcoholism and depression in the late 1860s. But he eventually recovered with the support of loyal friends who published his work.
His fame was cemented with 1880’s “Songs from the Mountains,” which included bekown poems like “The Last of His Tribe.” Kendall’s vivid images of gum trees, rocky escarpments, and desolate bush helped ingrain these icons into the emerging national identity.
The colonial government finally recognized Kendall’s importance by appointing him Inspector of Forests in 1881. But his life was cut short when he died of tuberculosis in 1882, age 43.
Kendall’s legacy looms large over Australian arts. He pioneered a nationalist literary scene that encouraged the nation to appreciate, not denigrate, the indigenous landscape. The places and creatures populating his poems remain cultural symbols. Kendall developed a poetic voice distinct from British influences that many credit as founding Australian bush poetry.
- Poems and Songs (1862)
- Leaves from Australian Forests (1869)
- Songs from the Mountains (1880)
- Poems of Henry Kendall (1886)
Notable Individual Poems
- “The Glen of the White Man’s Grave” (1860)
- “The Curlew Song” (1860)
- “Fainting By the Way” (1861)
- “The Barcoo: The Squatter’s Song” (1862)
- “The Last of His Tribe” (1864)
- “Daniel Henry Deniehy” (1865)
- “The Voyage of Telegonus” (1866)
- “Campaspe” (1866)
- “The Warrigal” (1867)
- “Bell-Birds” (1867)
- “A Death in the Bush” (1868)
- “Moss on a Wall” (1868)
- “Rose Lorraine” (1869)
- “Prefatory Sonnets: I” (1869)
- “Prefatory Sonnets: II” (1869)
- “The Hut by the Black Swamp” (1869)
- “Aboriginal Death-Song” (1869)
- “Bush Lyrics: No. II: Camped by the Creek” (1870)
- “Song of the Shingle Splitters” (1874)
- “The Voice in the Native Oak” (1874)
- “Mooni” (1875)
- “Bill the Bullock Driver” (1876)
- “Araluen” (1879)
- “Orara” (1879)
- “Dedication: To a Mountain” (1880)
- “The Song of Ninian Melville” (1880)
- “Beyond Kerguelen” (1880)