Now a book has come out that commands attention. The First Celebrity: Anthony Trollope’s Australasian Odyssey by Nigel Starck was published by Landsdown Media in 2014. As a young adult I read and loved Trollope’s novels, particularly his six Barsetshire novels. I had no idea that Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) visited Australia or that he was not young when he made the long, uncomfortable and rather dangerous trips. He spent a total of a year here in 1871-72, and then again in 1875.
Photo of Trollope in Australia, 1871-2
Photo credit: The Conversation.
Trollope, who came with his wife Rose and staff, had two reasons to visit, one familial and one literary. Clearly they wanted to visit their younger son, Frederic, who was a sheep farmer in NSW. I don’t know why Fred’s sheep station, Mortray, was failing, nor do I know what dad thought he could do about it.
Interested in the widespread British empire, Trollope had a contract with his publishers for a book on the Australian colonies. Plus he agreed to use any material he gathered for articles in the Daily Telegraph. So all that travel on horseback was not wasted. Anthony Trollope wrote his novel Lady Anna during the year away, describing "descending mines, mixing with shearers and rouseabouts, riding his horse into the loneliness of the bush, touring lunatic asylums, exploring coast & plain by steamer & stagecoach".
No-one travelled as much as Trollope. In August 1871 he went to Queensland and in October visited rural New South Wales. In Sydney he attended parliament, and in December he gave advice to the Legislative Assembly select committee on the civil service. In Melbourne he gave a lecture to a very literate audience of 3000 on one of his favourite topics, English Prose Fiction as a Rational Amusement. In January 1872 he was in Tasmania.
Which Australian or New Zealand newspaper first published this cartoon of Trollope?
Photo credit: The Conversation.
In July 1872, he left Australia aboard the SS Macedon for several months in New Zealand. Back at home in 1873 he published a two-volume book about his travels called Australia and New Zealand. His overall impression of New Zealand was positive - in the book Trollope suggested New Zealand had the potential to become a new and improved version of England. However he was less fond of the New Zealanders' propensity to get drunk. Regularly!
Trial-by-Australian-media must have failed because Trollope re-visited Australia in 1875 and wrote many articles for the Liverpool Mercury. He used his Australian experiences in two novels I have never read: Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874) and John Caldigate (1879). I now think these novels, alongside his books about the West Indies (1859), North America (1862) and South Africa (1878), must have proved less popular than the Trollope books I knew and loved.
It is interesting that when he came to Australia, Trollope’s reputation at home had already peaked. Clearly he had no idea that the novel that would do best financially, The Way We Live Now 1875, was yet to come. Just as well he got on with it; he died in 1882. In his obituary, the Sydney Morning Herald sniffily wrote that “Trollope had no place in the front rank of the great English writers of fiction”. Colonials don’t forgive or forget slights easily, it would seem.
Note that all the novelist’s direct descendants live in Australia!
2014 was a good year for Trollope watchers. Trollope Down Under – an Anthony Trollope tour in Australia, was organised for March 2014. The 14 day tour was perfectly timed for Trollope scholar Professor Nigel Starck (University of South Australia) to launch his book!