Henry Savery: Australia’s First Novelist

The first novel published in Australia was a crime novel, Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence by Henry Savery. It was published in Hobart in 1831.

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Henry Savery’s tomb stone on the Isle of the Dead, Port Arthur, Tasmania

Henry Savery  was born in Somerset, England on the 4th of August, 1791. His father was a successful banker. He grew up to be an unsuccessful businessman … so unsuccessful, that he resorted to forging bills of credit. These bills eventually amounted to over £30,000. He tried to flee to America with 1500 pounds of his partner’s money, but was caught after a rather dramatic arrest. He jumped from the boat that was to take him to America in an attempt to escape the police. He was originally sentenced to hang, but his influential family and friends managed to have that commuted to transportation. He arrived in Australia in 1825.

After his arrival in Hobart,  Savery was retained in government service and worked for the Colonial Treasurer. In 1828, his wife and son came to the colony, and arguments between the husband and wife culminated in Mr Savery’s attempted suicide. Soon after the arrival of his family, Savery was again imprisoned for debt. That was the final straw for his wife. She took their son back England within three months. This was the last Savery was ever to see of his wife.

However, it was while in prison that Savery took to writing. After his release, he was given the position of manager of Lawn Farm in New Norfolk. Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence was published anonymously in 1831 to reasonably good reviews from the colonial press. However, he couldn’t stay out of trouble. He managed to have his ticket of leave revoked for tarnishing the reputation of Governor Arthur in the newspapers. He gained a reputation for alcoholism and tried his old trick of forging bills to cover his debts. He was sent to Port Arthur, where he died on the 6th of February, 1842. There is some indication he may have taken his own life – after all, he had attempted suicide before.

It is generally agreed that his writing is more important for its historical value than its literary merit. – Wikipedia

The original edition of Quintus Servinton is extremely rare, with only three copies being listed in Ferguson’s Bibliography. These are held by Dr. W. Crowther, the Mitchell Library, and the Public Library of Tasmania. The book itself is of limited literary merit, but it was the very first Australian novel, and part of the action did take place in ‘The Colony’. For that alone, we should be grateful to Henry Savery.

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Modern reprint of Savery’s Opus.

 

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Filed under Australian Author, Historical Personage, History, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

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