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Narrating Colonial Queensland: Francis Adams, Frank Jardine and ‘The Red Snake’

  • Belinda McKay


In 1949, Clive Turnbull remarked that Australian Life (1892), a collection of short stories by Francis Adams, ‘is a book that deserves to be resurrected’. While two of the radical English writer's novels have been republished over the last three decades, Australian Life — which Turnbull regarded as ‘perhaps the most noteworthy’ of Adams' works of fiction — has not been resurrected either in print or online, and is accessible only in rare book libraries. Republication here in Queensland Review of the original version of Adams' short story ‘The Red Snake’, which appeared first in the Boomerang in 1888 and was later revised for Australian Life, may help to renew interest in Francis Adams' carefully crafted but disturbing narratives of life in the Australian colonies in the 1880s.



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1 Turnbull, Clive, These Tears of Fire: The Story of Francis Adams (Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, [1949]), 45, 44. Francis Adams, Australian Life (London: Chapman and Hall, 1892). The republished novels are Francis Adams, John Webb's End: Australian Bush Life (London: Eden, Remington: 1891; republished Canberra: Mulini Press, 1995); and Francis Adams, Madeline Brown's Murderer (Melbourne: Kemp & Boyce, [1887]), republished as The Murder of Madeline Brown (Melbourne: Text, 2000).

2 Adams, Francis, ‘The Red Snake’, The Christmas Boomerang, 24 December 1888: 1718.

3 Adams, ‘The Red Snake’, Australian Life: 3–24; Adams, ‘“Long Forster”’, Australian Life: 137–47. ‘Long Forster’ was originally published under the pseudonym ‘Proteus’ as ‘Tony Forster’ in The Boomerang, 5 May 1888: 11.

4 Adams, Francis, The Australians: A Social Sketch (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1893), n.p.

5 Tasker, Meg, 'Struggle and Storm': The Life and Death of Francis Adams (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2001), 67.

6 Adams, Madeline Brown's Murderer.

7 In Australian Life, Acheson also narrates ‘Long Forster’ (137–47) and ‘The Hut by the Tanks’ (177–91). The character Power from ‘The Red Snake’ also appears in ‘A Souvenir of Suakim’ (94–102).

8 See Tasker, 'Struggle and Storm', 67.

9 Pater, Walter, ‘Winckelmann’, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (London: Macmillan, 1910), 204. In ‘Diaphaneitè’, an essay read to a circle of intimates at Oxford in 1864 but not published until 1895, Pater makes it clear that qualities such ‘transparency’, ‘wholeness’ and ‘clear crystal nature’ refer specifically to ‘some unworldly types of character’, his coded reference to androgynous men. See Walter Pater, ‘Diaphaneitè’, Miscellaneous Essays: A Series of Essays (London: Macmillan, 1895), 247–54. Key passages and concepts from ‘Diaphaneitè’ recur in Pater's published works, such as ‘Winckelmann’, which was first published in the Westminster Review in January 1867, and collected in Studies in the History of the Renaissance (London: Macmillan, 1873). Like Nietzsche, Pater drew heavily on Karl Otfried Müller, Die Dorier (1824), which was first published in English as C.O. Müller, The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, trans. Henry Tufness and George Cornewall Lewis, 2 vols (London: John Murray, 1830).

10 Pater discussed the chthonic, vegetative qualities of Dionysus — in contrast to Apollo — in ‘A Study of Dionysus’ in the Fortnightly Review, December 1876; it was reprinted in Greek Studies (London: Macmillan, 1873). See Walter Pater, Greek Studies: A Series of Essays, 1895 (London: Macmillan, 1910), 9–52. Bridgewater argues that Pater drew on unpublished work by Gerard Manley Hopkins for his distinction between the Apollonian and the Dionysian: see Patrick Bridgewater, Nietzsche in Anglosaxony: A Study of Nietzsche's Impact on English and American Literature (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1972), 27–28.

11 Poe, Edgar Allan, ‘To F…’, The Raven and Other Poems, 1845 (London: Wiley and Putnam, 1846), 25.

12 Mrs Campbell Praed, Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land, 1915 (London: Pandora, 1987), 62.

13 Browne, Spencer, editor of the Cooktown Herald at the time, was an eyewitness to some of the events surrounding the massacre. See Major-General Spencer Browne, A Journalist's Memories (Brisbane: The Read Press, 1927), 27. See Tasker, 'Struggle and Storm', 78–79 for a letter from Francis Adams to James Brunton Stephens (February 1887), in which Adams reports Spencer Browne's high opinion of his work.

14 Narrative of the Overland Expedition of the Messrs. Jardine from Rockhampton to Cape York, Northern Queensland, Compiled from the Journals of the Brothers, and Edited by Frederick J. Byerley (Brisbane: J.W. Buxton, 1867). See also A.J. Richardson, Private Journal of the Surveyor attached to Messrs. Frank and Alexander Jardine's Overland Expedition to Cape York (Brisbane: G. Wight, [1867]).

15 Adams, Frances, ‘Frank Miles’, Boomerang, 5 May 1888: 9.

16 Pater, ‘Winckelmann’, The Renaissance, 184.

17 The Louvre bust of Antinous is the ‘Antinous of Ecouen’ (Accession number Ma 1082 [MR 413], presented to the Louvre in 1793), an eighteenth century copy of an original found at Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli. The Louvre also holds the ‘Antinous Mondragone’ (Accession number Ma 1205 [MR 412], purchased by Napoleon for the Louvre in 1807), in original Roman marble from c. 130AD. It is not a true bust, but the head of a lost colossal 5–6 metre statue. Self-consciously Greek in style, it was much admired by Winckelmann.

18 In his work on the Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi) language, Presbyterian missionary William Ridley translated ‘baiame’ as ‘God’, and the notion that a deity corresponding to the Christian God existed universally throughout Aboriginal Australia was later popularised. Ridley published Kamilaroi, Dippil, and Turrubul: Languages Spoken by Australian Aborigines (Sydney: Government Printer, 1866), revised and enlarged as Kamilaroi, and Other Australian Languages (Sydney: Thomas Richards, Govt. Printer, 1875). See also CareyH.M., ‘The Land of Byamee: K. Langloh Parker, David Unaipon, and Popular Aboriginality in the Assimilation Era’ in Journal of Religious History 22(2) (1998): 200218.

19 Pater, ‘A Study of Dionysus’, Greek Studies (1910), 44.

20 Adams, ‘Long Forster’, Australian Life: 138, 146, 145.

21 Adams, The Australians, 154.

22 Letter from Adams to Rossetti, W.M., 7 Nov 1889, quoted by Tasker, 'Struggle and Storm', 47. Adams was referring in the letter to his involvement in the London labour movement in the early 1880s.

23 Adams, ‘The Mass of Christ’, The Bulletin, 28 October 1893: 21.

24 Adams, Preface, Songs of the Army of the Night (Sydney: Federal Steam Printing and Binding Works, 1888), 2.

25 Adams, Songs of the Army of the Night (London: Vizetelly, 1890), n.p. The note was also included in subsequent English editions.

26 Adams, Preface, Songs of the Army of the Night (1888), 2.

Narrating Colonial Queensland: Francis Adams, Frank Jardine and ‘The Red Snake’

  • Belinda McKay


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