by John Kinsella
The plot thickens or maybe gains a little more clarity when it comes to Charles Walker and the first published volume of poetry published in Western Australia/Perth.
I have got hold of pages from Beverley Smith’s 1961 MA thesis ‘Early Western Australian Literature: A Guide to Colonial Life and Goldfields Life (History Department of the University of Western Australia), in which she writes,
‘On the 6th August 1856 the following item appeared under ‘Local and Domestic Intelligence’ in the Perth Gazette’... (p66)
and there follows the item I have quoted earlier about Charles Walker’s death and ‘rage for verse-making’. Smith then goes on to say,
‘Walker’s volume was the first book of verse published in Perth, but apart from this reference there is no trace of Lyrical Poems.’ (p66)
Smith footnotes this sentence with,
‘A search of advertising columns of the Perth Gazette for the period failed to disclose evidence of Walker’s verse-making.’
The tongue-in-cheek reference to ‘verse-making’ aside — maybe a tone of mockery we can forgive, given the broader context Smith is attempting to create, and the possibility that like us she is offended by the mockery of the press or persons who clearly demeaned Walker’s obsession as poet (as it should be!) — clearly Smith made an error in attributing this piece to the Perth Gazette. In fact, as I’ve shown, it appeared in The Inquirer and Commercial News, and that is also where the alluded-to advertisements appeared.
But Smith does furnish us with some further, vital information. She continues,
‘Its author arrived in Western Australia in 1852 on the William Jardine. The offence for which he is transported is not known, but existing records describe him as a baker by trade, twenty-six years of age and married.’ (p66)
Smith references the ‘Register and Shipping Lists, Battye Library A/128’ regarding her source.
What helps fill out our narrative of the book in this is the fact that Walker was a baker. I return to the premises from which Walker was to sell and apparently did sell his Lyrical Poems — Mr. G. [George] Marfleet’s store/s. Further newspaper investigation reveals to us that Marfleet was a prominent Perth citizen of the period, being both a baker and a confectioner and a purveyor of other goods. Some seventeen years after Walker’s death, we read of items other than baked goods and confectionary evidently being sold in (certainly stolen from!) his store/s:
‘SHOPLIFTING.—Three men, named John Gallagher, a shoemaker, Delap, and Melville were committed for trial at the Perth Police Court last week for stealing a chest of tea and a bag of sugar from the shop of Mr. Marfleet, in William Street. The property was found secreted in the prisoners’ lodgings.’
TO THE EDITOR. (1873, May 2). The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times (WA : 1864 - 1874), p. 3. Retrieved March 29, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3752307
Now, it’s possible (likely?) that as his business developed, Marfleet (our ‘bookseller’) increased the range and nature of his wares, but all the same, we might equally assume he wasn’t averse to selling other items in his shop — maybe Walker’s book.
Or was Walker just using it as a point of contact? The book not on display, but available by writing or dropping in, and it would come out of the back rooms where Walker with floury hands would hand it across, Marfleet taking a small cut from the half-a-crown?
When Marfleet died, The Inquirer ran his obituary, clearly sympathetic to the good citizen with his liberal religious belief, and fêting his life as a model for the young. This was the same newspaper in which Walker had advertised, maybe with the support of Marfleet, or maybe taking advantage of a connection through his place of work/labour (depending on the conditions of his post-convict status until being reclaimed by The Establishment). Here is Marfleet’s obituary:
‘Death of Mr. Marfleet. — A mournful duty devolves upon us to record the death of an old, highly-esteemed and worthy citizen, Mr. George Marfleet. Arriving in the colony when quite a young man, in the year 1851, he soon afterwards entered upon the business of his calling as a baker and confectioner, in the establishment at that time conducted by the late Mr. Henry Devenish, in Hay and William Streets, and of which some time afterwards he became the proprietor, continuing the direction of its affairs until within the last fortnight, when rapidly declining strength prevented his taking an active part in his business. He was a staunch and liberal Churchman, and as a citizen and tradesman he has left behind him an example of patient industry and well-doing worthy of emulation by all young men entering upon the duties of life. He leaves a wife and four children, one of whom is married, and the others, we believe, are tolerably well provided for. The funeral took place on Monday afternoon, and was attended by a large number of the deceased's personal friends and other citizens, the brethren of the City of Perth Lodge of Oddfellows, of which he was one of the oldest members; besides several of the brethren of the New Swan Lodge, M.U.I.O.O.F., 4406, Fremantle. The offices for the dead were read by the Dean of Perth. Br. DeLuey, of the Fremantle Lodge, at the close of the Church Services, read the exhortation as set forth in the ritual of Oddfellowship; the brethren meanwhile standing around the grave, holding in their hands the usual emblem — a sprig of acacia — which they deposited on the coffin in the manner enjoined by the Order.’
The Inquirer. WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 1881. (1881, June 15). The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 - 1901), p. 2. Retrieved March 29, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65958465
‘Establishment’ resonates here — a life of propriety and religious conviction that brings business and a foundational certainty, against that of Walker’s rage for verse-making and his death in the penal Establishment, as contrast. A tale of at least two Perths. But Marfleet was acknowledged as one of ‘liberal’ (as in ‘reason’ and ‘tolerance’ within churchmanship — that is ‘broad church’) views, so we might suppose he at least supported Walker’s poeticising, even if with some trepidation or wariness. Maybe he’s a reason the book came into being at all, rather than one who thwarted it or abandoned Walker to his ‘fate’. Maybe Marfleet enabled Walker to pursue the one who stole his manuscript, or stood against his material and metaphysical interests? The spiritual baker and the poet baker; the capitalist-bourgeoise baker and the convict baker.
I search further for evidence of Charles Walker’s poetic life in Britain. He was only twenty-six in 1852 and thirty when he dies. Did he publish in England before being transported? He was a tradesman probably outside the usual publishing avenues in London/Britain, and yet a book by a Charles Walker did appear in 1853 in Mayfair, London, published by Saunders & Otley of Conduit Street, entitled, Irene. A Tale. In Two Cantos. And Other Poems. A search of the book doesn’t reveal anything of bakers, baking, crimes committed, or the prospect of Western Australia, but it does being with a ‘Dedicatory Sonnet to my Mother’ which carries the lines:
This little tribute then may raise a tear —
Remind of me if I am still not here —
Or speak in gentle whispers of a time
Then long gone by and never to return
Now, it’s ludicrous to suggest that the year after he was transported our Charles Walker (the insidiousness of taking possession of the dead to paint a picture in the narratives of our own textual lives) published this book, or that these were the works of his youth, but it can’t be entirely dismissed. By this, I don’t even mean to suggest they are one and the same poet — out advertisement-threat poet is rougher and readier in his delivery by the evidence we have, and one might doubt he would then go on to say:
When I might from a Mother’s bosom learn
Sweet lessons of the Great and the Sublime.
But we are playing class politics here and forgetting the stress of his circumstances. His marriage. His likely separation. His loss. In this book the title poem roils through orientalist-Greek-mythological-heroic-Christian-romantic-Bible-Koran-Sultan-Turk-Vizier-despot-love-loss-goat-swoon-royalbed-Irene that finishes:
Howe’er in low disguise he came alone,
To see the fun’ral he himself allow’d,
And shed a feeling tear upon her winding shroud.
The ‘Miscellaneous poems’ section of the book includes a version of Lamartine and many poems reflecting on and inflecting death, travel (Cologne), family, the seasons, vistas/views, Nature, a chestnut tree, and carries a list of 129 subscribers (of which there is no mention of a Marfleet).
This is not our Charles Walker, of course! Of course it’s not. I am sure a trip to the British Library would yield a bold (if hard to find) declaration of a very different life lived in a very different way. For example, there are a lot of John Kinsellas out there, and I know that over the centuries a few others among them have written poetry. I don’t know them (though I did correspond briefly with one John Kinsella who is a Canadian artist and who dabbles in poetry — I have seen some of his paintings online but not read his verse).
And there’s a John Kinsella who is a monk-poet, I believe, who wrote some kind of dedicatory chapbook of verse thirty or more years ago. I haven’t even read his or any of the other John Kinsellas’ works, but strangely, I feel connected with them even if they have had dramatically different poetry, politics, ethics, life experiences from my own. We share the body of a name and an interest, and especially when the durations of our lives cross, we share the body-without-organs that we fill with life experience and textuality.
Maybe the same can be said of Charles Walker? The London-published Charles Walker had an exiled, exported, fetishised Antipodean Charles Walker contemporaneous ‘double’ who became part of the crime-as-profit modus operandi of the colony of Western Australia. This consequence of a ‘rage for verse-making’ echoes like rings in Narcissus’s pool. Narcissus wasn’t all bad — he knew in himself there was a truth, he knew the ‘other’ was a truth, and if he didn’t know the mirror the mirror knew him.
Our Charles Walker was the Doppelgänger, the twin, the shadow, the mirror image in a construct of a world that had a centre — London — and its colonies. It’s North and it’s South, it’s opposition, it’s inversion, it’s less-than — Terra Australis... it’s Antipodean. An English-speaking baker-convict who wrote and read Greek? This dialogic of text and poets, this obsession to versify our being in even the most adverse conditions.
Is the connection between Irene and Lyrical Poems any more absurd than the travesty that is the so-called ‘Internet of Things’ and its triumphalist consumerism? Is there any real difference between the reality we have constructed, in which Charles Walker can be ‘our’ example, our guide to the journey through the Underworld, at half-a-crown supported by the upright if bewildered Marfleet, and the relationship between your jogging heartbeat and your acquisition of goods from Adidas?
No. The evidence might take us away from this first book in its context, but in the end, that distance will only enhance and confirm the connection. Though I have become less (and less) convinced by Deleuze andGuattari’s notion of ‘rhizome’ as outlined/configured in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (University of Minnesota, 1994), I take this on notice:
‘There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (the book) and a field of subjectivity (the author). Rather, an assemblage establishes connections between certain multiplicities drawn from each of these orders, so that a book has no sequel nor the world as its object nor one of several authors as its subject. In short, we think that one cannot write sufficiently in the name of an outside. The outside has no image, no signification, no subjectivity. The book as assemblage with the outside, against the book as image of the world. A rhizome-book, not a dichotomous, pivotal, or fascicular book.’ (p. 23)
No longer? Thus it ever was, if at all? The Charles Walkers — ours and the other — are the world the book the author. This text is the assemblage of the ‘missing’ and ‘existent’ texts of poet/s, Charles Walker. The periphery, the centre, the city, the colony. I remember reading a doctor’s report once that described someone — was it me? — as being delirious and ‘quoting poetries and philosophies’ as if these were evidence of instability and a need to be ‘calmed’. This is my personal investment in a place I live in, and often feel exiled within and from. ‘Embattled’, some have said. Charles Walker, I have been illuminated by your work, even where I do and should disagree with it.