Monday, March 30, 2015

Further Reconstruction: Coda or Prologue?

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

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

‘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.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Rage for Verse: The Case for Charles Walker as the Author of the First Volume of Verse Published in Western Australia (1856)

by John Kinsella

In doing research for the Western Australian Poetry Anthology (Fremantle Press, 2015) that Tracy and I are editing, I have come across some bizarre and quite sad material. John Hay’s 1981 essay ‘Literature and Society’ from A New History of Western Australia (ed. C. T. Stannage, 1981, UWAP, Perth) draws heavily on Beverley Smith’s UWA thesis on early Western Australian writing written in the early '60s, and makes interesting if very brief points of reference worth following up. This is one that interested me in particular because as I have written elsewhere, Henry Clay’s Two and Two: a Story of the Australian Forest by H. E. C., with Minor Poems of Colonial Interest, is often considered the first volume of poetry by a single author published in the colony (Perth, 1873).

Yet as Hay notes, ‘In February [?] 1856, the convict Charles Walker seems to have published a small volume entitled Lyrical Poems, the first book of verse to be published in Perth. No copies are extant.’ (p. 607) One might guess that the claim (not Hay’s claim but asserted in various places) for Clay’s being the first book of its type published in Perth is due to the ‘No copies extant.’ There is no evidence outside newspaper advertisements that Walker’s book existed at all. Naturally, this has got me intrigued, especially as, through drawing on colonial and later sources, I have made the same claim for Clay’s book myself.

So what do we know of Walker? Almost nothing. In the Western Australian newspaper The Inquirer and Commercial News (1855-1901), Walker published almost weekly advertisements from 19th December 1855 through to late March 1856, relating to a work entitled Lyrical Poems. The advertisements up until that of 6th February 1856 are worded

‘Lyrical and Other Poems’, By Charles Walker. Persons requiring a copy will please to forward their wishes to the author, at Mr G Marfleet’s, Perth; which will meet with due attention.’ 

Then they change to this:

‘Just Published LYRICAL POEMS by Charles Walker Copies can be had at the Stores of Mr G. Marfleet, Perth. PRICE — Half-a-crown.’

So, we might assume the book was printed and published, and might we conjecture that it was done through Marfleet’s booksellers? In itself, it’s thin evidence, though it would be strange to pay for advertising so consistently if there was nothing intended and ultimately nothing to show.

But it gets stranger. Searching the newspapers of the period, there is no evidence of Walker publishing poems in them — the usual method of dissemination of the time. Being a colonial poet prior to the boom of ‘Manly poetry’ (as A. G. Stephens, editor of the Bulletin would call the outburst of goldfields versifying that began in the 1890s, starring poets such as ‘Crosscut’, ‘Bluebush’, and ‘Dryblower’) was no easy thing outside whimsical versifying, either praising or mocking (complaining of) colonial life and administration. As Hay quotes Henry Clay writing in his introduction to Immortelles (serialised then published in 1890),

‘The pioneers of local literature in a small community should prepare to encounter special difficulties and a probable harvest of loss. Without assumption, they should have sufficient self-reliance to hold their ground against the saucy badinage of amused spectators and the practical indifference of friends.’ (p. 608)

Or is there perhaps evidence of Walker publishing in the papers? Well, there’s one poem in the same paper where he promoted his book. It’s a poem with a twist — a threat poem, an investigative poem, a sleuthing poem. As a mirror of the convict system that saw him (as we will discover) working under the ‘care’ of Mr G. Marfleet, presumably as a Ticket-of-Leave man. This poem-advertisement is nothing less than a hunting poem. But it carries above it an epigrammatic (separate) advertisement giving his reasons, and what he wants in transparent prose (is the poem transparent in its call?). This is what we read:

WHEREAS a manuscript book, containing about one hundred pages, was taken away from me about eighteen months ago, and, from circumstances which have come to my knowledge, believing it to be in the possession of some person well acquainted with its contents, I hereby offer a reward of Two Pounds for the recovery of the same. CHARLES WALKER. Perth, April 24, 1856.’
WHEREAS a man, some five feet ten,  
(No matter whether Charles or Ben)
Has took it in his empty head,
The equal empty tale to spread,
That all the dreamings of my muse
Are of the ladies’ charms profuse,
But scarcely ever condescend
His vocal talent to commend;
He wonders why his foolish tales
So little on your mind prevails :
And why the slander he has sown—
I find it has been all his own —
Has never been received as truth,
By any mind of common growth.
This is to let that tall chap know.
That he may find a ‘bar’ or so,
To mar the quiet of his path,
Should he presume to tempt my wrath.
(APA citation — Advertising. (1856, April 30). The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA: 1855-1901), p. 2. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from

What is plain from this is that either this manuscript is a new work, or maybe it’s the old work and it never actually appeared. Conjecture. Who is to know? Is the offender Mr G. Marfleet, or is even supposing so a smear? A little more evidence comes our way shortly. But in the meantime, the poem itself is telling — clearly his verses (likely of Lyrical Poems given the lack of newspaper and journal evidence of other publication — though some may yet surface) had attracted negative attention. The slighting of his work as effeminate had brought the phallic response — ‘he may find a “bar” or so,/ To mar the quiet of his path.’

There is bitterness and zeal in this poem. I hesitate to call it doggerel because it is too convinced, too passionate, too driven. Its awkward syntax and odd parsing don’t invalidate its desperate anger. Politeness is only formal — this is a poetry wanting to burst out of its constraints. A ‘self-promoter’, that ludicrous accusation pointed at the poet who feels passionate about being heard, about speaking out...? As he accuses, the offender is all bluster and ‘talent’ and no substance because it is ‘he’ that is the fraud. But sadly, Walker undoes it all with the threat — a moment of vulnerability, weakness, and brutality. But really, it’s about his own feeling of inadequacy more than any other, any ‘five feet ten’ swell, be he Charles or Ben or whatever. I think Charles Walker was the most modern of colonial poets.

But our poet sadly didn’t have to pay to promote his work or threaten others for taking his creativity and manuscript away. On the 6th August, 1856 — such a short time later — he is discussed as ‘news’, in the ‘Local and Domestic Intelligence’ columns of the paper. We read, with shock:

A few days since a reconvicted man committed suicide in the establishment by cutting his throat with a razor. His name was Charles Walker, formerly in the employ of Mr Marfleet of this town, from whose service he absconded a few months ago. It was for this offence and for being out of his district without a pass that he was returned to the Establishment for twelve months. While in the employ of Mr Marfleet his general character was good, but his manner was flighty, and there was no doubt a tendency to insanity. He was a somewhat conspicuous character in consequence of his rage for verse making, which found vent in the advertising columns of this journal, and in a small volume entitled ‘Lyrical Poems,’ published some six months since.

The account of this tragedy appears to give us a third-party confirmation of the existence of a book of poetry written by Charles Walker — ‘Lyrical Poems’. It doesn’t confirm the book was printed in Perth, but it would seem likely given Walker’s convict status, and what we might assume were limited means. But then, he could pay for the advertisements, and he did offer a (sizeable) two-pound reward.

Did his book sell well enough at half-a-crown to yield him a windfall? Did being ‘the first’ add a mystique and appeal to the collection or was he crushed by his critics before he began?

The conservatism of reading environments as well as the tendency to self-help (see Hay regarding the later Mechanics Institutes) publications — how to be a more effective settler — probably counted against this convict. John Boyle O’Reilly was said to have scratched poems on prison walls wherever he was incarcerated (see H. Drake-Brockman in The West Australian, 19th July, 1952:

‘Perhaps at Fremantle gaol some poem may still lurk under whitewash. O’Reilly wrote poems with nails on his prison walls in Ireland and England. After his escape, he declared that he would like to revisit old cells and find his scratchings. This never happened.’)

and Henry Clay would battle on against the negative attitudes regardless, but outside newspaper opinion versifying, print-poetry was thin-on if existent at all.

Charles Walker’s ‘rage for verse making’ fits. His self-inflicted death (if that’s actually what it was) and the reference to his employer the bookseller (or storekeeper) who clearly reported him for going AWOL, fit the profile. What became of his missing verses, his published book? Creativity in the colony was impractical in so many ways. My great-great-grandfather was a labourer, a farmer, and later a school teacher — the first full-time schoolteacher in the first Catholic school in the Vasse (Busselton). No doubt he ranged from the practical to the creative — he certainly propelled himself forward and self-taught himself to another ‘level’ of colonial society, no easy thing for a just-post-famine migrant with a huge family. Charles Walker’s poetry was a direct conduit between his inner self and reality as he perceived it. We see that in his one remaining poem, his self-promoting advertising verse-threat.

There’s no biographical data readily available on Charles Walker outside what I’ve presented here. He was a ‘reoffender’. The establishment took him back. Convict Establishment — Fremantle Prison — consumed those used to create it. This self-eating in the new Eden was the paradox of the colonial, but of the State in all its manifestations. It needs what it can destroy. Charles Walker wanted to be heard — was desperate to be heard — and he was punished for it. Was he paranoid, did he carry out his verse threats, was he hard done-by?

There’s a history and embodiment of poetry in this, and none would know this better than the indigenous singers, story-tellers and poets of early colonisation in Western Australia, and what has followed. We have reports of the threats of Yagan and what colonists did to him, but nothing of the poetry of his people, of himself. In Jack Davis: A Life Story (Keith Chesson, Dent, 1988, Melbourne) we read, ‘Yagan had made every effort to bring some sense to the worsening situation. In March 1833 he had arranged corroborees to bring about a cultural exchange with the settlers.’ (p193) Of course, Yagan’s head was cut off and smoked. This is the brutality at the foundation of the Swan River Colony. Convicts were controversially brought into the colony in 1850 (until 1866) and the cruelty and degradation meted out to them are never to be forgotten, and come as a direct extension of the treatment of Yagan and his people. Charles Walker wrote in this ecology, and wrote out of it. Isolated, keen to speak out, he advertised his condition as celebration but with passion. He raged until the very end. We can get this much from what we have.

Without going into the content of the paper the same day Charles Walker published his reward and poem-advertisement, take one item in the same column:

‘POWDER MAGAZINE. PERSONS having Powder deposited in the Magazine at Fremantle are requested, in demanding the same from the Commissariat, to state, — The marks on the package  The size, whether whole, half or quarter barrels  The contents, giving the description as well as the quantity of powder. And no demand will be noticed unless this notice is complied with. The Magazine will be open for the delivery of powder between one and two p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Commissariat, Fremantle, April, 26, 1855.’

This is the material of the frontier.

Whether or not Walker’s poems were over-delicate and fey versifying as we might assume it had been said, he certainly had decided on a verse that was confronting, aggressive and of the place and conditions he was part of. His violent death was of this, too. The poetry and his condition of being, his manifestation within the colonial body-without-organs, within the city of Perth, and the gaol itself, as a form of textual projection. As Derrida gesticulated (waving his arms), ‘Everything is a text; this is a text’... and so we have the first book of Western Australian poetry by a single author. The advertisements, the poem advertisement, the plea and accusation and the mediating figure of the ‘book-seller’, the report of his death... accusations of loss of control to the (illogical?) forces of poetry... this is a full book. It is there for us to read. You don’t judge a book by the number of pages it has, or even by its format. It is text, poetry is text, and it is here with us now. It is the truth of the lyrical urge. It is Lyrical Poems by Charles Walker, 1856.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Further Jam Tree Gully Concretions

By John Kinsella; posted by Tracy

These concretions were carried out some months ago. It was an extremely windy day, which became part of the process — the wind altering the way the text could be ‘secured’ and thus conveyed to a reader, and even to myself as creator and participant.

As installations, they were obviously highly unstable and temporary, but as I have walked their placement points and zones since, the experience of movement is marked by that earlier engagement. There could have been an accompanying sound track — the wind, a variety of birds, my discussing the dynamic with young Tim who followed me around making comments at salient moments... and reading the pieces aloud, or reciting them in my head.

In a place where we’ve been trying to lessen human ‘intervention’, these are reminders of the crossover and conversations of being ‘living things’ that share space (which we do, of course). They also help remind (me at least) that our withdrawal from space is probably a consequence of trying to balance a very over-determined ‘ledger’ (pure metaphor here, no fiscal actuality!) that has resulted in such massive colonial human imposition that flora and fauna struggle to maintain agency.

Though there is noise all about us (machinery, guns...), the reinstatement of flora, and the fauna that arrive searching out this growing refuge, create walls of ‘silence’ around the space from which we view and attempt to comprehend. I am reminded of Gomringer’s ‘silencio’ — wishful thinking or metaphor? In terms of the texts themselves, their ‘shape’ is a reflection of the ‘ambience’ and way one interprets moods of place (a distorted anthropomorphics), and in this they are concrete representations.

But ultimately, they are unmappings of co-ordinates, an unfixing of points on the maps we create to control. The scratchings in the red-brown ‘dust’ of the firebreak work as markers of associations, parodies of ‘logos’ and ownership (Naomi Klein got over her childhood love of labels!). The more we try to fix the picture, the more unstable becomes the language we use to describe it. And the language that is woven into the picture is at the mercy of the wind, of atrophy. What follows is a selection of concretions from around a dozen texts emplaced and photographed in a variety of ways at the time.

Where the north-east ant colony centres itself.

Plato’s Cave is rarely locked and secured. The Red Shed.

Raingauge, witness to the fading green.

On the firebreaks colour is queried. Someone has passed over. Tread. Trod.

Carried by the wind from firebreak (though ‘secured’) to wild oats.

Logo — not! JTG, acronym for...?

Firebreak scratchings poem — Loss Rarity Bird Gully...?

Two of the texts themselves, which exist as poems outside concretion, outside installation. They are different viewed as such: