Victor James Daley was born at Navan, near Armagh, Ireland, and baptised on 5 September 1858. The son of a soldier, William John Daley, and his wife Mary Jane (née Morrison), he grew up in a part of Ireland rich with Celtic cultural associations, which he would draw upon in his later writing. His father died while serving in India about 1864 and his mother remarried and moved to Devon, England (before she too died in 1870), with the result that Daley’s schooling was haphazard and his childhood years split between England and Ireland. Nonetheless he developed an early fondness for reading, fostered particularly by an uncle with whom he lived in Armagh. In he 1875 obtained a clerkship with a railway company in Devon, and worked as a clerk for three years before deciding to emigrate to Australia, arriving in Sydney just after his twentieth birthday.
In October 1878 Daley sailed for Adelaide, where he worked in clerical positions and ‘experimented a good deal in verse’, leading to his first published compositions. Moving to Melbourne about 1879, he worked as a reporter for the Carlton Advertiser, before travelling north to New South Wales, where he briefly served as editor of the Queanbeyan Times before returning to Sydney in mid-1881. In Sydney he began contributing poems to the recently established Bulletin and to Sydney Punch, developing in these two journals the two important and largely mutually exclusive forms of his poetry – the romantic, lyrical strain on the one hand, and topical, satirical verse on the other. It was Daley’s lyric poetry that attracted immediate attention; with its refined, ‘poetic’ sensibility and romantic imagery, his work stood out as more finely polished and literary compared to the work of the ‘Bush Ballad’ school of Bulletin poets, and he quickly gained a reputation as one of the pre-eminent Australian poets of the 1880s and 1890s. His first poetry collection, At Dawn and Dusk, comprised almost entirely of his Bulletin contributions, was much feted after its publication in 1898.
In 1885 Daley returned to Melbourne, where he became a columnist for the newly established society magazine Table Talk and freelanced for the Bulletin, and also contributed to Melbourne papers such as (Melbourne) Punch and Edward Dyson’s Bull-Ant. It was at this time, too, that he first employed the pseudonym ‘Creeve Roe’ (or ‘CR’) for his topical and political verse. The literary reputation of his ‘Victor J. Daley’ work continued to grow after the publication of the Bulletin’s anthology A Golden Shanty in 1890, where he was given more space than any other poet, and he began negotiating with A. G. Stephens, literary editor of the Bulletin, and the Sydney firm of Angus and Robertson, for the publication of a volume of his own. Returning to Sydney in 1898, Daley enjoyed the success of At Dawn and Dusk and became the central figure in the convivial ‘Dawn and Dusk club’, which included other leading writers and artists such as Henry Lawson, Roderic Quinn, Bertram Stevens and Norman Lindsay. From 1902, however, his health rapidly deteriorated owning to tuberculosis. He died at Waitara, in the northern suburbs of Sydney, on 29 December 1905. Two posthumous collections of his work appeared in the decade after his death: Poems () and Wine and Roses (1911).
A popular and influential figure on the Australian literary scene in the late nineteenth century, Daley’s work was widely respected by his peers and the reading public of the time, but has attracted comparatively little interest from modern readers and critics. His topical and satirical verse was revived by the publication of Muir Holburn and Marjorie Pizer’s edited collection Creeve Roe in 1947.Poetry Collections
- At Dawn and Dusk (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1898).
- Poems (Edinburgh: Nimmo, Hay and Mitchell, ).
- Wine and Roses (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1911).
- Creeve Roe: Poetry by Victor Daley, Muir Holburn and Marjorie Pizer, eds. (Sydney: Pinchgut Press, 1947).
- Grace D. Ailwood Keel, ‘The Early Bulletin and Lyric Verse,’ Overland no. 81 (Oct 1980): pp. 45-50.
- Frank Molloy, Victor J. Daley: A Life (Sydney: Crossing Press, 2004).
- H. J. Oliver, ‘Victor Daley and Roderic Quinn,’ Meanjin 10.1 (1951): pp. 12–21.
- A. G. Stephens, Victor Daley: A Biographical and Critical Notice (Sydney: Bulletin Publishing Co., 1905).