William Gay was born on 2 May 1865 at Bridge of Weir, near Glasgow, Scotland, the eldest child of William Gay, an engraver for industrial textile printing, and his wife Jane (ne Tagg). In the late 1860s the family moved to the nearby town of Alexandria, where Gay attended the local Board School. After winning a bursary to attend the University of Glasgow, Gay briefly studied there, but after quarrelling with his strict Calvanist father (who wanted his son to train for the ministry), he ran away to London. Gay returned to Scotland and worked as a clerk in Glasgow before once more trying his luck in London, where he ran out of money and became homeless and was forced, again, to return to Scotland. By this time Gay had become very ill with tuberculosis, and after recovering in a Glasgow hospital, decided to go to sea. In 1885 he arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand, and spent the next two years working on intercolonial steamships.
By May 1888 Gay was in Melbourne, where he became acquainted with fellow Scot Charles Strong, and started writing articles for the latters periodical Our Good Words (which subsequently became the Australian Herald). These included a study of the American poet Walt Whitman, later published in pamphlet form as Walt Whitman: The Poet of Democracy (1893). Gay briefly taught at Scotch College in Melbourne, but ill health forced his resignation in April 1889. He subsequently took up tutoring positions in Melbourne and the Riverina, but his health continued to interfere with his career prospects, and about 1893 he settled in Bendigo, where he was frequently bed-ridden but engaged in some literary work. He died in Bendigo on 22 December 1897.
In the last years of his life Gay published three small volumes of poetry, which showed his skill with the sonnet form, and reflected his interest in philosophical themes, and in politics some of his best-known work treated the subject of Australian federation. After his death, two further collections of his poetry were published: Poems of William Gay (1910) and The Complete Poetical Works of William Gay (1911).Poetry Collections
- Sonnets and other verses (Melbourne: Petherick and Co., 1894).
- Christ on Olympus and other poems (Bendigo: [the author], 1896).
- Sonnets (Bendigo: [the author], 1896).
- Poems of William Gay (Melbourne: Lothian, 1910).
- The Complete Poetical Works of William Gay (Melbourne: Lothian, 1911).
- Rex Ingamells , William Gay: Australian Man of Letters (Melbourne: Jindyworobak Publications, 1952).
- J. Glen Oliphant , William Gay: His Life and Work, The Complete Poetical Works of William Gay (Melbourne: Lothian, 1911).