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Louisa Lawson (1848 – 1920)

Born Louisa Albury on 17 February 1848 at Guntawang, near Gulgong, New South Wales, Louisa Lawson was the second of the twelve children of Henry Albury, a station-hand, and his wife Harriet (ne Winn), needlewoman. About 1851 the family moved to Mudgee, when Henry Albury set up as a building contractor. Louisa was educated at the Mudgee National School, where the schoolmaster offered to train her as a teacher. This was refused by Harriet Albury, who instead required Louisa to assist her in childrearing and millinery work. Henry Alburys contracting business collapsed around 1862, and the family was forced to take up a bush selection, where they lived in poverty. Their fortunes improved after the discovery of gold in the area, however, and in 1864 Henry Albury acquired a shanty pub which catered for the influx of prospectors. In 1866, at the age of eighteen, Louisa Albury accepted the marriage proposal of Niels Hertzberg (more commonly known as Peter) Larsen, a Norwegian sailor who was trying his luck on the goldfields. The couple married in July 1866, and took up a selection at Eurunderee. After the birth of their first child, Henry, in 1867, the family name was anglicised to Lawson.

Between 1867 and 1877 Louisa bore five children, and also took on various jobs to earn money for the family. She quickly became disenchanted with married life, as her husband was frequently absent and responsibility for raising the family fell on her. A move to Gulgong to join a new goldrush in 1871 ended in failure and in 1873 the family returned to Eurunderee. Despite the hardships of bush life Lawson took a keen interest in her childrens education, and kept up her own reading and writing. She was deeply affected by the death of her infant daughter Annette in 1877, her first known published poem My Nettie appearing in the Mudgee Independent in 1878. In early 1883, Louisa Lawson left Eurunderee and her husband taking her children to Sydney.

In Sydney Lawson devoted her restless energy to a range of endeavours. As Peter Lawson sent money infrequently, Louisa was forced to earn money by taking in laundry and sewing and letting rooms to boarders. She was also deeply interested in the cultural and political life of the city, and in 1887 acquired a small press and commenced publication of a radical democratic and nationalist journal, The Republican, editing the work under the pseudonym Archie Lawson. In May 1888, the Republican was replaced by The Dawn, a feminist monthly journal which helped pioneer the cause of womens suffrage and social reform in 1890s Australia. Much of the content of the Dawn was written by Louisa Lawson herself (sometimes under the pseudonym Dora Falconer), and the journal also provided an outlet for her poetry.

A small inheritance on the death of Peter Lawson at the end of 1888 enabled Louisa to expand her printing operations. She employed a number of female printers which occasioned harassment from the New South Wales Typographical Association, which did not allow women as members. In addition to her publishing, Lawson founded the Dawn Club to agitate for womens suffrage, frequently speaking at meetings and public lectures, and the Dawns press was used to support and promote the Womanhood Suffrage League formed in 1892. Lawson also published the first book of her talented but wayward son Henry in 1894, and later published works of her own, including The Lonely Crossing and Other Poems (1905), an anthology of poetry dating back to her teenage years.

Lawson suffered spinal injuries in an accident in January 1900, where she was thrown to the ground while alighting from a tram, and spent more than a year recovering. Subsequently her work on the Dawn lacked its previous vitality, and the journal folded in 1905. She also endured a setback over the violation of a patent she had taken out on her invention of a new system for fastening mail-bags, which involved her in a long-running legal case with an unsatisfactory outcome. After the closure of the Dawn, Louisa retired to Marrickville, where she continued to write stories and poems, publishing them in various periodicals, but increasingly lived in isolated and reduced circumstances as her health deteriorated. Admitted to the Gladesville Hospital for the Insane in 1920, she died there on 12 August that year.

Poetry Collections
  • The Lonely Crossing and other poems (Sydney: Dawn Office, 1905).
Suggested Further Reading
  • Brian Matthews , Louisa (Melbourne: McPhee Gribble, 1987).
  • Sharyn Pearce , From Bush Battler to City Editor: Louisa Lawson and the Dawn, Journal of Australian Studies 54-55 (1997): pp. 1221.
  • L. M. Rutherford and M. E. Roughley , eds., Louisa Lawson: Collected Poems with Selected Critical Commentaries (Armidale, NSW: University of New England, 1996).
  • Elaine Zinkhan , Louisa Albury Lawson: Feminist and Patriot, in Debra Adelaide , ed., A Bright and Fiery Troop: Australian Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin, 1988), pp. 21732.