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Francis Adams (1862 – 1893)

Born in Malta on 27 September 1862, Francis William Lauderdale Adams was the son of an army surgeon and natural historian, Andrew Leith-Adams, and Bertha Jane (ne Grundy), a novelist. The family led a somewhat peripatetic existence, moving with Leith-Adams regimental postings in England, Ireland, Malta, and Canada. In the 1870s, however, Francis Adams was sent to England and educated at various schools, including, from 1876-1879, the Shrewsbury School in Shropshire. After leaving school, he spent time as an attach with the British embassy in Paris, and tried, unsuccessfully, to gain a permanent position in the diplomatic service. In 1882, he became assistant master at Ventnor College, in the Isle of Wight, where he largely devoted himself to literary activities. Adams published his first volume of verse, Henry and Other Tales, in January 1884. The work was not well received; according to his friend Sydney Jephcott , the collection was published at Adams expense and left upon the publishers shelves till sold off as a remainder.

In 1884, Adams resigned from his post owing to ill health. His father had died in 1882 of tuberculosis, and Francis was also disposed to the disease; this probably influenced his decision to move to the warmer climate of the Australian colonies. Two weeks before departing, Adams married Helen Elizabeth Uttley in London, but left England alone in August 1884. On arriving in Melbourne, he immediately began contributing essays, poems and stories to the local press, though he soon fell out with the editors of the Melbourne Argus over the publication of a story that had previously appeared in a British paper. In 1885, Adams took up a position as tutor on a sheep station in the Riverina district, where he began corresponding with Australian literary figures, including the well-known poet James Brunton Stephens . Sometime in 1885, his wife Helen joined him in Victoria, and the couple moved to Brisbane, where their son, Leith, was born. Tragedy struck, however, when first Helen and then Leith died within a few months of each other in 1886.

Despite these personal losses, Adams continued to write prolifically. In early 1886 he published Australian Essays, and the following year The Poetical Works of Francis Adams. His main income came from journalistic work, for newspapers including the Brisbane Courier, the Boomerang, and the Sydney Bulletin. It was during this period that Adamss strong socialist convictions became most evident in his work. In 1888, his best-known work, Songs of the Army of the Night, was published in Sydney. A collection of poems dedicated mainly to the theme of radical political revolution, it attracted much negative criticism but was republished in several English editions from 1890.

Adams began his relationship with his second wife Edith (ne Goldstone) in 1887. After living briefly in Toowoomba, where Adams was heavily involved in political journalism in the lead up to the Queensland General Elections of 1888, the couple returned to Brisbane. In 1890, determined to further his literary reputation, Adams returned with Edith to England. Though he still needed to write for the press in order to earn money, Adams did manage to publish several works including a collection of essays The Australians (1893) and the novel The Melbournians (1892). His health continued to decline, however, and on 3 September 1893, depressed over his illness and the death of his brother in Queensland, Adams committed suicide.

Francis Adams poetry displays the influences of both his classical education and his political convictions, and encompasses both Victorian and Modern poetic styles. Strongly influenced by the English poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold, Adams provided an important link between the literary milieux of England and the colonies, at a time when Australia was developing a consciously national literature of its own.

Poetry Collections
  • Henry and Other Tales London Elliot Stock 1884
  • Poetical Works of Francis Adams London; Brisbane Griffin, Farran, Okeden and Walsh; Muir and Morecom 1887
  • Songs of the Army of the Night Sydney the Author 1888
Suggested Further Reading
  • Ian M. Britain Francis Adams: The Arnoldian as SocialistHistorical Studies 15 1972 pp. 40123
  • Meg Tasker Struggle and Storm: the Life and Death of Francis Adams Melbourne Melbourne University Press 2001
  • Meg Tasker Francis Adams and Songs of the Army of the Night: Negotiating Difference, Maintaining CommitmentVictorian Poetry 40.1 2002 pp. 7185