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John Farrell (1851 – 1904)

John Farrell was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 18 December 1851. He was the son of Andrew Farrell, a chemist, and his wife Mary; the Farrells had moved to Argentina from Dublin about the late 1840s. In 1852, lured by the gold rushes, the family moved to Victoria, where after an unsuccessful stint on the goldfields, they settled on a farm in the Loddon district. Although he received little formal schooling, John Farrell read avidly in his youth and was an active participant in local cultural life.

At 19, Farrell found employment at a brewery in Bendigo, working there for about two years before travelling to far north Queensland in search of gold. He returned to Victoria in 1875, and for the next decade, worked mainly at breweries in various locations including Camperdown (Victoria), Albury, Goulburn and Queanbeyan. While at Albury in the late 1870s, Farrell began contributing satirical verse to the local press, later publishing his work in the form of a satirical epic poem, Ephemera—an Iliad of Albury.

From the early 1880s, Farrell began writing poetry in earnest, publishing Two Voices: A Fragmentary Poem in 1882. The same year he began submitting verse to the Bulletin, and would remain a regular contributor to that journal throughout the 1880s. Farrell's verse was popular, and in 1887 he published How He Died and other poems, a collection well received both by critics and the public.

In late 1887, Farrell left brewing for journalism, becoming the editor of a newspaper in Lithgow, New South Wales, and later working in Sydney on the Australian Standard and the Daily Telegraph. Although journalism became the focus of his literary activities from this time on, Farrell continued to write poetry, and he achieved further fame as the author of patriotic verses, especially Australia to England: June 22, 1897, published as a booklet by Angus and Robertson. Farrell died in Sydney on 8 January 1904; later that year a final collection of his poems, edited by Bertram Stevens, was published.

Much of Farrell's poetry was satirical or humorous and relied heavily on topical references, thus the great popularity of his work did not survive beyond the period in which it was written. The colloquial style and narrative drive of his verse, however, was to have an impact on the work of other poets of the period, such as Henry Lawson and A. B. Paterson .

Selected Poetry Collections
  • How He Died and other poems Sydney Turner and Henderson 1887
  • My Sundowner and other poems Sydney Angus and Robertson 1904
Suggested Further Reading
  • B. G. Andrews Farrell, John (1851-1904 Australian Dictionary of Biography Melbourne Melbourne University Press 1972 pp. 156-57.