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George Gordon McCrae (1833 – 1927)

George Gordon McCrae was born on 29 May 1833 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of artist and diarist Georgiana Huntly McCrae (ne Gordon) and Andrew Murison McCrae, a solicitor. When McCrae was seven years old, the family emigrated to Victoria, arriving at Port Phillip in March 1841. In 1843, Andrew McCrae acquired a cattle station at Arthurs Seat, on the Mornington Peninsula, where George Gordon and his three brothers were educated by a private tutor. According to his autobiographical reminiscences of his childhood, McCrae swiftly developed a fascination with the flora and fauna of his new home, and with the culture of the indigenous inhabitants of the Mornington Peninsula.

At seventeen, McCrae left the family home at Arthurs Seat and tried various occupations, including surveying and banking, before joining the Victorian public service in 1854. Much of his leisure time was devoted to writing, and from the 1860s McCrae began to publish his work. His first poetry collection, Two Old Mens Tales of Love and War, was privately printed in London in 1865. In 1867, McCrae published two long poems based on Aboriginal legends, The Story of Balladeadro and Mamba (The Bright Eyed), and in 1873 published another epic poem, The Man in the Iron Mask, based on the story of the legendary French prisoner of the seventeenth century. McCrae also contributed shorter poems to the press, including the Australasian, the Melbourne Review and, later, the Bulletin. A selection of his poetry was published as The Fleet and the Convoy and Other Verses in 1915.

An amiable and social character, McCrae was an enthusiastic participant in the literary and cultural life of colonial Melbourne, and a founding member of the Yorick Club, which also included such leading poets and writers as Henry Kendall, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and Marcus Clarke. On retiring from the public service in 1893, McCrae devoted much of his time to writing, and his unpublished papers contain a significant quantity of autobiographical work. McCrae's poetry is representative of the Victorian period and has been regarded as overly ornate and self-consciously literary by modern readers. Yet he remains important as one of the first Australian poets to attempt to incorporate Aboriginal myths and history into his verse. McCrae died at Hawthorn, Melbourne, on 15 August 1927.

Poetry Collections
  • Two Old Mens Tales of Love and War London the author? 1865
  • The Story of Balladeadro Melbourne H. T. Dwight 1867
  • Mamba (The Bright Eyed): An Aboriginal Reminiscence Melbourne H. T. Dwight 1867
  • The Man in the Iron Mask: A Poetical Romance in Four Books Melbourne George Robertson 1873
  • The Fleet and the Convoy and other verses Melbourne Lothian 1915
Suggested Further Reading
  • McCrae, George Gordon Recollections of Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay in the Early Forties Adelaide Sullivans Cove 1987
  • McCrae, Hugh My Father and My Fathers Friends Sydney Angus and Robertson 1935
  • Jennifer Moran Painter, Poet, and Public ServantNational Library of Australia News 18.11 Sep 2008 pp. 1518 http://www.nla.gov.au/pub/nlanews/2008/sep08/story-4.pdf