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Henry Parkes (1815 – 1896)

Henry Parkes was born on 27 May 1815 in Warwickshire, England, the son of a tenant farmer, Thomas Parks, and his wife Martha (ne Faulconbridge). The family fell into debt and had to leave their farm, moving first to Glamorganshire in Wales and then to Birmingham, about 1825. Parkes later described his education as very limited and imperfect, and from an early age he worked as a labourer to help support his family. Nonetheless Parkes also began to write, and his first known poetic compositions, chiefly reflecting his radical political views, date from the 1830s.

Have served an apprenticeship to an ivory turner, Parkes began his own business in Birmingham about 1837. The business failed however, and Parkes and his young wife Clarinda (ne Varney) emigrated to New South Wales in March 1839. Once there, Parkes pursued a business career, setting up as an ivory turner and importer in Sydney in 1845. He also quickly became involved in the literary and politic affairs of the colony, contributing journalism and poetry to various colonial newspapers, and in 1842 publishing by subscription his first volume of verse, Stolen Moments. Through the 1840s Parkes associated with other men of letters with radical nationalist views, including Charles Harpur and John Dunmore Lang , and in 1850 founded the Empire, a journal which would become an influential forum for liberal and radical political debate. Parkes political career also began at this time, when he won a seat in the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1854, and the Legislative Assembly in 1856. Bankruptcy caused by the collapse of the Empire in 1858 forced Parkes to leave parliament briefly, though he returned in 1859.

Over the next three and half decades, Parkes would become the dominant figure in colonial Australian politics, and was subsequently claimed as the father of federation. While he continued to gain influence as a politician, however, his business affairs remained precarious, and he was bankrupted on two further occasions: in 1870 and in 1887. Throughout his career, Parkes remained active as a journalist and pamphleteer, but he also maintained his interest in poetry. His poetry, published in the colonial newspaper press and in six published anthologies, ranged from simple lyric pieces to occasional verse on historical events or notable personages, often with a political focus. Parkes final collection of poems, Sonnets and other verses, was published shortly before his death in Sydney on 27 April 1896.

Poetry Collections
  • Stolen Moments: a Series of Short Poems Sydney James Tegg 1842
  • Murmurs of the Stream Sydney James W. Waugh 1857
  • Studies in Rhyme, with Notes Sydney J. Ferguson 1870
  • The Beauteous Terrorist and other poems Melbourne George Robertson 1885
  • Fragmentary Thoughts Sydney Samuel E. Lees 1889
  • Sonnets and other verses London Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner 1895
Suggested Further Reading
  • Dixon, RobertNostalgia and Patriotism in Colonial Australia J. P. Hardy and Alan Frost, eds. Studies from Terra Australis to Australia Canberra Australian Academy of the Humanities 1989 pp. 21017, 27172
  • Martin, A. W. Henry Parkes: A Biography Melbourne Melbourne University Press 1980