FARRELL, John (1851-1904)


FARRELL, John (1851-1904)
poet and journalist
was born at Buenos Aires, South America, on 18 December 1851. His father, Andrew Farrell, left Ireland about 1847 and settled in Buenos Aires as a chemist. Towards the end of 1852 he went to Victoria, Australia, with his wife and children, and engaged first in gold-digging, and then in carrying, before finally settling down as a farmer. John Farrell was at first educated by his parents and then at a private school. His mother died before he was 12 years old, and thereafter he had little formal education although his father encouraged his taste for reading. The boy worked on farms, and when he was 19 obtained a position in a brewery at Bendigo. He wandered about Australia for some time, went into brewing again, and alternated this occupation with farming for some years. In 1878 he published, under the name of John O'Farrell, Ephemera: An Iliad of Albury, a little pamphlet of verse now one of the rarest of Australian publications. In 1882 Two Stories, a Fragmentary Poem was published at Melbourne, and about this period he began to be a regular contributor to the Bulletin. He was then working in a brewery at Albury, and in 1883 was a partner in a brewery at Goulburn. He became much interested in the tenets of Henry George after reading Progress and Poverty. In January 1887 a collection of Farrell's verses was published in Sydney under the title of How He Died and Other Poems which was favourably reviewed, and in 1887 he sold his brewery interests and went to Sydney hoping to obtain employment as a journalist. He bought a paper, the Lithgow Enterprise, but was unable to make it a financial success, and in 1889 returned to Sydney to edit the Australian Standard, a single tax paper for which Farrell did much writing. In October 1889 he began a series of articles on George's theories for the Daily Telegraph, and in the following year joined its staff. When Henry George arrived in Sydney in March he was met by Farrell who accompanied him on his inland tour. The two men became great friends. In June 1890 Farrell was appointed editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, but found the responsibility too great and resigned three months later. He continued, however, to be a regular contributor until shortly before his death on 8 January 1904. He married in November 1876 Eliza Watts, who survived him with seven children. A memorial edition of Farrell's poems was published in 1904 with a memoir by Bertram Stevens under the title of My Sundowner and other Poems. This was re-issued in 1905 as How He Died and other Poems. The contents differ considerably from those of the 1887 volume with the same name.
Farrell as a poet was a precursor of the Bulletin school of the nineties. Much of his work is no more than vigorous, unpolished popular verse, and Farrell had no illusions about it. His "Australia to England", however, is an example of first rate occasional verse and contains more than one memorable phrase. He was an excellent journalist and a first-rate talker, much interested in political economy generally, and the single tax theory in particular. His attitude to life was sanely humorous. He was modest about his own work, thoroughly appreciative of the work of others, generous with his own time and money, and considerate and courteous to all; no literary man of his period was more beloved.
Bertram Stevens, Memoir in My Sundowner and Other Poems; Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph, 9 January 1904.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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