Henry Thomas Boake was born in Sydney in 1866, the eldest son of Barcroft Capel
Boake and Florence Eva Clarke.His
father (Barcroft was an Irish family name) ran a photography business from his
studio at 330 George Street, Sydney.Young Barcroft’s childhood was spent in Sydney, and for two years
in Noumea, where he spent time with a friend of the family.When living in North Sydney, which was
then mainly bush, he had to ride his pony to Milson’s Point before going
to school across the harbour. Later he was to be described "a good horseman, and
a first class bushman" and it was said "he looked infinitely better on a horse than off."
had four younger sisters, Adelaide, Violet, Clare and Evie.Photographs of his family have been
included on this site.
was thirteen Barcroft’s mother died in childbirth and his grandmother
took over her role in the household.One of Adelaide’s children, Doris Kerr, later became a published
author, writing under the pseudonym of Capel Boake.
trained as a surveyor in Sydney before taking up a surveyor’s assistant
position in 1886, based at Rocklands Farm, near Adaminaby in the Monaro
district of New South Wales.He
spent two happy years in this district, becoming friends with the McKeahnie
family, and in particular their two daughters, Jean and May.Their brother Charlie, who features in
some of Barcroft’s poems, was an excellent horseman and was said to be
one of the men on whom Banjo Paterson based the Man from Snowy River.
Barcroft’s experiences at this time, which were later to feature in his
poems, included chasing brumbies in the Snowy Mountains and skiing at Kiandra.
end of his term at Rocklands Barcroft headed north to seek adventure and work
as a stockman and a drover.He
initially worked on a sheep station at Trangie (near Narromine) then headed
north again, droving cattle on the main Queensland/Victoria stock route from
the Diamantina and then working at Burrembilla Station, near Cunnamulla, in
Western New South Wales.
returning to Bathurst in 1890 he lost all his savings when his droving boss
splurged his cheque in a drunken spree.He had little choice but to return to surveying in the Riverina where he
began to write poetry based on his bush experiences.His work first appeared in the Sydney Mail in 1890, and in
1891 his first verses were published in the Bulletin.This was the beginning of a brief but productive period in
which many of his poems were published in the Bulletin.
December 1891, at the end of his term of engagement in the Riverina, he
returned to Sydney where he was caught by the effects of the 1891-1893 financial
depression.His grandmother was
dying and his father’s photography business had failed.After four months of being unable to
find any work, and not long after apparently receiving news that “his best
girl” was going to be married, he took his own life.Ten days after disappearing from his
home he was found hanging by the lash of his stockwhip on the shore of Sydney
Harbour at Folly Point, not far from where he used to live as a child.
of Barcroft’s brief but interesting life is told in the form of a novel
in Hugh Capel’s book, “Where the Dead Men Lie, The Story of
Barcroft Boake, Bush Poet of the Monaro.”While the story cannot be entirely “true”
historically, it is told in a way that seeks to be true to the spirit of what
happened.The nature of Barcroft’s
relationships with the McKeahnie girls is a key feature in this story.
Barcroft’s father wrote a detailed Memoir about his son.A copy of this interesting document is
included on this site.A G
Stephens drew substantially on this Memoir when wrote his own Memoir, included
in the 1897 edited collection of Barcroft’s poems.