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Barcroft Henry Boake
1866 - 1892
Australian Bush Poet

Barcroft Boake is most famous for his striking outback poem, “ Where the Dead Men Lie.”  In a memoir published in 1897 A G Stephens, literary critic and Red Page Editor for the Bulletin, wrote:

 “To Australians, lovers of letters, the brief and thwarted life of Barcroft Boake must always remain a theme of regret.  By education he was poorly equipped for poetry.  He found his talent late, and early made an end.  His small performance was completed in a period of scarcely more than a year.  Dying by his own hand at the age of twenty-six, he achieved little of all that his capacity promised.  Yet, had fortune favoured, this ill-starred idealist might easily have won recognition as one of the foremost poets of Australia.

For those who have learned to know him well, admiration of the poet may merge in admiration of the man.  With many defects, Boake had no vices.  From a hundred little sources flows evidence of his courage, of his generosity, of his unselfish affection, of his simplicity and worth.  That shy, moody, dispirited bushman had a heart of gold.”

Barcroft’s first published poems appeared in 1891.  Over the next two years he became a regular contributor to the Bulletin, his work appearing alongside that of Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson.  Barcroft’s poems are unusual for their wide range of subject matter and for his sympathetic portrayal of women, who are distinctly characterised. 

Barcroft’s talent wasn’t only recognised by A G Stephens.  Banjo Paterson also gave Barcroft credit.  Paterson wrote “to very few of us is it given to express their feelings in such words as came with the poetic inspiration of Barcroft Boake.”  He judged three of Barcroft’s poems - “Where the Dead Men Lie”, “‘Twixt the Wings of the Yard” and “At the ‘J. C.’” - as first class works. Henry Lawson paid the ultimate tribute. He included most of the text of "Where the Dead Men Lie" in one of his own short stories in 1897 (The Australian Cinematograph).  

Other literary critics were impressed too.  J Brunton Stephens agreed that had Boake lived seven years longer he may have won recognition as the foremost poet of Australia.  He wrote that Boake’s work “had atmosphere - Australian atmosphere........Paterson has it.  Lawson has it.  O’Hara has it and several others I could name.  But I think Boake has more of it than any of them - more than Kendall and Gordon, and that’s saying a very bold thing.”  Later, Douglas Stewart and Clemment Semmler were similarly impressed. 

Acknowledgment

Some of the material on this Internet site is provided with the kind permission of the National Library and the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.  The original texts of the poems can be found in copies of the Bulletin (1891 and 1892), held by both libraries.  The original and a typescript copy of Barcroft Capel Boake’s 1896 Memoir are held in the Mitchell Library.  The original is at C217:CY reel 1331 and the typescript in the A G Stephens papers at ML MSS 4937/8.

The 1897 and 1913 editions of A G Stephens’ edited collection of Barcroft’s poems, “Where the Dead Men Lie and Other Poems” (Angus and Robertson) were invaluable sources for information and it is only through Stephen’s work that Barcroft’s story can be told today.  The 1897 edition is held by both libraries.