Marcus Clarke

Marcus Clarke (1846-1881) in 1874. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke (24 April 1846 – 2 August 1881) was an Australian poet and novelist, best known for his novel For the Term of his Natural Life.

Life Edit


Clarke was born in London, the son of a barrister. After a somewhat wild youth he went to Australia where, after some failures in business, he took to journalism on the staff of the Melbourne Argus, with brilliant results. He wrote 2 novels, Long Odds and For the Term of his Natural Life (1874), the latter, which is generally considered his masterpiece, dealing in a powerful and realistic manner with transportation and convict labour. He also wrote many short tales and dramatic pieces. After a turbulent and improvident life he died at 35. In addition to the works above mentioned, he wrote Lower Bohemia in Melbourne, The Humbug Papers, The Future Australian Race. As a writer he was keen, brilliant, and bitter.[1]


Clarke was born in London on the 24th of April 1846. He was the only son of William Hislop Clarke, a barrister of the Middle Temple who died in 1863. Marcus Clarke then emigrated to Australia, where his uncle, James Langton Clarke, was a county court judge. He was at first a clerk in the bank of Australasia, but showed no business ability, and soon proceeded to learn farming at a station on the Wimmera river, Victoria.[2]

Writing careerEdit

He was already writing stories for the Australian Magazine, when in 1867 he joined the staff of the Melbourne Argus through the introduction of Dr. Robert Lewins.[2] He briefly visited Tasmania in 1870 at the request of the Argus to experience at first hand the settings of articles he was writing on the convict period. Old Stories Retold began to appear in the Australasian from February. The following month his great novel His Natural Life (later called For the Term of His Natural Life) commenced serialisation in the Australasian Journal.

Clarke also became secretary (in 1872) to the trustees of the Melbourne Public Library and later (in 1876) Sub (assistant) Librarian. In 1868 he foundedthe Yorick Club, which soon numbered among its members the chief Australian men of letters.[2] Clarke was an important literary figure in Australia, and was the centre of an important bohemian circle. Among the writers were in contact with him were Victor Daley and George Gordon McCrae.

He married an actress, Marianne Dunn.[2]

In spite of his popular success Clarke was constantly involved in pecuniary difficulties, which are said to have hastened his death at Melbourne on 2 August 1881.


The best-known of Clarke's books is For the Term of his Natural Life (or Natural Life, Melbourne, 1874), a powerful tale of an Australian penal settlement.[2] Natural Life is a "ripping yarn", which at times relies on unrealistic coincidences. The story follows the fortunes of Rufus Dawes, a young man transported for a murder which he did not commit. The harsh and inhumane treatment meted out to the convicts, some of whom were transported for relatively minor crimes, is clearly conveyed. The conditions experienced by the convicts are graphically described. The novel was based on research by the author as well as a visit to the penal settlement of Port Arthur.[3]

He also wrote The Peripatetic Philosopher (1869), a series of amusing papers reprinted from The Australasian; Long Odds (London, 1870), a novel; and numerous comedies and pantomimes, the best of, which was Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (Theatre Royal, Melbourne; Christmas, 1873).[2]

Recognition Edit

121 Marcus Clarke Street January 2013

121 Marcus Clarke St., Canberra, ACT, in 2013. Photo by Nick-D. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Clarke's contribution to Australian literature and heritage is recognised in several places, including a main street in Canberra City that bears his name.

In 1973 he was honoured on a postage stamp bearing his portrait issued by Australia Post [1].



Short fictionEdit

  • Sensational Tales. Sydney: E.R. Cole, 1886.
  • Australian Tales (edited by Hamilton MackInnon). Melbourne: A. & W. Bruce, 1896.
  • Australian Tales of the Bush (edited by Hamilton MackInnon). Melbourne: G. Robertson, 1897.
  • Old Tales of a Young Country. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1972.


Collected editionsEdit

  • The Austral Edition of the Works of Marcus Clarke (edited by Hamilton Mackinnon). Melbourne: Fergusson & Mitchell, 1890.
  • A Marcus Clarke Reader: Containing selections from his lesser known writings (edited by Bill Wannan). Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1863; London: Angus & Robertson, 1864.
  • The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume: Ccontaining selections from the writings of Marcus Clarke, together with Lord Rosebery's letter, etc., and a biography of the deceased author (edited by Hamilton Mackinnon). Melbourne: Cameron, Laing, 1884. 
  • "Marcus Clarke: For the term of his natural life, short stories, critical essays and journalism (edited by Michael Wilding). St. Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1963.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[5]

See alsoEdit

References Edit


  1. John William Cousin, "Clarke, Marcus," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 86. Web, Dec. 24, 2017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke, Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911). LovetoKnow Corp., Web, July21, 2013.
  3. Marcus Clarke (1846-1881, Project Gutenberg Australia. Web, July 21, 2013
  4. Poems (1894), Internet Archive. Web, July 21, 2013.
  5. Search results = au:Marcus Clarke, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, July 21, 2013.
  6. Marcus Clarke: His life and genius (1902), Internet Archive. Web, July 21, 2013.

External links Edit

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