Friday, January 13, 2012

Henry Jerrold - poet, performer, party boy and permanently pickled but a kind soul nonetheless

It seems the old habit of sending the black sheep of families out to 'the colonies' was alive and well in 1852 when the (some articles say older, others say younger) brother of famed author/playwrite Douglas Jerrold washed up in Sydney onboard the ship 'William' on May 13.

It appears their mother, acclaimed actress Mary Jerrold nee Reid, had passed away on the final day of 1851 which may have precipitated her son Henry to travel to the other side of the globe.
To try his luck in new climes or to give vent to his wanderlust, one cannot tell.
But he was already in the grip of the grappa.

I have been unable to track down many mentions of this chap, Henry Jerrold, prior to his unannounced arrival, which gave no indication of the future infamy he would soon acquire around this over-grown island of ours; in and out of the pubs, police courts, printers, prisons and the odd benevolent asylum.
Henry was very much over-shadowed by his celebrated brother and (I assume) his own activities in England may not have bourne much scrutiny or rated more than a brief mention of inebriated behaviour akin to his newspaper infamy in Australia as I have found mention of his propensity for agitating newspaper offices for hand outs from 1838 until 1852.

Henry Jerrold was a clever, cheerful soul who was heavily chained to the bottle but who could recite Shakespeare and various poetic quotes in any situation, as well as pen his own original compositions, probably due to his sometime performing profession.
He and his famous sibling Douglas were both put to the printing trade by their actor father, Samuel Jerrold, who had also started off his working life as a printer.
And he did attempt to gain employment on these shores as a printer as proved by this tale from the Kiwi newspaper Star in 1882.

I first found mention of this poet in my trawlings of newspaper archive Trove; an article from the Dunolly Express had been picked up by a number of other publications stating how, during his stay at the Dunolly Hospital in 1867, Henry Jerrold had penned several sacred poems for the Church of England Bazzaar.
Whether he was there to dry out, have a broken limb attended or just pinch the nurses' bottoms, this act struck me as being from a generous, talented soul.
Pity I cannot find any hint to what these poems may have been; he was forever referred to as "brother of the famed editor of Punch/writer/author, etc" and, quite possibly, while his original compositions may have been pleasing, they may not have had any great value attached to them at the time of creation.

I have been able to locate two of his original poems, the first dedicated to the poet Thomas Moore on his death , written only a few months after Henry Jerrold's arrival in Australia, while the second was composed ( or at least published) 16 years after he landed in Sydney being his thoughts on Australia in 1868.

In 1862 the Talbot Times reported how this poor 'Tramp' was "half-witted and evidently unable to take care of himself" as Henry was, yet again, before a police court on, yet again, another charge of drunkenness.
Given the heart-felt plea by the journalist who wrote about how this gentleman deserved to be cared for by the government in Yarra Bend (asylum) it is telling that the same 'half-witted' person was able to pen poems of note in the following years of 1867 and 1868.

Yet, this description is of one so hopelessly addicted to drink in 1852 as to leave one to wonder at how his wit and intellect survived to engage listeners let alone to keep body and soul together sufficiently to roam the distances he did across the country.

There are a multitude of entries of his appearances in the many police courts up and down the country - from QLD to NSW, South Oz and Victoria, each and every place it was the same tale : drunk and disorderly.
Although there were a few instances where he was able to convince the magistrate he had not been under the influence I wondered if Henry had knocked off enough grey cells by that stage as to seem 'punch drunk' to the passing policemen.

Henry was reported as having been lost in the Queensland bush when he missed a track, existing on water, grass and leaves for almost a month before he was found and taken in to be nursed back to health in 1865.
Possibly the best way to go cold turkey and give his liver a rest but it didn't last long.

He claimed Charles Dickens as a friend, he was not above breaking into pubs he was barred from (and being "soundly thrashed" for his troubles), and he was once discharged from the Warrnambool Gaol on the condition he left town immediately, with talk he would 'tramp it' to Melbourne in December 1868, age 60.

The final mention I was able to find of Henry was in 1869 when he was once more charged with being drunk and disorderly, this time in Prahran, but as it was only the 8th day of the new year his celebrations had obviously continued for some time past the fireworks stage.

I  assume that, given his age and long years of alcohol abuse, Henry may not have survived that Summer in Melbourne; the long trek from Warrnambool, the heat, the continued drinking and the lack of any further mention in the press lets me think he found whatever rest he'd been searching for.


  1. " the gleam of incipient insanity". Love it. Why does Henry's story remind me of an older member of my own family? Well, several, actually.

  2. What amazing stamina. And indeed my own mother proved that you could live (contrary to medical opinion) on bacon butties, coffee and gallons of red wine. With many, many cigarettes as well.

  3. The drunken despot Richard Bowyer-Atkins,the first judge advocate in Parramatta NSW, was related to me about seven gens back a bit. no need to write about it, it being well documented.
    UNC Dick was not a merry soul likened to Henry Jerrold.

  4. I've never heard of either Jerrold, quite possibly because I'm not a fan of poetry. I don't mind the odd rhyming verse, but true poetry confuses me. I just don't understand what it is the writer is trying to say a lot of the time. So I don't read it.

  5. F C they abound in most decadant families.