Trol­lope nei­ther our first nor fore­most fan

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Peter Pierce

The First Celebrity: An­thony Trol­lope’s Aus­tralasian Odyssey By Nigel Starck Lans­down Me­dia, 195pp, $29.95 WE are not kept wait­ing long: ‘‘the first celebrity’’ of Nigel Starck’s ti­tle is renowned English nov­el­ist An­thony Trol­lope, who spent more than a year in Aus­tralia dur­ing two trips in 1871-72 and 1875.

The per­sonal rea­son for the ar­du­ous jour­neys that Trol­lope made with his wife Rose (which en­tailed some rough bush travel, some­times 100km a day on horse­back) was to see what might be res­cued from the fail­ing sheep sta­tion, Mor­tray, north of Gren­fell, NSW, run by his younger son Fred.

Pa­ter­nal so­lic­i­tude was com­bined with pe­cu­niary in­ter­est, as Trol­lope con­tracted not only to write a book about Aus­tralia and New Zealand for pub­lisher Chap­man and Hall but also to re­cy­cle the ma­te­rial for ar­ti­cles in the Daily Tele­graph. Be­fore he made land­fall in

Septem­ber 20-21, 2014 Mel­bourne, Trol­lope had used the 64-day voy­age to write a novel, Lady Anna, the first of sev­eral of his books into which he worked an Aus­tralian con­nec­tion.

But was Trol­lope ‘‘the first celebrity’’, that is, the first per­son with an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion to visit Aus­tralia? In 1836 Charles Dar­win was early in the process of mak­ing his name and chang­ing the na­ture of what it meant to be hu­man. When she came to the Vic­to­rian gold­fields in 1855, ‘‘the ex­otic and erotic dancer’’ Lola Mon­tez was canny enough to play up to her rep­u­ta­tion. Nor does Starck ne­glect the visit of Queen Vic­to­ria’s fourth child, Prince Al­fred, in 1867 and 1868.

Two of Charles Dick­ens’s sons set­tled, not hap­pily, in Aus­tralia, but the great writer can­celled a sched­uled tour to com­plete Our Mu­tual Friend.

Trol­lope’s pri­macy was to be an early English-speak­ing writer in what would be­come of long line of such com­men­ta­tors on Aus­tralia. Their opin­ions en route were scru­ti­nised by their hosts keenly and of­ten with of­fended dig­nity. As­tutely ap­pre­cia­tive of many as­pects of Aus­tralian life, Trol­lope was never en­tirely for- given for re­mark­ing ‘‘blow’’, or boast.

This gave less of­fence than Rud­yard Ki­pling’s poem The Song of the Ci­ties (that is grand me­trop­o­lises of the Bri­tish Em­pire), the Syd­ney sec­tion of which be­gan ‘‘Greet­ing! My birth­stain have I turned to gold’’, while this is what Ho­bart said for it­self: ‘‘Man’s love first found me; man’s hate made me Hell’’. Trol­lope was also alert to the is­land’s con­vict past. On a visit to Port Arthur in 1872 he in­ter­viewed the re­main­ing 15 pris­on­ers, ‘‘the he­roes of the place’’ as he called them. He pre­dicted the site would ‘‘fall into dust and men will make un­fre­quent (sic) ex­cur­sions to visit the strange ru­ins’’. As Starck points out, this was one of Trol­lope’s forecasts that proved wrong. Nev­er­the­less he de­lighted his hosts by an­nounc­ing, con­di­tion­ally, that ‘‘could I choose the colony in which I was to live, I would pitch my staff in Tas­ma­nia’’. His itin­er­ary made other de­mands, and Trol­lope took ship for Western Aus­tralia.

The First Celebrity is gen­er­ously in­tro­duced by English au­thor Joanna Trol­lope, an in­di­rect de­scen­dant of the nov­el­ist. Too much of Starck’s short book is con­cerned not so much

its peo­ple’s ten­dency to with An­thony Trol­lope as with the pat­tern of suc­ces­sion to the Trol­lope baronetcy, and its in­ter­rup­tions by lack of male is­sue and death in the Great War.

All the nov­el­ist’s di­rect de­scen­dants are now Aus­tralians by birth, in­clud­ing ‘‘the seven­teenth baronet … a broad-shoul­dered for­mer rugby player’’. Starck has re­warded their hos­pi­tal­ity by his de­tailed at­ten­tion to heirs, heirs pre­sump­tive and fam­ily trees. Read­ers are like­lier to wish him back to the 19th cen­tury, where the nar­ra­tive is en­livened by tales of Trol­lope the club­bable after-din­ner speaker, or of him sport­ing with Maori women in a hot spring. There are poignant touches too, as in the reck­on­ing of Fred Trol­lope as ‘‘a man of­ten ren­dered lonely by call­ing and dis­con­so­late by cir­cum­stance’’.

Starck has writ­ten an el­e­gant and en­ter­tain­ing not-quite book. He praises the ‘‘haste and dis­ci­pline with which (Trol­lope) filed his im­pres­sions’’, yet laments the au­thor’s fail­ure to edit his vast Aus­tralasian opus.

Trol­lope ap­pears as a Vic­to­rian Hero of Labour, although an en­dear­ing one. When his friend George Eliot sighed that some days she could not write a line, Trol­lope con­soled her:

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