Lawson, Henry

henry lawsonHenry Lawson (1867-1922) is known primarily as a short story writer and balladist, however he was also a prolific journalist. Throughout his writing career, and parallel to his fiction and poetry, Lawson wrote articles that ranged from social commentary to vivid literary journalism.

Prior to 1901, Lawson wrote articles for The Bulletin, The Australian Star, The Worker, The Boomerang, Louisa Lawson’s Republican, and The New Zealand Mail.  J.F Archibald, founder of The Bulletin, encouraged Lawson in both fiction and non-fiction by funding a rail ticket to drought stricken Bourke in 1892, which remained a central influence on Lawson’s writings for years to come, including the literary journalism works, “In a Wet Season” (1893) and “In a Dry Season”(1892)  published in The Bulletin. Some of this literary journalism is included in Lawson’s best known book, While The Billy Boils (1896).

His literary journalism was most vivid when he was travelling, in which he replaced opinion with narrative, dialogue and characterisation; from exhaustion in the Australian bush, idling on a ship outside the Sydney Heads, living in West Australia and New Zealand, and stopping in exotic ports en route to London, in which he wrote “A Stroll To The Strand” (1903).

Lawson died in 1922, aged 55, and he was given a State Funeral which was at odds with his poverty stricken life. A memorial statue, sculpted by George Lambert, is in the Domain, Sydney.

Representative Articles:
  • “Albany before the Boom”, Australian Star 30 September 1899
  • In A Wet Season” The Bulletin, 2 December, 1893
  • In A Dry Season” While The Billy Boils, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, Australia 1896
  • “Coming Across, A Study in Steerage” The New Zealand Mail serialised 18 and 29 December, 1893
  • Some Reflections on a Voyage across Cook’s Straits” (N.Z.) [Across the Straits] Worker, 12 January 1895 
  • “A Stroll To The Strand”, The Bulletin, 19 November 1903

James, JS (aka Vagabond aka Julian Thomas)

The vagabond portraitJohn Stanley James (1843-1896) wrote for a range of papers, but particularly for the Melbourne Argus and the Sydney Morning Herald, under the nom de plume of Julian Thomas.

He is best known for his undercover work for the Argus in 1876/7 as the Vagabond. During that year, James anonymously entered some of Melbourne’s harshest institutions as an inmate or low-level employee. He wrote 5,000-word pieces in the first person exposing the difficult conditions of life in Pentridge Gaol, Melbourne Hospital, the poor houses and the asylums, until he could no longer keep his identity a secret. His articles were enormously popular with readers. They prompted several enquiries. While his undercover methods were criticised, James was never found to have his facts wrong.

James was asked to write similar articles for the Sydney Morning Herald, but these weren’t as successful. He later reported extensively from the South Pacific and the Far East, including New Caledonia, the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands, travelling as far as China. His books include the five-volume series Vagabond Papers, Occident and Orient, Cannibals and Convicts, and the play No Mercy.

When he died twenty years after his work in Melbourne as the Vagabond he was still remembered fondly. Crowds thronged to watch the funeral cortege and a monument was raised on his grave by public subscription.

Selected Articles:


  • “Death of Well-known Journalist”, Obituary, Argus, 5 September, 1896.
  • “Obituary”, Zeehan and Dundas Herald (TAS), 7 September, 1896.
  • A.V.G, “In Memoriam : Julian Thomas, ‘The Vagabond'” The Bulletin, Vol. 17 No. 865,12 September ,1896 periodical issue pg. 9 (poem)