Henry Savery (1791-1842) was a convict, who from prison wrote weekly sketches of Hobart life, for Colonial Times, under the heading “The Hermit – in Van Diemen’s Land” using the pseudonym Simon Stukeley.
These appeared over six months in 1829. They were collected and published in book form under the same title in 1830, becoming Australia’s first book of essays (Savery went on to write Australia’s first novel, Quintus Servinton). Savery acknowledged in the preface that The Hermit in London (1820) was the model for the title of his sketches.
The sketches covered “Manners, Society and Public Characters”, and contained thinly disguised descriptions of about 150 people in Hobart Town (Tasmanian library article). Savery was in gaol for debt when the sketches were written but they were sufficiently accurate to cause a furore on their publication.
When Andrew Bent, the publisher of the paper, advertised the impending publication of the book of sketches, he was sued successfully by the lawyer Gamaliel Butler who had no desire to see the offending article reappear. The damages and costs forced Bent to sell the paper to Henry Melville who became a prominent publisher in the colony. Savery’s name was never mentioned in the case.
Savery’s true identity as the author was not revealed till long after his death in 1842.
- “The Hermit – in Van Diemen’s Land, No.2” Colonial Times, Friday 12 June 1829
- “The Hermit – in Van Diemen’s Land,27“, Colonial Times, 4 December 1829.
- “The Hermit – in Van Diemen’s Land, No.30”, Colonial Times, Friday 25 December 1829
- Savery, Henry (1964) The Hermit in Van Diemen’s Land, (edited and biographical introduction by Hadgraft, Cecil, with notes on the persons by Roe, Margriet) St Lucia: University of Queensland Press