Reprint: Gordon's Earliest Works

On 28th November 1923, "The Argus" newspaper in Melbourne published the following letter.


 Sir, - While inspecting some early copyright records in the Commonwealth Copyright Office, an interesting fact with regard to the works of Adam Lindsay Gordon was discovered. It has always been considered that Gordon's first book (that is, excepting his pamphlet "The Feud," of which only 30 copies were printed at Mount Gambier, in 1864) was "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift." All the authorities from Sutherland onwards state that "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift" preceded "Ashtaroth" by some months, and F. Maldon Robb, in his introduction to the Oxford edition of Gordon's poems, published in 1913, not only repeats this assertion, but also states that the names of Gordon's books, as set out on his monument in the Brighton Cemetery, are "in the order of their publication."

 It is particularly interesting and important therefore to find from the copyright entry under the Victorian Copyright Act of 1809 that "Ashtaroth" was published nine days before "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift." The entries are amongst the earliest under this act, being numbers 25, 26 and 27, the occasion being the publicattion of "Bush Ballads," and the date of entry June 25, 1870, which as lovers of Gordon will remember, was the day after his death. Copyright in all three works was applied for and obtained by Clarson, Massina and Co., which is curious by reason of the fact that the name of George Robertson appears on the title page of "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift" as publisher. No doubt the lack of success which attended it (only 100 copies having been sold) resulted in that firm's handing over their rights to the printers and publishers of Gordon's other two works.

 The entries in the register of copyrights are as follows: -"Asharoth," published June 10, 1867; (26) "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift," published June 19, 1867; (27) "Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes," published June 23, 1870. The confusion with regard to the order in which the works appeared is due to the fact that Gordon published them so close upon one another, and on the title-page of each, instead of giving his name, stated that each was "by the author of" the other work. That Gordon intended "Ashtaroth" to take precedence of "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift" seems certain, for when he published "Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes" he stated on the title page that it was "by the author of Ashtaroth."

 For the discovery of the entries in the copyright register, and also for assistance in research I am indebted to Mr. A. D. Osborn, cadet cataloguer in this library.

 -Yours, &c.,

Librarian in charge of the Commonwealth National Library.

Nov. 27.

 And the next day, the following reply was printed.


 Sir, - I was much interested in the letter from Mr Kenneth Binns to-day with regard to the order of publication of Gordon's poems. Mr. Binns is perfectly correct in saying that all the authorities state that "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift" was published before Ashtaroth but it may be interesting to your readers to know that the correct dates were published by Mr. E. Wilson Dobbs of this city, in an article he wrote for A. G. Stephen's "Bookfellow" in February, 1907. I wrote to Mr Wilson Dobbs some weeks ago asking him for the evidence on which he based his dates, and he replied that he had temporarily mislaid his notes, but that he had gone carefully into the matter at the time, and thought his dates would be found to be correct. This has now proved to be the case, and while we are all indebted to Mr. Osborn and Mr. Binns for tracing the evidence which has settled the question for all time, it is only right that the earlier work of Mr. Wilson Dobbs should also be mentioned. In connection with this matter, may I mention that I had adopted Mr Wilson Dobbs' dates for the bibliography of Australasian poetry and verse which I am preparing, which is to he published by the Melbourne University Press next year. The number of separate volumes and editions recorded is now nearing 2,500, but it is possible that a fair number of volumes may not have been traced. Some of these may have been privately printed, and others so little advertised that practically they were private issues. I should be glad to receive the names of volumes from authors and their friends, and I should also like to get into touch with collectors of Australiana who have specialised in poetry. In particular I should like to see a copy of "Thoughts," by Charles Harpur and "Ephemera, an Iliad of Albury," by J. O'Farrell (John Farrell), both of which are among the rarer volumes of Australian verse.



Church street, Hawthorn,

Nov. 28.

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for these pieces.]

Note: the volume that Percival Serle refers to was A Bibliography of Australasian Poetry and Verse: Australia and New Zealand which was published by Melbourne University Press in 1925.

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