Reprint: Creator of Images: Victor Daley, Irish-Australian Poet

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Victor James William Patrick Daley was born September 5, 1858, in Navan, County Meath, Ireland, a seat and centre of romance. His father, a soldier, was altogether Celtic - his mother a Morrison of Scottish descent. In after years Daley used to say, "We were always poor and improvident."

Daley's knowledge of Irish legend later charged his verse with "the melancholy regret of the Celt for vanished and remote glories." When he was an infant his father died. He went to live with his grandparents, ardent Fenians, and young Victor often moulded bullets for the cause.

When Daley was 14 his mother remarried, and the family moved to Devonport, England. Here he attended the Christian Brothers' school, and in its library steeped himself in English verse.

At 16 he became a clerk in the Great Western Railway Company's office at Plymouth, but soon grew restless. His stepfather had relatives in Adelaide, and Daley set out for Australia.

Early in 1878 he landed in Sydney, where he was forced at once to take a job as gardener to a clergyman, although he knew nothing of gardening. This soon became apparent to the clergyman, so Daley went to Adelaide and got a job as correspondence clerk.  

He submitted verse to a local paper with fair success, but soon he lost his clerkship. In error he sent a valued client a love lyric instead of a business letter, and was again out of work. He decided to go to New Caledonia, via Melbourne. Arriving in Melbourne, he went to the races to raise the rest of his fare. He lost his all. For a time he wrote racing notes for the Carlton Advertiser. Soon he was taken on the staff, and began writing leaders and verses. His sunny nature, soon brought him scores of acquaintances.

Then, with the musician, Charles Wesley Caddy, Daley set out for Queanbeyan, from where an acquaintance had struck it rich. On their arrival the friend had gone, and Daley became editor of the Queanbeyan Times for five or six months. He then moved to Sydney, writing for the Bulletin and Punch.

In 1888 he came to Melbourne and freelanced for Melbourne and Sydney papers. In 1898 he returned to Sydney, where his first book of verse, At Dawn and Dusk was published.

His health began to fail. In 1902, in the hope that the trip would do him good, he went -- at last - -to New Caledonia. The trip was not a success. He went to Orange, was lonely there, and returned to Sydney, where he died, December 29, 1905. He was buried next day in the Waverley Cemetery near by to the poets Kendall and Deniehy. He left a wife and four children.

Perhaps Bertram Stevens' words are the finest summing up of Daley: "Light-hearted, brave, generous, but weak of will -- the man was finer than his work, and his work is good." H. M. Green, in his An Outline of Australian Literature, writes: "Poetry was the one fixed star in Daley's life. He not only had far more craftsmanship than any of the balladists, but in his blood were that love of words for their own sake, love of sound and imagery, which help to distinguish the poet from the mere versifier. No Australian before him had created so many fine images."

First published in The Argus, 28 October 1944

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

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 16, 2011 9:55 AM.

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