Henry Savery

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Savery's memorial stone on the Isle of the Dead at Port Arthur

Henry Savery (4 August 1791 – 6 February 1842) was a convict transported to Port Arthur, Tasmania and Australia's first novelist. It is generally agreed that his writing is more important for its historical value than its literary merit.[1]

Early Life in England[edit]

Henry Savery was born in Somerset, England into the family of a well to do banker.[2] Little else is known of his early years. He married Eliza Elliott Oliver, daughter of a London business man and their only son was born in 1816. His attempts to earn a living were unsuccessful, a sugar-refining business being declared bankrupt in 1819 and proprietorship of the newspaper The Bristol Observer lasting only a little over two years.[3] But his return to sugar-refining ended in catastrophe.

Probably because he could not admit having overextended the firm's commitments to his partner, he began trading in forged bills of credit which eventually amounted to over £30,000.[4] His partner called the authorities when he absconded with £1500 and he was arrested on 9 December, having jumped from the boat that was to take him to America. While in prison his behaviour was so erratic that his trial had to be postponed. But on 2 April 1825 he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to hang on the 22nd of the same month ref.[5] Through influential friends this was commuted to transportation, only a day before his execution was due. Sometime in August he departed England for the last time on the ship Medway with 171 other convicts.

Transported to Van Diemens Land[edit]

Arriving in Hobart, Van Diemen's Land at the end of 1825 Savery was retained in government service and worked for the Colonial Treasurer, an appointment which raised a few eyebrows.[6] In 1828 his wife and son came to the colony and arguments between them culminated in his attempted suicide.[7] There had been rumours about Eliza's conduct with the colony's Attorney General, her chaperone, during the journey from England. But equally she may have been angered that his letters to her had exaggerated his position in the colony. Soon after he was imprisoned for debt and Eliza took their son back England within three months. This was the last they were to see of each other.

In prison he wrote a series of sketches of activities and personages in the colony.[8] These were published in the Colonial Times and, after settling a libel suit, collected in the book The Hermit of Van Diemen's Land (1829). This occurred under the pseudonym 'Simon Stukeley' as a convict could be sent to the far worse Macquarie Harbour for being published. Indeed it is only through a note in his publisher's (one Henry Melville) own copy of the book that we know of Savery's authorship at all. It is assumed that he wrote his novel during this imprisonment and the ensuing assignment to a private household, which was on condition that he not carry on his own business.

At any event Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence was published anonymously in 1831 to reasonably good reviews from the colonial press.[9] His authorship became a public secret and was even mentioned in a reference for his ticket of leave which was granted in 1832. Unfortunately his relative freedom was quickly revoked because of his writing, in this case for the paper The Tasmanian.[10] Then, farcically, the suspension was suspended when it turned out to be a pretext for tarring the reputation of Governor Arthur. Savery's illegal authorship was thereafter quietly ignored.

His final years are murky, though it is known that he gained a provisional pardon and was able to rent a farm.[11] But he fell into debt again and possibly alcoholism. By 1839 he was refused a convict servant. Towards the end of 1840 he was caught at his old tricks and charged with forging bills.[12] Brought before the magistrate who had chaperoned his wife, he was again sentenced to transportation. He was imprisoned at Port Arthur where, early in 1842, he died possibly after slitting his own throat. He was buried on the Isle of the Dead just off the coast of the prison. As noted above, posterity has not been altogether kind to his attempts at self-invention.[1]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Henry Savery: The Hermit in Van Diemens Land. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft & Margaret Roe (1829; UQP, 1964)
  • Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962)
  • Australia's First Two Novels: Origins and background. E. Morris Miller (Hobart, 1958)
  • "A Forger's Tale: The Extraordinary Story of Henry Savery, Australia's First Novelist". Rod Howard (Arcade Publications, Melbourne, 2011)

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 22.
  2. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 6.
  3. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 7.
  4. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 8.
  5. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 9.
  6. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 12.
  7. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 15.
  8. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 16.
  9. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 17.
  10. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 18.
  11. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 19.
  12. ^ Quintus Servinton. Ed. Cecil Hadgraft (1830; Jacaranda, 1962), p. 20.