George Lewis Becke

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George Lewis Becke (or Louis Becke; 18 June 1855 – 18 February 1913) was an Australian Pacific trader, short-story writer and novelist.

Early life[edit]

Becke was born at Port Macquarie, New South Wales, son of Frederick Becke, Clerk of Petty Sessions and his wife Caroline Matilda, née Beilby. Both parents were born in England. Becke was the ninth of twelve children and had a tendency to wander; he has stated that before he was 10 he had twice run away from home. The family moved to Hunters Hill, Sydney in 1867 and Becke was educated at Fort Street High School.

In 1869, Becke travelled to San Francisco with his brother William Vernon and was away for nineteen months. At 16 years of age, Becke was a stowaway on a ship bound for Samoa. In Apia he took a job as a book-keeper in the store of Mrs Mcfarlane which he held until some time after December 1872.[1] Becke sailed a ketch, the E.A. Williams to Mili Atoll to deliver it to William "Bully" Hayes, the notorious blackbirder. Beck arrived at Mili Atoll on 17 January 1874. Becke remained as a passenger on the Leonora, until the ship was wrecked on 15 March 1874 during a storm while in Lele harbour at Kosrae.[2] It was seven months until HMS Rosario rescued Becke and the others. Becke was later arrested for piracy, but was acquitted in Brisbane.[1] Then he tried his luck at the Palmer River goldrush, was employed at Ravenswood station and from 1878–79 worked as a bank clerk in Townsville, Queensland.[2] The story Nell of Mulliner's Camp is set in a mining camp in North Queensland.[3]

From about April 1880 Becke was in the Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu) working with the Liverpool firm of John S. de Wolf and Co.[1] on Nanumanga until the trading-station was destroyed later that year in a cyclone.[2] In February 1881 he opened his own store in Nukufetau, where he married Nelea Tikena. The stories that Louis Becke set in the Ellice Islands are: The Fisher Folk Of Nukufetau[4] that describes a fishing expedition, The Rangers of the Tia Kau[5] that describes a shark attack at the Tia Kau reef between Nanumea and Nanumanga, and Kennedy the Boatsteerer[6] that describes an attempt by a trader on Niutao to escape with a woman betrothed to a Niutaon chief, which ends in tragedy.[6]

Later in 1881 a shipwreck on Beru Island in the Gilbert Islands caused him to lose all he had;[2] Becke then worked in New Britain and was in Majuro by November 1882.[2] For the next ten years Becke moved about the Gilbert Islands, Ellice Islands, Caroline Islands and Marshall Islands[2] acquiring a knowledge of the customs and beliefs of the islanders and meeting palagi traders and beachcombers that Becke later used his stories.

Becke wrote about Bully Hayes in Neath Austral Skies, The Strange Adventures of James Shervinton[7] and other stories,.[8][9][10] These stories must be read with caution as the line between fact and fiction-writing is unclear.[1][2] Becke's experiences in the Pacific provided most of the material for Becke's stories.

Becke returned to New South Wales late in 1885 and on 10 February 1886 married Elizabeth (Bessie) Maunsell of Port Macquarie.

Literary career[edit]

In January 1892 Becke returned to Sydney and persuaded by Ernest Favenc and J. F. Archibald began to contribute stories to The Bulletin, the first of which was Tis in the Blood appearing in the edition of 6 May 1893. A collection of these stories, By Reef and Palm, was published in England (1894), followed by The Ebbing of the Tide in (1896).

Becke went to London about the beginning of 1896, helped by Archibald and William Macleod of The Bulletin who advanced him the sum of £200, and he remained in Europe for around 15 years, during which time a large number of collections of short stories and a few novels and stories for boys were published.

Becke was fairly paid by the magazines for his stories, but his books were always sold outright and never on a royalty basis, he was not a wealthy man. He went to Auckland, New Zealand, in 1908 and lived there for about a year.

His writings were of variable quality, but have been compared to Joseph Conrad and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Late life and legacy[edit]

Becke was in Sydney again in the middle of 1909 and died of cancer there on 18 February 1913, working up until his death. About 30 of Becke's books are listed in E. Morris Miller's Australian Literature with six other volumes written in collaboration with Walter J. Jeffrey. He was survived by his wife and a daughter.

Becke had said that any literary success he had achieved was due entirely to the training received from the editor of The Bulletin (J. F. Archibald) "who taught me the secrets of condensation and simplicity of language"[this quote needs a citation]. Once having learned this Becke had a wealth of experience to draw upon and, though there was inevitably some monotony of theme, he wrote a very large number of stories that can still be read with interest, and show him to have been a writer of considerable ability.[citation needed]


Besides those mentioned above, his works include:

  • Pacific Tales (1897)
  • Rodman the Boat-steerer (1897)
  • Edward Barry (1897)
  • Tess, the Trader's Wife (1897)
  • Sketches from Normandy (1897)
  • Wild Life in Southern Seas (1897)
  • The Mutineer (1898)
  • Ridan the Devil (1899)
  • The South Sea Pearler (1900)
  • Tom Wallis (1900)
  • The Tapir of Banderah and Other Stories (1901)
  • By Rock and Pool (1901)
  • Helen Adair (1901)
  • York the Adventurer (1901)
  • The Jalasco Brig (1901)
  • Clunkie's Flat (1901)
  • His Native Wife (1901)
  • Under Tropic Skies (1901)
  • The Adventures of a Supercargo (1901)
  • The Gerards (1901)
  • Notes from My South-Sea Log (1901)
  • Breachley: Black Sheep (1902)

with Walter J. Jeffrey[edit]

  • The Mutineer (1896)
  • A First Fleet Family (1896)
  • Admiral Philip (1899)
  • The Founder of Australia
  • The Mystery of the Laughlin Isles
  • The Naval Pioneers of Australia


  1. ^ a b c d Resture, Jane. "The Alfred Restieaux Manuscript Part II". Retrieved 6 August 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g James A. Mitchener & A. Grove Day (1957). "Louis Beck, Adventurer and writer". Rascals in Paradise. Secker & Warburg. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^
  8. ^ Captain "Bully" Hayes,
  9. ^ Concerning "Bully" Hayes,
  10. ^ The Wreck Of The Leonora: A Memory Of 'Bully' Hayes,

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]