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Arden, George (1820–1854)

by P. L. Brown

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

George Arden (1820?-1854), editor and author, was the second son of Major Samuel Arden, of the East India Co. service, and belonged to one of the three present English families whose male line can be traced from before the Conquest. Both his parents died in India in 1822-23, and his upbringing was probably centred upon the Arden headquarters, Longcrofts Hall, Burton-on-Trent. He claimed kinship with Shakespeare's mother.

Arden first saw Melbourne in January 1838 when emigrating to Sydney. With Thomas Strode as printer-partner, he returned in mid-October, and a fortnight later, when only 18, launched the weekly Port Phillip Gazette, 'to assist the enquiring, animate the struggling, and sympathize with all'. In January 1839 he published and probably wrote, the first original poem on Melbourne to be printed there. About May he and Strode produced Articles and Rules for the … Melbourne Union Benefit Society, Victoria's first pamphlet. Early in 1840 they enlarged their paper, which had become a semi-weekly. In September they advertised the first book published in Melbourne, Arden's Latest Information with Regard to Australia Felix, soon afterwards published in London with a modified title. Arden's personal interests are shown by his printed Lecture … at the Mechanics' Institution, 29th May, 1840, on the influence of the press, and by his Separation Question compendium, 1841.

The Gazette, throughout its first year, demonstrates his ability, energy, and public spirit. Although lack of sources and precision muddled his historical detail, he was a competent writer. But his youth, disposition, and circumstances wasted his knowledge, fluency, and force. Pride and indiscreet principle caused him to clash with others, especially Judge John Walpole Willis. Social pressure and distracting legal proceedings undermined both his character and his career. The trend of the times quickened his drift towards bankruptcy. In November 1842 he lost the Gazette, which Strode had already left. He could still command the Mechanics' Institute, Melbourne, where he spoke on literary pursuits in March 1843. Within five months, however, he was Port Jackson correspondent for the Port Phillip Herald, in which he announced his monthly Sydney Magazine, backed by more than 100 Melbourne subscribers. This duly appeared, with John Skinner Prout as illustrator, but ran to only two issues.

Arden left for England in June 1844, but in April 1846 was expected in Melbourne with a wife, 'having married at the Cape on his passage out'. His 'England Revisited', published by the Port Phillip Herald on 21 May, makes five columns of sound, imaginative reporting; but by September he was again in trouble, proclaimed as 'the greatest puppy in Port Phillip'. He moved to Geelong, where in September 1847 he was billed to lecture on forming a national taste for literature, and a year later was reputed to be about to lease the Corio Chronicle.

Although Arden bought land towards Queenscliff in 1850, he failed to re-establish himself. An undated letter, penned in an excellent hand from Longcrofts to Frederic Hitchins, a Geelong agent, reveals his chief disability: 'In writing my thanks for your friendly care of me on a late occasion, I take the opportunity to ask yr forbearance for the annoyances I must have caused to Mrs H and family, by my fooleries and devilries. I return at the same time a card case which Mrs Arden says was found in my pocket, on my recovering from my outrageous debauch; but of this circumstance I offer no explanation, simply because, I am ashamed to say, I cannot.'

Inevitably, Arden went to the diggings, but late in 1852, although reported lost, he was still in touch with the Melbourne Argus. In May 1854 he was found dead on Bakery Hill, Ballarat—childless, still young, dismissed by his peers as a man of talent and power cut down by his own intemperance.

Select Bibliography

  • Garryowen (E. Finn), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, vols 1-2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Port Phillip Gazette, 26 Jan 1839, 23 Sept 1840, 24 July 1841, 12, 19 Nov 1842
  • Port Phillip Herald, 29 July, 11, 15 Nov 1842, 12, 22 Aug, 14 Oct 1843, 16 Apr, 21 May 1846, 7 Sept 1848
  • Port Phillip Patriot, 25 Oct 1841, 20 Mar 1843
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 Sept 1846, 17 Sept 1847, 21 Oct 1852, 12 May 1854
  • T. O'Callaghan, ‘Fictitious History’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 11, no 1, Mar 1926, pp 6-37
  • G. Arden, letter to F. Hitchins (J. J. Cary collection, R. H. Holden, Geelong, Victoria).

Citation details

P. L. Brown, 'Arden, George (1820–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/arden-george-1714/text1869, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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