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Broomfield, Frederick John (Fred) (1860–1941)

by B. G. Andrews and Ann-Mari Jordens

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Frederick John (Fred) Broomfield (1860-1941), journalist, was born on 2 April 1860 at Minstead in the New Forest, Hampshire, England, son of Charles Broomfield, ship's storekeeper and later sea captain, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Thrum. In 1868 he migrated to Victoria with his widowed mother; they lived at Little Hampton near Daylesford, where Broomfield was educated and worked with his uncles, who were sawmillers and squatters. He joined an architect's office at Kyneton, also working on the Kyneton Guardian and as a correspondent for the Age. Later he was briefly on the staff of Melbourne Punch, worked for several touring theatrical companies and prospected for gold in Tasmania.

In the early 1880s Broomfield settled in Sydney, where he was based for the rest of his life. He worked as an accountant, probably for O. C. Beale, until his review of E. A. Martin's Life and Speeches of Daniel Henry Deniehy (1884) brought him to the attention of W. B. Dalley, who secured for him a position at £400 a year as editorial assistant to Andrew Garran in compiling the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia (1886-88). Already a contributor to the Bulletin, he became a sub-editor under J. F. Archibald and helped him prepare the famous anthology, A Golden Shanty (1890). Tradition has it that Broomfield accepted Henry Lawson's first Bulletin contribution. Among other writers he helped at this time were Francis Adams and John Farrell. In 1888 Broomfield left the Bulletin through ill health but was soon working on Australasia Illustrated, an expansion of the Picturesque Atlas. In the 1890s he assisted the government statistician (Sir) Timothy Coghlan in preparing his publications; he also 'ghosted' J. W. Turner's educational reports.

Broomfield had been a founder of the Centennial Magazine (1888-89), and edited the Elector in the 1890s, the Golden Fleece (1901-03) and later the Theatre. More important, particularly after 1900, was his freelance work for the 'four or five journals which have had a major lump of my energies': the Freeman's Journal, Bulletin, Sydney Mail, Brisbane Courier, Worker (Brisbane) and the Australian Worker. Both as 'hired pen' and journalist his range was impressive: 'for 35 years', he wrote in 1920 when seeking the literary pension he secured in 1929, 'I have acted as an unpaid patriotic teacher of Australian history, a biographer of the achievements of Australians … [and] an annalist of the settlement of the continent'. He was equally at home as a critic of art, architecture, literature and the theatre; his articles in the Salon (c.1912) and, elsewhere are recognized as having educated Australian artists about contemporary European movements. His creative work included several published songs and contributions to anthologies of prose and verse, and he compiled a useful 'pronouncing gazetteer' for the Australasian supplement of Webster's International Dictionary of the English Language (U.S.A., 1898).

A flamboyant dresser, Broomfield sported 'a peaked beard and upbrushed moustache, a Cavalier hat with a swirling brim', and a cane with which he made rapier thrusts at friends upon meeting. His conversation, like his correspondence, was ornamented by picturesque phrasing and medieval oaths but he had a 'high falsetto voice, and a wobbling, gobbling utterance, as if he had a plum in his mouth'. He was active in the Bulletin circle and a central figure in the Dawn and Dusk Club. But behind the melodramatic Bohemian stood the kindly, practical friend who helped 'Price Warung' fight drug-addiction, assisted Victor Daley's widow, and defended Lawson in Henry Lawson and his Critics (1930).

In 1918 Broomfield broke his ankle which never properly healed; he was invalided for three years but later made his greatest contribution to Australian literature. An omnivorous reader and avid collector of Australiana, he was assisting Sir John Quick with a bibliography of Australian literature when Quick died in 1932. The project was taken over by E. Morris Miller whose monumental Australian Literature from its Beginning to 1935 (Melbourne, 1940) benefited enormously from Broomfield's bibliographical skills, wide personal knowledge and meticulous research which were acknowledged on the title page.

Broomfield died at Bellevue Hill on 22 May 1941 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by his wife, Parisian-born Alice François Marie Florence, née Perdrix, whom he had married in Sydney on 2 June 1891, and by their two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Lindsay, Bohemians of the Bulletin (Syd, 1965)
  • A. McCulloch, Encyclopedia of Australian Art (Lond, 1968)
  • W. Stone, ‘A note on F. J. Broomfield’, Biblionews (Sydney), Apr 1967
  • Sydney Mail, 10 Feb 1894
  • Bulletin, 25 Oct 1902, 28 May, 4 June 1941
  • Australian Worker, 25 Feb 1909
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 May 1941, Morris, Miller and Palmer papers (National Library of Australia)
  • B. Stevens papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under Broomfield (State Library of Victoria, State Library of New South Wales and National Library of Australia).

Citation details

B. G. Andrews and Ann-Mari Jordens, 'Broomfield, Frederick John (Fred) (1860–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/broomfield-frederick-john-fred-5381/text9107, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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