Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Buley, Ernest Charles (1869–1933)

by John Lack

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Ernest Charles Buley (1869-1933), journalist and author, was born on 4 July 1869 at Ballarat West, Victoria, youngest of nine children of English-born parents James Buley, builder, and his wife Susannah Eliza, née Crook. Ernest was educated at Grenville College, Ballarat, where his brother Arthur was later headmaster. Ernest's school friend Bernard O'Dowd remembered him as 'a brilliant, wayward youth who took life lightly', who was familiar with the Ballarat demimonde and given to witty and penetrating comments on local politics. Moving to Melbourne, in 1885 Buley became a junior assistant in the Public Library, museums and National Gallery of Victoria, transferring to the Imperial service in 1889 as a junior clerk in the local branch of the Royal Mint. On 11 September 1891 at West Melbourne Presbyterian Church he married Olga Amelia Ernst, a German-born teacher.

Keen from his youth on horse racing, Buley contributed as a tipster to the column 'The Quick and the Dead' in H. H. Champion's 1895-97 weekly the Champion, but was unsuccessful as a punter. He was promoted senior clerk in 1895 at the Mint, where he was entrusted with handling the worn silver purchased from the banks for smelting, and the receipt and issue of gold bullion. His annual salary of £285, however, apparently proved inadequate for his life at fashionable North Brighton and his interest in racehorses. When one hundred sovereigns and £125 in silver went missing in May 1897, Buley was charged on two counts of 'larceny as a public servant' after detectives watched him betting heavily in the paddock at Flemington. He admitted two thefts and was convicted for these, although the superintendent of the Mint calculated that his defalcations amounted to £2259. The prison record described him as being almost 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, weighing 11 st. 11 lb. (75 kg), with a sallow complexion, grey hair and brown eyes. His religious affiliation was Church of England. Set free from Pentridge gaol in September 1898, he left for England in April 1900 with Olga and two children--a son had died weeks before. Champion wrote 'he has starved since [his release]. But he really is a ''white man”, in spite of this indiscretion and will make his way in London if he gets a chance'.

Another daughter was born in England. Somehow Buley established himself as a writer, producing for George Newnes Ltd the well received Australian Life in Town and Country (1905) and for Andrew Melrose, publisher for the Sunday School Union and founder of the Boys' Empire League, Into the Polar Seas: The Story of Sir John Franklin and The Hero of India: The Story of Lord Clive (both published in 1909). Working as a journalist and by 1908 living at Dulwich, London, he wrote and edited for publications including the Sunday Dispatch, Reynolds, the British-Australasian and Alfred Harmsworth's Daily Mirror. He set a killing pace, producing as many as 35,000 words a week for weeks on end. Two volumes on the physical geography and natural resources of Brazil followed in 1914 for Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons but, with the outbreak of war, Buley discovered a new and more lucrative vein. The Real Kaiser (1915), published anonymously so as not to embarrass his German relatives, was praised by The Times, and lauded by the Times Literary Supplement as the best book on the subject. It quickly went through three editions.

He followed in June 1915 with The Dardanelles: Their Story and their Significance in the Great War, which was reprinted twice within weeks, and substantially enlarged in October, by which time Melrose had also released his Glorious Deeds of Australasians in the Great War. Buley had interviewed scores of Australians in hospital in London, fashioning their narratives—'delivered with a modesty which I have not sought to reproduce'—into an account of Gallipoli up to early autumn. Hailed as 'the first Anzac book', Glorious Deeds was reprinted three times before the end of the year and issued in an enlarged edition within weeks of the Gallipoli evacuation. The Bulletin praised it as a 'record of a valiant adventure undertaken by a new sort of soldier'. Next year Buley's A Child's History of Anzac appeared. Subsequently he turned his hand to popular fiction, between 1919 and 1933 writing ten romances, often with boxing and horseracing themes, that he wryly described as belonging to 'the posthumous works of Nat Gould'; at least six went into second editions.

Photographs of Buley in his fifties showed keen eyes beneath prominent eyebrows, his bald head balanced by a neat George V moustache and spade beard. Predeceased by his wife in 1923, he died of cardiac failure on 10 April 1933 at Dulwich. At least two children survived him, a son Ernest Bernhardt, who published popular fiction as 'Bernard Buley', and daughter Olga, who in 1939 was to edit the women's page for the Daily Independent. The Times announced: 'No mourning, at his request'. To the British Australian and New Zealander Buley was one of the most competent and versatile Australian journalists in England, an excellent editor and 'a writer of wonderful industry, with vivid imagination, rather sardonic humour, a wide range of knowledge, and great technical skill'.

Select Bibliography

  • F. A. Marteau, Who’s Who in Press, Publicity, Printing (Lond, 1939)
  • V. Kennedy and N. Palmer, Bernard O’Dowd (Melb, 1954)
  • Age (Melbourne), 10 May 1897, p 5
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10 May 1897, p 5, 15 May 1897, p 9, 6 Aug 1915, p 4
  • Herald (Melbourne), 14 May 1897, p 5
  • Brighton Southern Cross, 15 May 1897
  • British-Australasian, 14 Dec 1905, p 18, 2 Dec 1915, p 29
  • Times Literary Supplement, 17 June 1915, p 208, 4 Nov 1915, p 395, 11 Nov 1915, p 398, 14 Dec 1916, p 612
  • Times (London), 11 Apr 1933, p 1
  • British Australasian and New Zealander, 27 Apr 1933, p 15
  • VPRS 30/P, unit 1105, VPRS 5151, unit 51, VPRS 10858, unit 10 (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Lack, 'Buley, Ernest Charles (1869–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buley-ernest-charles-12825/text23153, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 3 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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