Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Daley, Victor James William Patrick (1858–1905)

by G. D. Ailwood Keel

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Victor James William Patrick Daley (1858-1905), poet and journalist, was baptized James on 5 September 1858 at Navan, County Armagh, Ireland, son of William John Daley, soldier in the Indian Army, and his wife Mary Jane, née Morrison. He was educated by the Christian Brothers at Armagh, but his early schooling was sketchy as he preferred roaming the countryside and visiting the sites of history and legend as recounted by his grandfather. He claimed that many of his relations were Fenians and that as a child he had often helped to 'cast bullets at night'. After his mother remarried he completed his education at a Catholic school at Devonport, England, and about 1875 became a clerk in the Plymouth office of the South Devon (later Great Western) Railway Co.

In 1878 Daley set out for South Australia where he had connexions, but disembarked in Sydney. He soon earned enough to go to Adelaide where he worked as a clerk and reputedly contributed to a small evening newspaper, the Star, edited by H. Allerdale Grainger. About 1880 he moved to Melbourne, en route for New Caledonia, but lost his money at the races. He wrote about racehorses for the Carlton Advertiser then joined its staff.

About 1881 Daley set out to see Australia: in southern New South Wales, he worked on the Queanbeyan Times, then moved on to Sydney where he wrote for Sydney Punch and later the Bulletin. In March 1882 J. F. Archibald described him 'as the rising poet of this country. For a long time we have not had more melodious and imaginative verses from an Australian writer'. Thereafter Daley's verse, much of it lyrical and often fashionably melancholic, appeared regularly in the Bulletin. In 1890, at the height of 'ballad fever', he was described in the Bulletin as 'one of the few Australian writers who are justified in styling their verse poetry'. That year Archibald gave more space to his verse in A Golden Shanty than to the work of any other poet.

Elizabeth Ann Thompson bore him six children over the next eight years. He returned to Melbourne, probably in the late 1880s and contributed, sometimes as 'Creeve Roe', verse, short stories and articles, to newspapers and magazines. He knew the Lindsay family, especially Lionel, and reputedly amused his friends while in his cups with sonorous recitations from English Romantic poets 'but frowned down the bawdy story'. 'Of medium height and build' and 'youthful appearance', in 1895 Daley wore a 'full brown beard' and spoke with a slight Northern Irish accent. In 1898 he returned to Sydney where his first book of verse, At Dawn and Dusk, had been produced under the guidance of Alfred George Stephens. It was received most favourably and a whole Bulletin 'Red Page' was devoted to praise of Daley's verse by his contemporaries. As the 'symposiarch', he was chief participant in the Dawn and Dusk Club, named after his book and a light-hearted society of such artists and writers as Randolph Bedford, Fred Broomfield, Henry Lawson, Nelson Illingworth, Norman Lindsay, Bertram Stevens and Frank Mahony.

Suffering from tuberculosis, Daley stayed with E. J. Brady at Grafton in 1902. Next year some of his friends got up a testimonial fund to send him to New Caledonia, but his health did not benefit. He died at his home at Waitara, Sydney, on 29 December 1905 and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, whom he left in financial difficulties. A fund was set up and on 30 March 1906 a memorial matinée held at the Theatre Royal was tendered 'by the entire Theatrical Profession of Sydney'. However Elizabeth Daley died on 22 November and their children went their various ways. Daley's Poems (1908) and Wine and Roses (1911), with a memoir by Stephens, were published posthumously.

In his own day, Daley's literary fame rested on his lyric poetry, the best of which was written in the 1880s and early 1890s. From the late 1890s he was hailed as pre-eminently a Celtic poet—a view that reflected Australia's enthusiasm for the European Celtic revival and that has dominated critical assessment of his work. Only his verse from the mid-1890s and some late prose in fact belong to the historical Celtic revival. Daley's humorously satirical socio-political verse, most of it written as 'Creeve Roe', was not considered literature by his contemporaries, but attracted attention in the 1940s for its Irish revolutionary spirit and for its wit and skill. Creeve Roe, edited by Muir Holburn and Marjorie Pizer, was published in 1947. Another selection of his poetry appeared in 1963.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Stevens, Victor Daley (Syd, 1905)
  • Tatler (Melbourne), 20 Aug 1898
  • Aussie, 4 Mar 1925
  • Bulletin, 11 Mar 1882, 23 Aug 1890, Red Pages, 11 June, 10, 17 Sept, 3 Dec 1898
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 22 Feb 1895
  • Tocsin, 2 Oct 1897
  • Australian Worker, 4 Jan 1906
  • G. D. Ailwood Keel, Homespun Exotic: Australian Literature 1880-1910 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1976)
  • V. J. Daley papers (State Library of New South Wales and National Library of Australia)
  • A. G. Stephens papers (State Library of New South Wales) .

Citation details

G. D. Ailwood Keel, 'Daley, Victor James William Patrick (1858–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/daley-victor-james-william-patrick-5867/text9979, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 29 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Roe, Creeve
Birth

1858
Armagh, Armagh, Ireland

Death

29 December 1905
Waitara, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation