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Fowler, Francis Edmund (Frank) (1833–1863)

by S. B. Clark

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Francis Edmund Town (Frank) Fowler (1833-1863), journalist and author, was born in London. As Frank Fowler he reported for two sessions in the House of Commons and was a journalist for such London newspapers as The Times. In 1855-58 he visited New South Wales for his health and intended to write a popular book on his travels. He joined the staff of the Sydney Empire and worked mostly in Sydney, with visits to the inland as a correspondent. He wrote articles on colonial mores for the Empire and Sydney Morning Herald.

To get acquainted with the country Fowler involved himself in activities beyond journalism, and 'filled various positions … lecturer, government shorthand writer, playwright, magazine projector, editor and … candidate for political laurels'. He deplored the lack of merit in colonial literature and soon joined such writers as Richard Rowe ('Peter Possum') who were determined to transcend local apathy and to speak and write with vitality about their responses to Australian society rather than to withdraw into frustration and alcoholism like Henry Kendall and Daniel Deniehy. Fowler identified himself with the colony and had grandiose plans for the establishment of a national literature. In 1856 he tried to form the Literary Association of New South Wales around Nicol Stenhouse but it soon faded. Helped next by Rowe, Fowler founded and edited the literary and critical journal Month which focused on the development of a peculiarly Australian idiom. He regularly lectured on an independent Australian culture. As a member he often addressed the Mechanics' School of Arts on poetry, theatre, literature and politics. His lectures were published as Texts for Talkers (London, 1860) and he wrote the preface to Australian Album (Sydney, 1857). In January 1858 Fowler contested the Sydney seat in the Legislative Assembly but failed; much of his support came from the Stenhouse camaraderie and the personal following he had built up by his enlivening contributions to the colonial press.

In 1858 Fowler returned to England with his wife Rachel, née Clarke, whom he had married at a Congregational Church in Sydney on 9 February 1856, and their infant son. He was sent off with a testimonial. He wrote his first major work Southern Lights and Shadows (London, 1859) on the voyage. He became editor of the Weekly Mail, leader-writer on the Standard and contributed occasionally to the Empire. He published in London The Wreck of the 'Royal Charter', and Dottings of a Lounger (1859) and, as 'Harpur Atherton', Adrift: or, the Rock in the South Atlantic (1861). He founded the London Library Co. and was its first secretary. As it began to flourish he died aged 30 from brain fever on 22 August 1863 at Kensington. His widow and children returned to Sydney almost penniless. In 1864 Rowe in Glasgow and Stenhouse in Sydney published Last Gleanings, a collection of his works with a brief biography. Fowler's style reveals a poetic, romantic and ebullient personality, although he was severely criticized by William Forster.

Select Bibliography

  • G. B. Barton (ed), The Poets and Prose Writers of New South Wales (Syd, 1866)
  • J. Normington-Rawling, Charles Harpur, an Australian (Syd, 1962)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1855-56, 27 Feb, 7 May, 12 June, 6, 14 July 1857, 14 Jan 1858, 4 June 1859
  • A. M. Williams, Nicol Drysdale Stenhouse: A Study of a Literary Patron in a Colonial Milieu (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1963)
  • Stenhouse letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

S. B. Clark, 'Fowler, Francis Edmund (Frank) (1833–1863)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fowler-francis-edmund-frank-3562/text5509, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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