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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hebblethwaite, James (1857–1921)

by Hilary Webster

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

James Hebblethwaite (1857-1921), by Alexander W. Marshall, c1896

James Hebblethwaite (1857-1921), by Alexander W. Marshall, c1896

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24213212

James Hebblethwaite (1857-1921), poet, teacher and clergyman, was born on 22 September 1857 at Preston, Lancashire, England, son of William Hebblethwaite, corn miller, and his wife Margaret, née Cundall. Educated largely by means of scholarships, Hebblethwaite spent five years as a pupil-teacher before attending Battersea Training Institute for Schoolmasters, London, in 1877-78. He spent the next twelve years as headmaster of Lancashire schools and part-time lecturer in English literature at the Harris Institute, Preston. In 1890 he travelled to Hobart in search of health and taught at The Friends' School and Buckland's School for several years until illness forced his resignation. He married Mary Browne, a spinster ten years his senior, on 22 April 1895 in Hobart, according to Congregationalist forms.

Although a certified teacher for Anglican schools, Hebblethwaite entered the Congregational ministry in 1898, serving in the parishes of Bream Creek and Latrobe; he was principal of Queen's College, Latrobe, in 1899. In 1903 he forsook Congregationalism to become a deacon in the Church of England; he was ordained in 1904. Curate of Holy Trinity, Hobart, in 1903-05, he was vicar of George Town in 1905-08, Swansea in 1908-09 and The Channel in 1909-16 when he retired. Mary Hebblethwaite died in 1909 and on 20 April 1914 at Woodbridge he married Lucy Mabel Turner; they had one son.

During his early years in Hobart, Hebblethwaite contributed verse to various newspapers and journals including the Sydney Bulletin and the Mercury. In 1895 his only novel, Castlehill, or a Tale of Two Hemispheres, was published in London; it is stilted and melodramatic, the Australian scenes particularly unconvincing. A small volume, Verse, containing nineteen poems mainly on classical themes, was published in 1896; only one poem, addressed to A. B. Paterson, had any Australian content. In 1900 A. G. Stephens produced A Rose of Regret as number two of the Bulletin booklet series. Meadow and Bush appeared in 1911 and The Poems of James Hebblethwaite (1920) was followed by his last volume, New Poems of James Hebblethwaite in 1921.

Contemporary critics described his poetry as wistful, romantic, scholarly and lacking force: Nettie Palmer averred his poetry 'seldom startles'; 'Furnley Maurice' acknowledged his charm but was critical of his preoccupation with literary themes from the old world. Nostalgia is characteristic of Hebblethwaite's poetry and the language is often archaic and strained, although occasional stanzas attain a simple nobility. Hebblethwaite's last poems, philosophical and religious in tone, have no more Australian content than his earlier work. Yet some, using the device of an Australian setting in the first stanza, present the voice of an individual devoted to the culture of Europe making an earnest attempt to appreciate and love the antipodean environment: this kind of pioneering may also be seen as heroic.

Hebblethwaite was a dreamy, romantic man; a teetotaller, he was stocky, untidy, a man more at home in his private world than the practical one, but nevertheless a conscientious, liked and respected clergyman. His wide reading and keen interest in art made him a pleasant companion. He died on 13 September 1921 in Hobart and was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery, survived by his wife and son.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Maurice, Romance (Melb, 1922)
  • N. Palmer, Modern Australian Literature, 1900-1923 (Melb, 1924)
  • W. N. Oats, The Rose and the Waratah (Hob, 1979)
  • Church News (Hobart), 21 Oct 1921
  • Mercury (Hobart), 16 Sept 1921
  • J. Hebblethwaite newspaper cuttings file (State Library of New South Wales)
  • records, Education Dept (Tasmania), ED2/13/1437 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Hilary Webster, 'Hebblethwaite, James (1857–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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