Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Holthouse, Hector Le Gay (1915–1991)

by Geoffrey A. C. Ginn

This article was published online in 2014

Hector Le Gay Holthouse (1915-1991), journalist and historian, was born on 15 April 1915 at Toowoomba, Queensland, eldest of three children of Sydney-born Richard Carsten Holthouse, farmer, and his German-born French wife Delphine Naomi, née de Tuetey. His parents had met on a pastoral station near Charleville where they worked respectively as a jackeroo and governess. Educated at Southbrook, Bunkers Hill, and Ascot state schools, Hector’s country childhood embraced milking cows, clearing prickly pear, and travelling on horseback each day to school.

After training (1934-37) as a sugar chemist at the Central Technical College, Brisbane, Holthouse worked at sugar mills in North Queensland. He began writing in his spare time and the Bulletin published a number of his stories. He later contributed historical studies and journalistic pieces to Walkabout, Man, and the Queenslander. By the late 1930s he had found work as a journalist with the Telegraph in Brisbane. He enrolled in courses in English and journalism at the University of Queensland, but did not sit for examination or complete a degree. On 14 March 1942 at Scots Church, Clayfield, Brisbane, he married Beatrice Margaret Ferricks, a Queensland-born clerk; they had no children and later divorced.

Having served (December 1938-February 1941) in the Citizen Military Forces, Holthouse re-enlisted in December 1941 and on 18 September 1942 began full-time duty at Warwick. He was employed at training headquarters and in records and accounts offices before being discharged as a corporal on 16 November 1945. Following the war he returned to the Telegraph, later becoming the newspaper’s chief reporter for the Supreme Court of Queensland. Between 1957 and 1959 he was appointed as a special lecturer in the introductory journalism course at the University of Queensland.

In 1967 Angus & Robertson published his first book, River of Gold: The Story of the Palmer River Gold Rush. Running to several editions, it remained Holthouse’s best-known work and established his style: more concerned with personality and incident than original research, his books aimed to be lively and interesting, intended for general readers, high school students, and tourists. From 1969 he concentrated on historical writing, beginning that year with his account of the Melanesian indentured labour trade, Cannibal Cargoes. The anthropologist A. P. Elkin praised the book, but the historian Peter Corris argued that it lacked significant original research, paraphrased other sources, was obsessed with cannibalism, and perpetuated the mythology of forcible kidnapping and callous plantation masters. Up Rode the Squatter (1970) and Gympie Gold (1973) continued Holthouse’s treatment of major themes in Queensland’s colonial history. He also wrote a number of other travel and local history books.

In 1973 Holthouse was awarded a half-fellowship by the literature board of the Australian Council for the Arts.  His most popular book appeared that year: S’pose I Die: The Story of Evelyn Maunsell, a fictionalised biographical narrative of frontier life based on Maunsell’s experiences as a young English bride on pastoral stations in Queensland. On 6 August 1976 at Caloundra, Queensland, Holthouse married Sybil Shiach, a journalist. They lived on Bribie Island—connected to the mainland by bridge from 1963—in a house that Holthouse largely built himself. A fellow writer later recalled him as ‘a rather shy man but tall and well-built’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1991, 12). His Illustrated History of Queensland was published in 1978 and Australian Geographic Pty Ltd published his last book, Cape York, a week before his death. Survived by his wife, Holthouse died on 16 November 1991 at Auchenflower, Brisbane, and was buried in the Pinnaroo lawn cemetery, Aspley. The Hector Holthouse Room in the Bribie Island Library commemorates him.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Corris, Peter. Review of Cannibal Cargoes, by Hector Holthouse. The Journal of Pacific History 7 (1972): 239-240
  • Elkin, A. P. Review of Cannibal Cargoes, by Hector Holthouse. Oceania 41, no. 2 (December 1970): 149
  • Metcalf, Bill. ‘Histories of Queensland: A Bibliographic Survey.’ Queensland History Journal 21, no. 3 (November 2010): 162-80
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, Q143592
  • National Archives of Australia. B4747, Holthouse/Hector Le Gay
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘An Author Takes his Place in History.’ 27 November 1991, 12.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Geoffrey A. C. Ginn, 'Holthouse, Hector Le Gay (1915–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/holthouse-hector-le-gay-15850/text27049, published online 2014, accessed online 18 November 2017.

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