Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hopkins, Francis Rawdon Chesney (1849–1916)

by John Rickard

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

Francis Rawdon Chesney Hopkins (1849-1916), by unknown photographer

Francis Rawdon Chesney Hopkins (1849-1916), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23458176

Francis Rawdon Chesney Hopkins (1849-1916), grazier and writer, was born at Colaba, Bombay, India, the eldest son of Francis William Hopkins, naval officer, and his wife Margaret, née McNeil. He was educated in England and studied for the Indian Civil Service but at 16 migrated to Victoria. He worked for his uncle, John Wilson, at Woodlands on the Wimmera River in 1866-71, managed Toorangabby station on the Murray in 1871-75 and then assisted Sir Samuel Wilson on his scattered pastoral leases. In New South Wales Hopkins managed Perricoota from about 1878 and in 1885 with Alexander Wilson bought Errowanbang near Carcoar. He managed it until 1889 when, with Wilson and Charles Hebden (1851-1915), he acquired Coubil and Welbondongah in the Gwydir district. Hopkins soon became active on the Pastures Protection Board and in 1890 helped to found the Pastoralists' Union of New South Wales, serving on its executive for some years.

While managing stations Hopkins took to writing plays, although his success in this hobby was largely due to the encouragement of his friend, the actor-manager Alfred Dampier. In 1876-82 Dampier produced five plays by Hopkins: Good For Evil (1876), All For Gold (1877), Only a Fool (1880), £ S D (1882) and Russia As It Is (1882). None of these plays had an Australian setting, and all were derived or adapted from European works; although his writing had some literary pretensions, his plays were unashamedly melodramatic. The most popular, Good For Evil, was published as Clay and Porcelain: A Drama of the Present Day (Melbourne, 1875); it was produced by Dampier in London in 1881 though with no apparent success.

Hopkins's publications other than drama included the Australian Ladies' Annual (Melbourne, 1878), with contributions from Jessie Couvreur (Tasma), Ada Cambridge and others, and Confessions of a Cynic: Social, Moral and Philosophical (Echuca, 1882). Later he published collections of his short stories as Birds of Passage and Other Stories of our Old Country (1908) and The Opium Runners (1909). They reveal no great talent for this medium and although the settings are often Australian rural, titles such as 'Love Is Blind' and 'His Great Mistake' indicate some of the themes. Others are of interest in so far as they reflect political and social attitudes, for example 'Heathens of The Bush' in Birds of Passage for its relevance to White Australia. In 1909 Hopkins returned to the dramatic form when he published anonymously Reaping the Whirlwind. He described this play, which was set in the future, as aiming to arouse Australians on the subject of defence: it portrayed the capitulation of Australia to an Asiatic invader. For some years Hopkins reviewed books for the Australasian Pastoralists' Review. At a time when the Bulletin school dominated the local literary scene, Hopkins's spasmodic writings represent a comment from that usually less articulate group, the squatters. He also dabbled in water colours and pen and ink drawings but his approach to the arts was that of the competent amateur.

On 8 January 1884 at Hawthorn, Victoria, Hopkins had married Sarah Jane Kennedy, daughter of a lands department official. Aged 68 he died on 20 July 1916 at Errowanbang after an accident in a mining shaft. He was buried at Carcoar with Anglican rites and was survived by his wife and their only son.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian Series (Melb, 1882)
  • Websdale Shoosmith Ltd, Souvenir of the Dramatic Works of F. R. C. Hopkins (Syd, 1910)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Aug 1916
  • 'The Late Francis Rawdon Chesney Hopkins', Pastoral Review, vol 26, no 8, Aug 1916, p 724.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Rickard, 'Hopkins, Francis Rawdon Chesney (1849–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hopkins-francis-rawdon-chesney-505/text6001, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 3 September 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Francis Rawdon Chesney Hopkins (1849-1916), by unknown photographer

Francis Rawdon Chesney Hopkins (1849-1916), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23458176