Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Melville, Henry (1799–1873)

by E. Flinn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Henry Melville (1799-1873), journalist, publisher and author, appears to have been named Henry Saxelby Melville Wintle, but he always used the abbreviated form. He arrived in Hobart Town towards the end of 1827 or early in 1828. In March 1830 he bought the Colonial Times and later in the year printed and published Henry Savery's Quintus Servinton, the first Australian novel published in Australia. Early in 1831 he bought the Tasmanian from John Macdougall and later in the year joined with Robert Murray to produce the Tasmanian and Southern Literary and Political Journal, but withdrew his interests in May 1832. He married in February 1832 at New Norfolk, Eliza Romney, only daughter of Joseph Fisher of Philadelphia.

In May 1833 he began the Hobart Town Magazine, the first monthly magazine with definite literary pretensions to be published in Australia. Edited by Thomas Richards, it appeared in eighteen issues before its publication ceased in August 1834. Melville contributed a number of articles to it, including 'The Bushranger; or Norwood Vale'; when later presented in Hobart, it was the first play with an Australian theme to be published and staged in Australia. He was also author of the anonymous Two Letters Written in Van Diemen's Land Shewing the Oppression and Tyranny of the Government (1835).

Between 1834 and 1837 Melville again united with Robert Murray to produce the Tasmanian and Austral-Asiatic Review. In 1835 Melville began publication of the Trumpeter, an advertising paper. About this time he was busily preparing a brief history of the colony's last ten years, which he hoped to publish in mid-1835 but the government disapproved the outlook of the newspapers he controlled and refused to supply him with statistical information.

Melville's article, 'A comment on the action of the Supreme Court in the case of R. Bryan' on a cattle-stealing charge, which appeared in the Colonial Times, November 1835, led to his imprisonment for contempt of court, but he was soon released. While in gaol he wrote 'A few words on prison discipline' and completed his history of the colony, which was a critical and descriptive account of Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur's administration. These were printed in Hobart by Melville, smuggled in a ship and published in London under the title History of the Island of Van Diemen's Land from the Year 1824 to 1835. He became involved in insolvency proceedings in 1838 and sold the Tasmanian to Maurice Smith, and the Trumpeter to John Macdougall. The Colonial Times also passed to Macdougall in 1839.

Having given up business as a pressman Melville retired to his property, Murray Hall, at New Norfolk and pursued his studies in occult philosophy, astronomy and Freemasonry. He wrote letters to the Colonial Times in 1845-48, and in 1843 was engaged in controversy on the direction of movement of Lalande's comet. By 1847 his agricultural pursuits had become a financial embarrassment and in 1849 he left Tasmania, visiting other cities and fulfilling journalistic assignments before arriving in London where he published his Present State of Australia, with Particular Hints to Emigrants in 1851. His last years were devoted to the investigation of occultism. He died on 22 December 1873. Next year Veritas, a work on the lost mysteries of Freemasonry, edited by Frederick Tennyson, brother of Alfred, was published posthumously: Melville had been working on it for forty years.

Select Bibliography

  • C. L. Barrett (ed), Across the Years (Melb, 1948)
  • E. M. Miller, Pressmen and Governors (Syd, 1952)
  • Tasmanian and Southern Literary & Political Magazine, 1 Mar, 7 June 1833
  • E. Morris Miller, 'The Hobart Town Magazine (1833-4)', Biblionews, vol 4, no 9, July 1951, pp 25-29
  • Hobart Town Courier, 29 Nov 1833, 2 Feb, 27 Apr 1838
  • CSO 1 & 5 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

E. Flinn, 'Melville, Henry (1799–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/melville-henry-2445/text3261, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 18 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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