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Walch, Garnet (1843–1913)

by John Rickard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Garnet Walch (1843-1913), by S. Milbourn Jun.

Garnet Walch (1843-1913), by S. Milbourn Jun.

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H4111

Garnet Walch (1843-1913), author and dramatist, was born on 1 October 1843 at Broadmarsh, Van Diemen's Land, son of Major James William Henry Walch of the 54th Regiment, and his wife Eliza, née Nash. Charles Walch was his brother. Major Walch had arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1842 and settled in Hobart Town about 1845, where he purchased a bookselling and publishing business. He died in 1852 and Garnet was sent in the care of a relation to England, where he was educated at Denmark Hill Grammar School, near Camberwell, London, and then at a private college at Hameln on the River Weser, Germany. He returned to Tasmania in 1860 and drifted into journalism, after deciding that commerce, banking or law did not appeal to him. He went to Sydney, where his first full-time job as a journalist was with the Sydney Punch. In 1867 at Parramatta he started his own newspaper, the Cumberland Times, and on 9 March at Scots Church, Sydney, he married Ada Kate Sophia Mullen.

George Darrell introduced Walch to the theatre, engaging him to write the pantomime Trookulentos, the Tempter: or, Harlequin Cockatoo, which was produced at Sydney's Royal Victoria Theatre at Christmas 1871. After moving to Melbourne next year he wrote a steady stream of pantomimes, burlesques, comedies and comediettas; he published about thirty works. Titles such as Australia Felix, considered his best pantomime, and Pygmalion and His Gal (a Dear!) (both Melbourne, 1873) suggest the themes and flavour of his work. The pantomimes, full of local allusions and atrocious puns, were especially significant for helping to introduce a range of stock Australian characters, many of whom were incorporated in the tradition of local melodrama. Later Walch worked with Alfred Dampier; they adapted Rolf Boldrewood's Robbery Under Arms which, produced in 1889, was acclaimed as a major contribution to the development of a native drama and was repeated many times in following years. Much of his writing, however, was hack work, the colonial stage requiring continual adaptations or 'localisations' of overseas pieces.

Walch produced two books of verse (1874, 1881), a number of miscellanies, popular annuals which included works by leading writers of the day, and books about Tasmania. On the recommendation of (Sir) Henry Parkes, he was made secretary of the Melbourne Athenaeum in 1873, resigning in 1879 to devote his energies to the preparation of Victoria in 1880. Despite his insolvency in October 1880 caused by difficulties in his publishing business and family sickness, the book appeared in Melbourne next year. In August 1883 he went to Madagascar as special correspondent for the Argus and the Australasian. His Life of General Gordon was published in Melbourne in 1885.

Walch seems to have enjoyed a somewhat raffish reputation. He was a member of a bohemian circle in Melbourne which included Marcus Clarke, while Hugh McCrae recalled him as a tremendous talker, 'shabbily dressed and distracted looking'. For many years he lived in retirement at his home in Surrey Hills, Melbourne, where he died of heart failure on 3 January 1913. Survived by his wife, two of his four sons and three of his four daughters, he was buried according to Anglican rites in the Box Hill cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian series (Melb, 1882)
  • H. McCrae, My Father and My Father's Friends (Syd, 1935)
  • Table Talk, 14 Mar 1890
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Jan 1913
  • M. Williams, Nimble Naiad, Lonely Squatter and Lively Aboriginal. Dramatic Convention and National Image in Australian Drama (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1973).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Rickard, 'Walch, Garnet (1843–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walch-garnet-1095/text7963, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 3 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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