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Walstab, George Arthur (1834–1909)

by E. M. Finlay

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

George Arthur Walstab (1834-1909), writer and journalist, was born on 31 December 1834 at Tottenham, London, eldest son of Arend John George Walstab, former planter at Demerara, West Indies, and his wife Georgina Frances, née Steele. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, London, and was in France at the time of the coup d'état of December 1851.

In 1852 Walstab migrated with his parents to Victoria, arriving in Melbourne on 18 November in the Dinapore. His father set up as an auctioneer and estate agent. Walstab became a cadet in the Mounted Police until after the Eureka incident in 1854. He then saw further service in India and, as a subaltern in the latter part of the mutiny (1857-58), he received a leg wound which troubled him for the rest his life. In 1860 he turned to journalism, becoming sub-editor and in 1862 editor of the Calcutta Englishman. His novel Looking Back, or, Pique, Repique and Capot … was published in Calcutta in 1864 and was well received in London.

In 1865 Walstab returned to Melbourne with his wife Mary Anne, née Nolan, whom he had married in Calcutta in 1861. He began writing for the Age and the Herald and in September 1865 became first editor of A. H. Massina's Australian Journal. In 1866 he edited the Australasian Monthly Review.

A close friend of Marcus Clarke Walstab was a founding member of the bohemian Yorick Club. He was associated with Clarke when the latter took over the Colonial Monthly in 1868, but with J. J. Shillinglaw he lost money on the venture when it passed out of Clarke's hands about a year later. Walstab also collaborated with Clarke in supplying news items to Victorian country papers and was with him when he died in 1881. They shared an interest in the theatre; after a much-acclaimed amateur performance in 1866 Walstab appeared briefly as a professional actor at the Theatre Royal. He also had a hand in Clarke's first novel, Long Odds: when it was being serialized in the Colonial Monthly in 1868, Walstab wrote what became chapters XV-XVIII while the author was incapacitated. Clarke incorporated these chapters, somewhat pruned and polished, in the published book.

In 1867-69 Walstab's own novels appeared in serial form. The Australian Journal published Looking Back as 'Harcourt Darrell or, Pique, Repique, and Capot' in 1867, and 'Confessed at Last' and 'The Bushranger' in 1868. The Colonial Monthly published 'Double Harness; or, Pierce Charlton's Wives' in 1869-70 and his short stories and sketches appeared in various anthologies. He was a scholarly writer and some of his works show genuine feeling for colonial life despite their hackneyed titles.

By the end of 1869 Walstab was bankrupt, partly because family illness had prevented him from gaining regular employment. He went to Castlemaine where for about a year he edited the Castlemaine Representative and Chronicle. In December 1873, as a protégé of J. J. Casey, he was appointed to the Department of Lands Survey at a salary of £315; by 1880 he was the highest-paid clerk in the department at a salary of £400. According to a contemporary his ability was undeniable, but the effect of his 'highly efficient military Walstabian swank' was like 'boiling water on an anthill' and his retrenchment in 1880 provided mutual relief.

Walstab returned to the Herald as leader-writer and, briefly in 1882, editor. He was described as a striking figure in his prime, paying considerable attention to his dress. A good swordsman, in his younger days he often gave exhibitions of fencing. He contributed to the Herald until his death of chronic ulceration of the legs on 8 February 1909 at his home at Elsternwick. After an Anglican service he was buried in Brighton cemetery, survived by two daughters and predeceased by two daughters and a son.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Carrington, The Yorick Club: Its Origin and Development (Melb, 1911)
  • H. McCrae, My Father and My Father's Friends (Syd, 1935)
  • S. R. Simmons, Marcus Clarke and the Writing of ‘Long Odds’ (Melb, 1946)
  • R. G. Campbell, The First Ninety Years (Melb, 1949)
  • B. Elliott, Marcus Clarke (Oxford, 1949)
  • P. M. Kirk, ‘Colonial literature for colonial readers!’, Australian Literary Studies, Oct 1971
  • G. A. Walstab letter, Lone Hand, Aug 1907
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 Feb 1909
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 9, 10 Feb 1909
  • Bulletin, 13 Feb 1909.

Citation details

E. M. Finlay, 'Walstab, George Arthur (1834–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walstab-george-arthur-4796/text7989, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 25 November 2017.

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

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