Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wright, David McKee (1869–1928)

by Michael Sharkey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

David McKee Wright (1869-1928), poet and journalist, was born on 6 August 1869 at Ballynaskeagh, Down, Ireland, second son of Rev. William Wright (d.1899), a missionary working in Damascus, and his wife Ann (d.1877), née McKee. David was educated locally at Glascar School, and from 1876 in England at Mr Pope's School and the Crystal Palace School of Practical Engineering, London. Migrating to New Zealand in 1887, he worked as a rabbiter on stations in Central Otago, and wrote prose and verse about station life for major provincial newspapers. He began divinity studies in 1896 at the University of Otago and next year was awarded a Stuart prize for poetry.

In charge of the Emmanuel Church, Oamaru, from April 1898, Wright married Elizabeth Couper at Dunedin on 3 August 1899; their son David was born in 1900, but the marriage did not last. Wright's pro-Boer sermons lost him patronage and he resigned as minister. Appointed in May to Newtown Congregational Church, Wellington, in 1901 he became minister of the Congregational Church at Nelson, but resigned on an issue of conscience in June 1905 and soon after was declared bankrupt. His journal, Te Rauparaha, or the Nelson Times, continued irregularly from 1905 until he joined the New Zealand Mail in 1907 as parliamentary reporter. Between 1896 and 1900 he had published four collections of ballads; from 1906 he contributed to New Zealand journals and to the Sydney Bulletin.

He moved to Sydney in May 1910 and wrote for the Sun, Bulletin and (Australian) Worker. As 'Maori Mac', Wright contributed numerous stories (many on Maori-Pakeha themes) and plays to the Bulletin, Lone Hand and other magazines; for the Worker, he chiefly wrote as 'Glen', 'Historicus' and 'W'. Under such pseudonyms as 'George Street', 'Pat O'Maori', 'Mary McCommonwealth' and 'Curse o' Moses', he published some 1600 poems in the Bulletin between 1906 and 1927. From emphasizing back-blocks themes, he came to represent social and political issues.

After 1913 Wright also wrote on Irish themes; some of his work was collected in An Irish Heart (1918), on which his Australian reputation long rested. During World War I he defended Ireland and contributed pro-conscription editorials to the Bulletin. He edited its 'Red Page' from 1916 until 1926 when he fell out with Samuel Prior. Wright's writing contained much that is facetious, satiric and elegiac. As an editorial consultant for Angus and Robertson, he controversially edited Henry Lawson's selected (1918) and collected poems (1925). Wright clashed with Jack Lindsay in 1920-25 over the Lindsays' interpretation of Shakespeare and the ancient Greeks.

A friend of Christopher Brennan, Randolph Bedford, Frank Morton and Lawson, Wright was a 'charming, elongated Irishman with long grey bishop-like hair; perpetually reciting poetry and waving long arms and lean fingers'. In 1912-18 he lived with the writer 'Margaret Fane' (Beatrice Florence Osborne, d.1962) in Sydney; they had four sons. From 1918 Wright lived with Zora Cross in Greeanawn, a house at Glenbrook, Blue Mountains. He grew roses, and collected gems, china, books and postage stamps.

Suffering from angina pectoris, Wright died suddenly on 5 February 1928 at Glenbrook and was buried with Anglican rites in Emu Plains cemetery. He was survived by Zora, their two daughters, and his sons. His novel 'Luta of Lutetia' was serialized in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1930. A gifted speaker, Wright was remembered for his truthfulness and outstanding generosity to fellow writers. Harold Mercer believed that 'something of the parson always clung' to him.

Select Bibliography

  • Dictionary of National Biography, vol 21
  • U. Wright, The Rev. Dr. William Wright of Damascus (Belfast, Nth Ireland, 1986)
  • New Zealand Life, 10 Feb 1928, p 21
  • New Triad (Sydney), Mar 1928, p 52
  • Bulletin, 12 May 1910, 15, 29 Feb 1928
  • Worker (Brisbane), 3 Oct 1910
  • Z. Cross, unpublished letter to W. P. Hurst, 25 May 1928 (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael Sharkey, 'Wright, David McKee (1869–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wright-david-mckee-9200/text16251, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Maori Mac
  • Street, George
  • O'Maori, Pat
  • McCommonwealth, Mary
  • Curse o' Moses
  • Glen
  • Historicus
Birth

6 August 1869
Ballynaskeagh, Down, Ireland

Death

5 February 1928
Glenbrook, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation