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Royal Tasman (Roy) Bridges (1885–1952)

by J. C. Horner

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Royal Tasman Bridges (Roy) (1885-1952), journalist and novelist, was born in Hobart on 23 March 1885, son of Samuel Bridges, basketmaker, and his wife Laura Jane, née Wood, descendants of Tasmanian pioneers. He was educated at Queen's College, Hobart, in 1894-1901, and graduated B.A. from the University of Tasmania in 1905. A small man, shy, sensitive and given to nervous depression, he held a great affection for his mother. From tales retold by her he developed an interest in Tasmanian and family history and an intense attachment to Wood's Farm, near Sorell, the Wood home for over a century.

Bridges began his journalistic career in December 1904 as a cadet on the Tasmanian News. In May 1907 he became junior reporter on what he later termed that 'rotten sweatrag', the Mercury. In 1908-09 he worked in Sydney for the Australian Star, leaving after a change of editor for a brief term as freelance novelist. Late in 1909 he joined the Melbourne Age where he remained until 1919, advancing from court reporter to chief parliamentary reporter. He was a founding member of the Australian Journalists' Association in 1911. Until January 1922, when he rejoined the Age, he made his living as a novelist. He suffered from an habitual dread of noise, which prompted frequent changes of dwelling. In 1925 his mother died; with his elder sister Hilda, she had followed him to Sydney and Melbourne. Next year he abandoned his position on the Age Literary Supplement and spent several months in London. Homesick, he returned to Melbourne in February 1927 to work for six months on the Herald. Nervous tension wrecked a further engagement with the Age in October 1928. In November 1930, after the death of his uncle Valentine Wood, he fulfilled a long-standing promise by moving with Hilda to Wood's Farm and beginning its restoration. Apart from a few months in 1931 and the years 1933-35, which he spent with Hilda researching in Melbourne, he stayed there for the rest of his life, lonely and often ill, but unable to summon the financial or mental resources to forsake his inheritance.

As an undergraduate Bridges had written stories for the Tasmanian News. Further stories were published in the Australian Star in 1908 and his first novel The Barb of an Arrow (Sydney, 1909) was serialized in that year. In the following 41 years he wrote 36 novels, thus becoming Tasmania's most prolific author. Some of his writings deal with convictism and bushranging in Victoria and Tasmania; others use English episodes to explain and emphasize the Australian sections; another group of lighter works is set almost wholly in England. He elicits compassion for the victims of the transportation system, and occasionally touches on religious intolerance. He revealed, however, that his early 'thrillers' were hurriedly written for £50 'whenever I was hard up'; he described a later one as 'punk'. His more mature works include a group of six known as The Hobart-Richmond-Sorell novels which evidence his deep delight in the beauty of the Orielton valley running between Richmond and Sorell; others are studies in morbid psychology. The style, both in dialogue and narrative, is mannered in an attempt to recapture the atmosphere of the time.

Bridges was a serious writer with a feeling for and a considerable knowledge of the times of which he wrote. This and the volume of his work must make his contribution to Australian and Tasmanian literature substantial, although his novels lack profundity. Apart from many articles, he wrote the non-fictional From Silver to Steel: The Romance of the Broken Hill Proprietary (Melbourne, 1920), One Hundred Years: The Romance of the Victorian people (Melbourne, 1934) and That Yesterday was Home (Sydney, 1948), a family history and unusually revealing autobiography.

He died, unmarried, of cardio-vascular disease on 14 March 1952 and was buried at Sorell. His final work, Youth Triumphant, was posthumously serialized in the Saturday Evening Mercury in 1954. Next year his sister Hilda presented a collection of his manuscripts to the University of Tasmania.

His sister Hilda Maggie (1881-1971), writer, was born in Hobart on 19 October 1881 and educated at Scotch College there. Roy's lifelong companion, housekeeper and amanuensis, she still found time to produce thirteen novels, three children's tales and hundreds of short stories and sketches. Her first novel, Our Neighbours (London, 1922), was a tale of Melbourne suburban families, while her ensuing works were light narratives of mystery and romance set in Victoria or the east coast of Tasmania, the plots frequently depending upon smuggling, hidden treasure, secret caves and unknown identities. The characters are stereotyped, but her prose smooth, with effective, intimate descriptions of interior ornamentation, fashions and small natural scenes. Her main concern is entertainment but in Men Must Live (London, 1938) she touches upon the denudation of land by firewood carters, a matter of considerable personal concern. She died in Hobart on 11 September 1971 and was buried at Sorell.

Select Bibliography

  • D. H. Borchardt and B. Tilley ‘The Roy Bridges collection … A catalogue’, Studies in Australian Bibliography, no 4. 1956
  • Age (Melbourne), 17 Mar 1952, 26 Feb 1955
  • H. H. Pearce papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

J. C. Horner, 'Bridges, Royal Tasman (Roy) (1885–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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