Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Albert Dorrington (1874–1953)

by Ken Stewart

This article was published:

Albert Dorrington (1874-1953), by Kerry & Co., c1899

Albert Dorrington (1874-1953), by Kerry & Co., c1899

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23596673

Albert Dorrington (1874?-1953), author and journalist, was born probably on 27 September 1874 at Fulham, London, son of William Dorrington, policeman, and his wife Hannah, née Byford. He was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham. When he was about 16 he 'drifted' to Australia where, after brief stays in Melbourne and Adelaide, he travelled through the German settlements in South Australia; in Queensland, the Torres Strait, and Palmerston (Darwin); and in outlying western New South Wales, supporting himself through canvassing and other jobs. Germans, Chinese, Kanakas, Afghans and Japanese, often unpleasantly perceived, populate much of his fiction. In 1899 Dorrington settled at Waitara, Sydney, where he lived with Leonora Anderson, who bore him several daughters. For seven years he replated silverware for a Pitt Street company.

Dorrington started writing for the Bulletin in the late 1890s, often as 'A.D.' or 'Alba Dorian'. After 1900 he also contributed to such publications as the Freeman's Journal, the Australian Worker, Steele Rudd's Magazine and the Bookfellow. Among his close friends were James Dwyer and Victor Daley; he perceived, ahead of his time, the literary sophistication of Joseph Furphy. A. G. Stephens promoted Dorrington's early fiction, publishing Castro's Last Sacrament, and Other Stories (1900), and collaborating to write a romantic novel, The Lady Calphurnia Royal, serialized in the Bookfellow in 1907, and published in London in 1909. The two quarrelled bitterly for decades, first in Australia over personal matters, and later concerning arrangements for the novel's publication in Britain and the United States of America. Dorrington had left Australia in 1907, arguing that local conditions provided 'no opening'; that Australian critics neglected promising writers other than those of assured position; and that cheap English periodical literature had swamped the local market.

After visiting Ceylon, Dorrington settled near London, and published a misleading account of allegedly exotic colonial hard-ships as an orchardist, which Stephens in Australia exposed and derided. Later Stephens, Louis Becke and Randolph Bedford accused Dorrington of plagiarism; but in London he gained recognition for newspaper serials, in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere, and for stories for the Pall Mall Magazine and other magazines. He remained a Fleet Street journalist, and published thirteen more volumes of fiction, including eight novels which were translated into five languages. In London he was acquainted with Joseph Conrad. Brought up a Roman Catholic, he became an atheist. He lived quietly, in his later years receiving little recognition, at Ruislip, Middlesex, England, where he died on 9 April 1953. He was survived by at least one daughter, but left his estate to Vera Maude Beasley in recognition of the 'generous way in which she rebuilt my house at Ickenham Road and installed every modern convenience at her own expense'.

An adventurous literary survivor, in whom financial need fostered a certain professional opportunism, Dorrington was at times unreliable and inaccurate as journalist and commentator; and in Britain he successfully tailored a substantial artistic talent to fit his pocket. In his best Australian stories, restraint and realism alleviate the artificiality of his plots. His depiction of bush life, which he saw as 'a joke flung against a tragedy', drew critical acclaim; 'A bush tanqueray', probably his most frequently anthologized story, was reprinted in the Bulletin centenary issue (1980). Children of the Cloven Hoof (London, 1911), one of his more serious novels, interestingly studies interactions amongst squatters, selectors and other representatives of pastoral life. His later popular fiction, much of which is set in or near Australia, relies heavily on sensationalism, mystery, romance and exotic settings.

Select Bibliography

  • Steele Rudd's Magazine, Jan 1907
  • Bookfellow, 4 July, 15 Aug 1907, 1 Nov 1912
  • Contemporary Review (London), Aug 1912
  • Bulletin, 3 Nov 1900, 4 June 1930
  • A. G. Stephens papers, vol 3, and newsclippings (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Ken Stewart, 'Dorrington, Albert (1874–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Albert Dorrington (1874-1953), by Kerry & Co., c1899

Albert Dorrington (1874-1953), by Kerry & Co., c1899

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23596673

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Dorian, Alba

27 September, 1874
London, Middlesex, England


9 April, 1953 (aged 78)
London, Middlesex, England

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