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Henry Havelock Ellis (1859–1939)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

Havelock Ellis, by John Trevor, n.d.

Havelock Ellis, by John Trevor, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales, 447487

Henry Havelock Ellis (1859-1939), psychologist, critic and editor, was born on 2 February 1859 at Old Croydon, Surrey, England, the eldest child and only son of Edward Peppen Ellis (1827-1914), sea captain, and his wife Susannah (1830-1888), daughter of Captain John Wheatley. In 1866 his father took him in the Empress to Sydney. On his return and in the absence of his father Ellis assumed much family responsibility. The influence of his mother's evangelical faith on him was reinforced by the preaching of Rev. John Erck of Merton, but his teacher at The Poplars, Tooting, interested him in wider aspects of religion and introduced him to nineteenth-century literature. On 19 April 1875 Ellis left in his father's Surry for Sydney. On the voyage he read widely. He also began a journal which he continued erratically for four years, and consulted it in 1884 for Kanga Creek (London, 1922), a much-praised novelle based partly on his Australian life; he later used a few incidents in his clinical studies but not, he claimed, in his autobiography begun in 1899 and published as My Life in 1940.

Ellis decided to stay in New South Wales. He became a teacher at Fontlands, a private school in Burwood, but lacked qualifications and experience; his salary was reduced and he left at the end of the year. In 1876 he tutored the five children of a retired civil servant at Goonawarrie, near Carcoar. He found the work tolerable enough and revisited Sydney to matriculate at the University of Sydney, but did not proceed to an external course. Despite some material comfort it had been a dark year: he lost much of his faith but not his longing for spiritual assuredness. He retreated again to the country as sole assistant in a Grafton proprietory school. When the owner died, Ellis found himself 'a boy of eighteen—headmaster of a grammar school'. The venture failed and in October he sold out cheaply. He had lodged at Grafton with an auctioneer, with whose daughter he fell in love. He was too reticent to mention the fact but the experience increased his understanding of human affection. On this theme, in his solitude and perplexity, he dwelt more and more.

Back in Sydney, Ellis determined to 'go under the Council [of Education]'. He read hard at the Public Library but disliked his month of training at Fort Street Normal School, where 'the great object is discipline'. He passed his examination and was posted to half-time schools at Sparkes and Junction Creeks, near Scone. He must have been an adequate teacher and, by his own account, was not unhappy. His commonplace books of 1878 reveal intensive reading and a larger interest in natural science. In particular he re-read Life in Nature by James Hinton, a physiologist and amateur philosopher, and consulted Ellis Hopkins's edition of Hinton's Life and Letters. Hinton's exposition gave the questing Ellis a belief in the inherent righteousness of the search for artistic and scientific truth. The best avenue for his search, Ellis thought, was a medical and not a clerical career. He resolved to return to England and sailed in La Hogue in January 1879. On 27 February he confided in his diary: 'These three years I have spent in Australia seem to me like those three during which Paul was in Arabia'. In 1881-89 while studying medicine at St Thomas's Hospital, London, he began editing the 'Mermaid' series of dramatists and then the 'Contemporary Science' series. In 1897-1910 his six-volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex appeared; his other publications include Man and Woman (1894), Little Essays of Love and Virtue (1922) and Impressions and Comments, 3 volumes (1914-24). In 1891 he married Edith Oldham Lees, authoress.

Ellis never returned to Australia although he published a paper on 'The Doctrines of the Freud School' in Transactions of the Ninth Session, Sydney, 1911, of the Australasian Medical Congress. A photograph of Sparkes Creek, taken by his Australian friend Marjorie Ross, stood by his bedside in his last years. Ellis died without issue on 8 July 1939.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Goldberg, Havelock Ellis, a Biographical and Critical Survey (Lond, 1926)
  • J. S. Collis, An Artist of Life (Lond, 1959)
  • A. C. Marshall, Havelock Ellis (Lond, 1959)
  • H. H. Ellis, diaries and commonplace books (State Library of New South Wales)
  • records and notes (privately held).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Ellis, Henry Havelock (1859–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Havelock Ellis, by John Trevor, n.d.

Havelock Ellis, by John Trevor, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales, 447487

Life Summary [details]


2 February, 1859
Croydon, Surrey, England


8 July, 1939 (aged 80)
Hintlesham, Suffolk, England

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