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Nathaniel (Nat) Gould (1857–1919)

by B. G. Andrews

This article was published:

Nathaniel (Nat) Gould (1857-1919), journalist and novelist, was born on 21 December 1857 at Cheetham, Manchester, Lancashire, England, only son of Nathaniel Gould, tea merchant, and his wife Mary, née Wright; both parents came from Derbyshire yeomen families. Known as Nat, Gould was educated at Brooks Bar and Strathmore House, Southport, and was then apprenticed to the tea trade, but he found the business irksome and went farming with his uncles. At 20 he answered an advertisement for a position on the Newark Advertiser, where he worked for seven years as a reporter and as correspondent for Nottingham and London newspapers, and became interested in the turf. He decided to visit Australia, arriving in 1884. He was employed on the Brisbane Telegraph in its shipping, commercial and racing departments, and was correspondent for the Sportsman and the Sydney Referee. On 14 April 1886 he married Elizabeth Madelaine Ruska at the Ann Street Presbyterian manse, Brisbane; they had three sons and two daughters.

Late in 1887 Gould quarrelled with the Telegraph management and moved to Sydney to become turf editor for the Referee. Under the pseudonym 'Verax' he wrote a weekly column which established his reputation as a tipster, a series of special articles and the racing serial 'Blue and White' (8 March–3 May 1888). In 1888 he moved to Bathurst to edit the Bathurst Times, but retained his link with the Referee through another racing serial, 'With the Tide', commonly thought his first; by the time it was completed in May 1890 he had rejoined the Referee. Published in London in 1891 under the title of The Double Event, it was a success on railway bookstalls in England and sold widely in Australia, partly because of its release at the time of the 1891 Melbourne Cup. The stage adaptation by George Darrell in 1893 was climaxed by a cup scene with twenty horses filling the stage.

Living in Sydney in 1890-95, Gould combined journalism and fiction: he continued as 'Verax' in the Referee, wrote as 'Old 'Un' for the Sunday Times and the Bird O' Freedom, and completed eight more stories which were serialized in the Referee before being published by Routledge in London. In January 1895 he resigned from the Referee and left Australia in April in the Orizaba with the champion racehorse Carbine; he tipped the winner of the next Victoria Derby as the ship pulled away from the wharf.

Gould settled near Staines, Middlesex. For the next twenty-five years he found time to enjoy the theatre, travel and antiquarian history and to turn out annually four or five sporting and adventure novels. The basis of his success was his ability to blend a sporting subject with elements of the detective story and the popular romance: his heroes and heroines characteristically overcome obstacles such as corrupt bookmakers and win important races climaxed by a thrilling finish. Gould became a household name and sales of his 'yellowbacks' have been estimated in tens of millions; The Double Event sold upwards of 100,000 copies in its first ten years and was still in print in 1919. Preferring the security of regular payment, he sold outright the copyright of each novel; this meant, with his punting, that he left only £7797 after he died from diabetes at Newhaven Bedfont, Staines, on 25 July 1919. He was buried at Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

In all Gould wrote some 130 novels, including twenty-two released posthumously; three dozen or more are set in Australia. His recipe to aspiring writers was, 'write about men and things you have met and seen; take your characters from the busy world, and your scenes from Nature'. He followed this prescription best when depicting racecourse, cricket and theatrical scenes, but was less adept in his sentimental portraits of the colonial and English aristocracy, to which class he aspired. He was a political conservative, a staunch Imperialist patronizing about Chinese, Indians and Aboriginals, and something of a wowser despite his gambling. These qualities emerge not only in his novels but also in his three autobiographical works: On and Off the Turf in Australia (1895), Town and Bush (1896) and The Magic of Sport, mainly autobiographical (1909).

A short, tubby, jovial man who sported a twirling moustache in later life, Gould was described, after a surprise victory in a handicap sprint at the 1888 picnic of Referee staff, as having 'attained that comfortable rotundity that tells of luxurious living and a good digestion'. His experiences in Australia during one of its golden ages of sport changed his life, and he retained a great affection for the country, particularly for Brisbane. He inaugurated the Australian sporting novel, rivalled only by his imitator Arthur Wright, but he has been claimed just as enthusiastically as a representative Englishman. More accurately, he should be seen as an archetypal Anglo-Australian Imperialist sportsman at the turn of the century.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Cashman and M. McKernan (eds), Sport in History (Brisb, 1979), and Sport: Money, Morality and the Media (Syd, 1981)
  • London Magazine, Aug 1967
  • Bird O' Freedom, 25 Apr 1891, 26 Aug 1893
  • Times (London), 26, 28 July, 15 Sept 1919
  • Bulletin, 28 July, 4 Aug 1927, 18 Dec 1957
  • Sporting Globe, 28 Oct 1950–17 Feb 1951
  • George Routledge & Co. Archives, 1853-1902 (mfm G 14808-13, National Library of Australia)
  • manuscript and printed catalogues under Gould (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

B. G. Andrews, 'Gould, Nathaniel (Nat) (1857–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Verax
  • Old 'Un
  • Bird o' Freedom

21 December, 1857
Cheetham, Lancashire, England


25 July, 1919 (aged 61)
Staines, Surrey, England

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.