Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Henry Haydon (1822–1891)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

George Henry Haydon (1822-1891), writer and artist, was born on 26 August 1822 at Heavitree, Devon, England, the second son of Samuel Haydon, retired naval paymaster, and his wife Elizabeth, née Roberts. His elder brother, Samuel James Bouverie (1815-1891), was a well-known sculptor. A younger brother, Edward, migrated to South Australia in 1849 and died at Adelaide in 1858. Educated mainly by his father who had liberal sympathies, Haydon showed artistic talent and was apprenticed to an architect in Exeter in 1837. Looking for adventure, he arrived in the Theresa at Melbourne in July 1840 with £40 and hopes of a fortune. He worked as a clerk in William Kerr's bookshop, as an architect designing terraced cottages and then for the newspapers. J. B. Were was 'very attentive' to him, engaged him to design his warehouse and employed him as a storeman. Haydon was one of Melbourne's first drawing masters and also sold sketches to the papers. In November the Sydney Monitor copied a paragraph from the Port Phillip Gazette on his drawing of 'the sea monster which was killed on the coast'. His sketch of Melbourne brought him belated fame when reproduced in the Australasian Sketcher, 10 July 1875. Most of his drawings were sold for 10s. 6d. or given to friends so that only those in his journals survive. He also collected natural history specimens for friends in England.

Haydon was concerned about Aboriginals, 'these children of the wilderness'; he stoutly defended them against the prejudices of the colonists, studied their language and customs, and earned their respect. His particular friend and shooting companion was Benbo, of the Werribee 'tribe', who once saved his life and was the subject of many sketches. To Haydon the protectorate system was 'a pack of humbug' and harmful to the welfare of the Aboriginals. He disliked George Augustus Robinson but was a firm friend of William Thomas, the 'only worthy man' amongst the protectors. Haydon spent much time with friends at Western Port. On French Island he burnt mangroves for barilla, with Robinson blazed a stock route through the bush from Corinella to the Albert River, worked as architect for a shipbuilder, sold sketches and hunted rabbits, mutton-birds and swans.

With Were's help Haydon sailed in the Abberton for England in January 1845, 'without £5,000 but with a clear conscience', a bottle of Yarra water for christening purposes and a kangaroo rat which died on the ship. Before leaving he wrote: 'I can do all kinds of bush work in the carpentering way. I can drive bullocks, paint a house, wash, mend and tailor, cobble shoes, reap, grub trees, fence … a very pretty stock of knowledge to enter an English drawing room with'. At Exeter he set up as an authority on emigration and gave many lectures. Using George Arden's Latest Information with Regard to Australia Felix as a basis for a descriptive prospectus, Haydon published Five Years' Experience in Australia Felix (Exeter and London, 1846) which was widely reviewed. Very few of his own adventures were narrated and the illustrations, based on Haydon's sketches, were drawn by the painter, Henry Hainsselin, and another friend, Charles Risdon, made the engravings. Haydon married Risdon's sister, Clarissa, at Langtree, Devon, on 20 December 1851; they had four sons and one daughter. In 1849 Haydon was appointed steward of the Devon County Lunatic Asylum at Exminster and in 1853-89 was steward of Bridewell and Bethlem hospitals, London. In 1865 he was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple.

In Australia Haydon had cultivated the image of the colonial frontiersman in his dress and writings. His insistence on the bush virtues of hospitality, mateship and self-reliance found some expression in his novel, The Australian Emigrant, A Rambling Story, Containing as much Fact as Fiction (London, 1854). The illustrations, again based on his sketches, were drawn by Watts Phillips. Besides contributing sketches and ideas to Punch, Haydon illustrated several privately printed books in the 1860s. He continued to correspond with friends in the colonies and even lectured to his mental patients on his French Island adventures. Haydon died at his home, Ettrick, Putney Lower Common, on 9 November 1891.

A blue-eyed giant, Haydon was an advocate of temperance from his Melbourne days and, although an inveterate pipe smoker, believed in the cult of the healthy body. He found companionship in the volunteer movement, in angling and in Freemasonry. His most intimate friends were the Punch cartoonists, John Leech, Charles Keene and George Cruikshank, and the actor Samuel Phelps. He was the subject of Keene's sketch 'the gigantic angler' in Punch almanac 1885, said to be an excellent portrait, and drawings of Haydon as a young man are in his personal sketchbook.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Howitt, Impressions of Australia Felix (Lond, 1845)
  • G. S. Layard, The Life and Letters of Charles Samuel Keene (Lond, 1892)
  • M. H. Spielmann, The History of ‘Punch’ (Lond, 1895)
  • E. M. Heddle, How Australian Literature Grew (Melb, 1962)
  • N. Gunson, The Good Country: Cranbourne Shire (Melb, 1968)
  • A. W. Greig, ‘Letters from Australian pioneers’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 12 (1927)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 27 May 1884
  • Illustrated London News, 14 Nov 1891
  • J. Whitlock, Gentleman Felix: The Biography of George Henry Haydon (privately held)
  • G. H. Haydon, Australian diaries and sketches, 1840-45 (microfilm, National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Haydon, George Henry (1822–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 June 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

Life Summary [details]


26 August, 1822
Heavitree, Devon, England


9 November, 1891 (aged 69)
London, Middlesex, England

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