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Richard Henry Horne (1802–1884)

by Ann Blainey

This article was published:

Richard Henry Horne (1802-1884), by Batchelder & O'Neill, 1869

Richard Henry Horne (1802-1884), by Batchelder & O'Neill, 1869

State Library of Victoria, H15291

Richard Henry Horne (1802-1884), poet, was born on 31 December 1802 at Edmonton, near London, the eldest of three sons of James Horne (d.1810), quarter-master in the 61st Regiment; his grandfather was Richard Horne, secretary to Earl St Vincent. Richard was brought up at the home of his rich paternal grandmother and attended John Clarke's School where John Keats was also a pupil. In April 1819 Horne entered Sandhurst Military College but left in December 1820. In 1823 after reading Shelley's Queen Mab, he decided to become a poet.

In 1825 Horne sailed as midshipman in the Libertad to fight for Mexican independence. After two years in America he returned to London, where in 1833 he published his first book Exposition of the False Medium and Barriers Excluding Men of Genius from the Public. In the next decade he published three poetic dramas, contributed prolifically to literary magazines, edited the Monthly Repository in 1836-37 and served on the royal commission on child employment in factories in 1841. His most famous year was 1843 when he published his epic Orion at a farthing a copy to show his contempt for public taste. It ran to six editions in a year and made him a celebrity. During the Irish famine he was correspondent for the Daily News. In 1847 he married Catherine, daughter of David Foggo.

In 1852 Horne faced a crisis: his marriage was failing; he was impoverished; he was discontented in his work on Charles Dickens's Household Words; and he was torn between the practical and poetic sides of his nature. Tempted by dreams of fortune on the Australian goldfields and a chance to escape, Horne arrived at Melbourne in September. He soon became commander of the private gold escort and in 1853 assistant gold commissioner at Heathcote and Waranga. He was erratic in both posts and was dismissed in November 1854. By 1855 his English ties were severed, his wife having requested a formal separation. In Melbourne he became clerk to (Sir) Archibald Michie, and lived with a Scottish girl; their son, born in 1857, died after seven months. In September 1856 as a radical Horne contested Rodney in the Legislative Assembly but lost. As a commissioner of sewerage and water supply in 1857 when Melbourne's new reservoir was under public attack, he did little to appease the critics. By 1860 he was again unemployed and living at St Kilda with a female companion. He was well known at Captain Kenney's swimming baths, lectured at Mechanics' Institutes on 'The Causes of Success in Life' and failed to win the Belfast (Port Fairy) seat. He helped to found the Tahbilk vineyard on the Goulburn River. In 1862-63 the Royal Literary Fund assisted him.

In June 1863 Horne was made warden of the Victorian Blue Mountain goldfield near Trentham: 'my Siberia'. Again he began to write seriously and found tranquillity. On visits to Melbourne he held court at Henry Dwight's bookshop, and became friendly with George Gordon McCrae and Marcus Clarke. In 1864 he published a lyrical drama, Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, and in 1866 for the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition a masque, The South Sea Sisters; it contained a rhythmic representation of an Aboriginal corroboree which brought acclaim. In 1867 he celebrated the arrival of the Duke of Edinburgh with a cantata, Galatea Secunda, signing himself Richard Hengist Horne, the name by which he was henceforth known. In Australia he produced no significant poetry but some good prose: Australian Facts and Prospects (London, 1859), and an essay, 'An Election Contest in Australia' in Cornhill, 5 (1862). Disillusioned, he sailed in June 1869 for England where he became a literary doyen, producing many new works all artistically worthless. His poverty was relieved in 1874 by a government pension, and he died at Margate on 13 March 1884.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Shumaker, A Concise Bibliography of the Complete Works of Richard Henry (Hengist) Horne (1802-1884) (Ohio, 1943)
  • C. Pearl, Always Morning: The Life of Richard Henry ‘Orion’ Horne (Melb, 1960)
  • A. Blainey, The Farthing Poet: A Biography of Richard Hengist Horne, 1802-84 (Lond, 1968), and for bibliography
  • R. H. Horne papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ann Blainey, 'Horne, Richard Henry (1802–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 May 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

Richard Henry Horne (1802-1884), by Batchelder & O'Neill, 1869

Richard Henry Horne (1802-1884), by Batchelder & O'Neill, 1869

State Library of Victoria, H15291

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Horne, Richard Hengist

31 December, 1802
London, Middlesex, England


13 March, 1884 (aged 81)
Margate, Kent, England

Cultural Heritage

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