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Philip Durham Lorimer (1843–1897)

by Cecil Hadgraft

This article was published:

Philip Durham Lorimer (1843-1897), by unknown photographer, 1890s

Philip Durham Lorimer (1843-1897), by unknown photographer, 1890s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23460659

Philip Durham Lorimer (1843-1897), wanderer and poet, was born on 3 June 1843 in Madras, India, son of Alexander Lorimer, M.D., garrison assistant-surgeon, and his wife Charlotte (Phillipa), née Henderson. He had a twin brother, Peter, and a sister, Charlotte, who was born on 18 July 1841. Philip was educated at the Edinburgh Academy in 1854-59, attending classes 1-5 out of a seven-year course. His brother went to the same school in 1855-59 and took classes 1-4. A fellow-student was Andrew Lang. E. A. Petherick, who had access to the Lorimer papers, states that Philip attended the University of Edinburgh; the university records do not mention him.

Although seemingly intended for the army, he migrated to Sydney in 1861. As a wanderer he went to the New England District first, then crossed the border into Queensland, and with about a dozen overlanders took 5000 sheep and 1000 cattle from Warwick to the gulf country. There he caught 'Gulf fever' early in 1866, moved to Port Denison, to Cloncurry and to Burketown, where he saw two-thirds of the inhabitants die of fever. In mid-1867 on Bowen Downs he finally abandoned all hope of prospering in north Queensland and decided to return to New South Wales. There he composed the half-comic, half-satiric poem which begins:

Queensland: thou art a land of pest:
From flies and fleas we ne'er can rest.

It was frequently reprinted as a leaflet and sold for a few pence. Despite his decision he remained in Queensland for another three years, part of them on the Darling Downs.

In Sydney he wrote some poems addressed to real or imagined loves, was a vice-chairman of the 'Excelsior' Loyal Orange Lodge in 1872 and wrote a poem for recitation at its meeting on 29 August, lost in unfortunate business dealings some money remitted from England, and then set out in the early 1880s on his travels up and down the east coast, across the ranges, to diggings, stations, homesteads and townships. He was apparently welcomed by settlers, diggers, and even editors, and repaid the hospitality with verses that he could produce with no great difficulty. Sometimes he took odd jobs and occasionally may have settled for short periods. His life must have been most uncertain and much hardship slowed him down. Ill health attended his last years: he was occasionally in hospital, and at the end he probably became a little deranged. Unmarried and intestate, he died of paraplegia in Rookwood Asylum on 5 November 1897. He was known to thousands as Old Phil the Poet; and perhaps he was, from some points of view, the only true bush poet of them all.

In 1859 Lorimer's sister Charlotte married (Sir) Peter Nicol Russell, a benefactor of the University of Sydney. She commissioned E. A. Petherick to edit a volume of Lorimer's poems and to provide a biographical introduction. This was privately printed as Philip Durham Lorimer, Songs and Verses (London, 1901), with a biographical sketch by E.A.P. Upon this volume any writer on Lorimer is heavily dependent.

Select Bibliography

  • H. A. Kellow, Queensland Poets (Lond, 1930).

Citation details

Cecil Hadgraft, 'Lorimer, Philip Durham (1843–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Philip Durham Lorimer (1843-1897), by unknown photographer, 1890s

Philip Durham Lorimer (1843-1897), by unknown photographer, 1890s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23460659

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Old Phil the Poet

3 June, 1843
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India


5 November, 1897 (aged 54)
Rookwood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.