Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lillian Maxwell Pyke (1881–1927)

by Beverley Kingston

This article was published:

Lillian Maxwell Pyke (1881-1927), author, was born on 25 August 1881 at Belfast (Port Fairy), Victoria, tenth child and one of three daughters of Robert Moseley Heath, a draper from Totnes, Devon, England, and his wife Susannah Ellen, née Wilson, of Kent. Lillian was described as both a teacher and a journalist before her marriage with Presbyterian forms to Richard Dimond Pyke on 7 April 1906 at Canterbury Road, Toorak; he was an accountant working in Brisbane and formerly of Collingwood. They moved to Queensland where he was employed as accountant in a railway construction camp at Monkland, near Gympie. Her first child was born there in 1907, followed by two more children in 1908 and 1912. Richard Pyke shot himself in the head on 4 December 1914, aged 37. Lillian returned to Melbourne with her children. In order to support and educate them she returned to writing.

Between 1916 and 1927 as Lillian Pyke she wrote sixteen books classified as children's books though they were better suited to adolescents. As 'Erica Maxwell', she wrote three novels for adults, one of which, A Wife by Proxy (1926), contained Esperanto themes, was translated into Esperanto, and published in 1930 as Anstataria Edzino. Under the influence of her brother-in-law J. G. Pyke, who was president of the Esperanto Society, Melbourne, in 1913-29, she had become involved in the movement.

As well she produced a Guide to Australian Etiquette, which she quickly adapted from an outdated English text. It was first published probably in 1919, and reissued in 1931, then twice after her death in 1945, and with a modernized text in 1960. She also edited various collections of stories, abridged and adapted Ethel Turner's Miss Bobbie 'for the use of schools', and produced several illustrated alphabet books. In all, her output averaged a little more than two books a year for eleven years.

Most of her stories for both children and adults came out of her experience of Queensland railway construction camps or her involvement in education, and had an improving intention. Camp Kiddies (1919) was almost a memoir illustrated with photographs. The boys' stories were set in the fictional St Virgil's, based on Wesley College, Melbourne, where her son became a student in 1920. She dedicated Jack of St Virgil's (1917) to L. A. Adamson, the headmaster of Wesley, 'to whose teaching I am indebted for whatever understanding of ''the public school spirit" I may have acquired and whose kindly assistance and influence have enabled me to keep in touch with school life'. The books contained strong themes of fair play and heroism, but also adventure, often involving engineering, explosives and skullduggery afar off. The girls' stories were also based on a fictional girls school, Riverview, and probably owed much to the interests of her daughters (whose names occasionally occur in her stories), though they too contained adventures not unlike those of the boys. One explored the relatively new Girl Guide movement. Another of her children's stories was an early fictional account of the First Fleet and the settlement at Port Jackson. Several drew on an imagined Pacific Island called Vilatonga from which the 'Prince' and his sister both went to school in Victoria.

Pyke died of chronic renal disease on 31 August 1927 at St Andrew's Hospital, Brighton, and was buried in Box Hill cemetery after a service at Sleight's Mortuary Chapel conducted by the Rev. Charles Strong. Her daughter Joyce graduated with a B.A. from the University of Melbourne, and son Laurence followed with a B.Sc. and a Rhodes scholarship. From 1952 to 1960 he was head of Newington College, Stanmore, Sydney, and later dean of graduate studies at the University of Melbourne. He died in July 1987.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Saxby, Offered to Children: A History of Australian Children’s Literature 1841-1941 (Syd, 1998)
  • Queenslander, 28 Mar 1925, p 43, 15 Sept 1927, p 19
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 10 Sept 1927, p 741.

Citation details

Beverley Kingston, 'Pyke, Lillian Maxwell (1881–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 2 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Heath, Lillian
  • Maxwell, Erica

25 August, 1881
Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia


31 August, 1927 (aged 46)
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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