Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Richard Rowe (1828–1879)

by Rosilyn Baxter

This article was published:

Richard Rowe (1828-1879), journalist and tutor, was probably born on 9 March 1828 at Spring Gardens, Doncaster, England, son of Thomas Rowe, Wesleyan minister. His father died while he was very young and with his mother and his sister he moved to Colchester where he attended Mr Bradnack's school, and later worked as an usher after it moved to Bath.

In 1853 Rowe came to Australia and in 1856 wrote to Nicol Stenhouse from Bengalla, Muswellbrook, where he was a tutor. Stenhouse lent him books and helped him with German translations which he contributed to the Freeman's Journal. In 1857 he was arrested for drunkenness and Stenhouse befriended him in prison and arranged for his rehabilitation in Wollongong. Rowe suffered deep depression and complained 'my dislike of scribbling now amounts to loathing. In no other way, however, can I earn a crust. I detest teaching, have no head for accounts, couldn't stoop to greedy trade and it is too late in the day to think about a profession'.

To raise his fare to England Rowe, helped by Stenhouse, collected his work and published it in Peter 'Possum's Portfolio (1858), dedicated to his benefactor. The book gives valuable evidence of the background and education of a member of Sydney's literary coterie. Daniel Deniehy praised it extravagantly, but it is uneven; the essays are competently and often humorously written but the truncated novel 'Arthur Owen, an Autobiography', previously published in the Month, verges on melodrama. The original poems, though several appeared in subsequent anthologies, are unremarkable. Rowe belonged to the Frank Fowler, William Wilkes, Sheridan Moore circle and was an important contributor to Fowler's Month and to Wilkes's Sydney Punch. He also wrote regularly for the Sydney Morning Herald and Freeman's Journal, sometimes under the pseudonym 'A Sassenach Settler'. Henry Halloran's enthusiastic verse in the Empire urging 'Possum to give up the 'Circe-cup' and become the 'satirist of the age' infuriated 'Q', believed to be Charles Harpur, who attacked Rowe in the Empire as one

Whose 'moral Waterloo' were best achieved
O'er his insensate passion. Hideous sight
When sottishness obscures with leprous blight
The gifts of Providence — so ill received.

The Portfolio sold well and Rowe returned to England in 1858, but kept up a life-long correspondence with Stenhouse. He rented de Quincey's old rooms in Edinburgh and with the aid of introductions from Stenhouse became assistant editor of the Scotsman. He married Mary Ann Yates in 1860 and by 1863 had moved to Glasgow as principal leader writer of the North British Daily Mail. That year Fowler died and Rowe collected a selection of his work and published Last Gleanings in 1864 to raise money for Fowler's destitute family.

In the same year Rowe was dismissed from the North British Daily Mail and lived in poverty in London writing for the Scotsman and doing freelance work. By 1868 he had established himself as a contributor to Fraser's Magazine, Argosy, Chamber's Journal, Cassell's Magazine, Good Words and other journals and was able to write cheerfully to Stenhouse. He also wrote for Australian papers. He published about twenty books in England; many were adventure stories for boys, three at least with Australian settings, but some of his best works were Episodes in an Obscure Life (1871), Friends and Acquaintances (1871) and other carefully researched accounts of life among the London poor. 'Edward Howe' and 'Charles Camden' were pseudonyms used by him.

Rowe died on 9 December 1879 in Middlesex Hospital, after an operation for cancer of the tongue. He left a wife, a son, three daughters and a total estate of £20.

Select Bibliography

  • Empire (Sydney), 24 Mar 1858
  • Day of Rest, Feb 1880
  • Bulletin, 7 Feb 1880, 7 May 1881
  • Sydney Mail, 7 Feb 1880
  • A. M. Williams, Nicol Drysdale Stenhouse: A Study of a Literary Patron in a Colonial Milieu (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1963)
  • Stenhouse letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Rosilyn Baxter, 'Rowe, Richard (1828–1879)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • A Sassenach Settler

9 March, 1828
Doncaster, Yorkshire, England


9 December, 1879 (aged 51)
Middlesex, England

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