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Douglas Brooke Sladen (1856–1947)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

Douglas Brooke Wheelton Sladen (1856-1947), author, was born on 5 February 1856 in London, son of Douglas Brooke Sladen, solicitor, and his wife Mary, née Wheelton. He received a strict Evangelical upbringing, against which he later reacted. Educated at Cheltenham College, he was a scholar of Trinity College, Oxford (B.A., 1879), played football for the university, read history instead of classics and developed his talent for friendship with interesting people. His disinclination for a settled life as a solicitor led him to Victoria where his uncle, Sir Charles Sladen, had been premier.

Sladen was quickly accepted into upper-class Melbourne society and in 1880 married Margaret Isibella Muirhead, daughter of a Western District squatter; she bore him a son. He attended the University of Melbourne (LL.B., 1882) with a view to going to the Bar and eventually politics, but his uncle's influence was waning and he had no enthusiasm for the law. He began long friendships with George Morrison and (Sir) John Monash, on whose Australian Victories in France in 1918 (London, 1920) he did some editing. In 1883 Sladen moved to New South Wales and was appointed first lecturer in modern history at the University of Sydney. He lectured on constitutional history in the Oxford fashion but his subject had no regular status in the curriculum and he made little impact. In 1883 he was a foundation member of the New South Wales branch of the Australasian Geographical Society. His uncle's death and a dislike of colonial academic work led him to resign and in 1884 he left Australia with his wife.

In Melbourne Sladen had contributed a long poem, 'Frithjof and Ingebjorg' to the Victorian Review; supplemented by shorter pieces, it was published in London in 1882. Other verses, first printed in colonial papers, were published as Australian Lyrics (Melbourne, 1883) and A Poetry of Exiles, and Other Poems (Sydney, 1883). Sladen's work was English in tone and undistinguished in quality, but he developed a keen interest in poetry written in Australia, and especially in Adam Lindsay Gordon's work. After his return to England, Sladen was commissioned to prepare an anthology, Australian Ballads and Rhymes (London, 1888); its popularity led to its enlargement that year as A Century of Australian Song and a further collection, Australian Poets, 1788-1888. His choice was conservative; even in ballads he preferred 'correct' verse with a modicum of Australian imagery but his anthologies, with their introductions, were important in stimulating interest in Australian work.

Sladen wrote many travel books, novels and anthologies. In 1897 he started editing Who's Who and broadened its coverage of prominent people. Clubbable, he was a ready host and conversationalist who moved easily in artistic and theatrical circles and travelled widely. He never revisited Australia, confessing that he 'owed everything to Australia but Australia was exile to me'. Australian connexions were preserved by his edition of Billy Hughes's pamphlets and speeches, From Boundary Rider to Prime Minister … (London, 1916), and by two novels, Fair Inez: A Romance of Australia (1918), set in Australia in 2000 A.D., and Paul's Wife: Or 'The Ostriches' (1919), which showed a fictional Alfred Deakin (whom Sladen had known in Melbourne) in retirement in England. Copyright had kept most of Gordon's poetry out of Sladen's anthologies but in 1912 he was able to publish an edition of Gordon and, with E. Humphris, Adam Lindsay Gordon and His Friends in England and Australia (1912), which elucidated the poet's English background. Sladen corresponded which Gordon's Australian admirers and was secretary of the memorial committee which placed his bust in Westminster Abbey in 1934. He produced Adam Lindsay Gordon: The Life and Best Poems of the Poet of Australia (1934) to mark the occasion.

Sladen's first wife had died on 15 June 1919 and he married Dorothea Duthie on 31 July 1930. He died at Hove on 12 February 1947. A portrait by Frank Beresford is in the National Gallery of Victoria. Biographers have relied heavily on his books, Twenty Years of My Life (London, 1915) and My Long Life (London, 1939).

Select Bibliography

  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 14 Feb 1947, p 7
  • Senate minutes (University of Sydney Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Sladen, Douglas Brooke (1856–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 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]


5 February, 1856
London, Middlesex, England


12 February, 1947 (aged 91)
Hove, Sussex, England

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