Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Tishler (1871–1956)

by Tony Marshall

This article was published:

Joseph Tishler (1871-1956), poet, was born on 18 March 1871 at Dunedin, New Zealand, son of Aaron Tishler, builder, and his wife Maria, née Simpson. The family moved to Melbourne and settled at St Kilda where Joseph attended primary school. He took work as a strolling minstrel (playing the accordion), stage-hand, woodchopper, wagoner, carpet-beater and salesman. In 1898, having failed as a second-hand dealer, he spent an unsuccessful period in Tasmania. Returning to Melbourne, he continued to pursue his 'up and down varied career', finally establishing himself as a dealer in fancy goods at the Queen Victoria Market.

Although Tishler had long recognized his gift for verse, it was not until 1908 that he first contributed to the Bulletin. Under the pseudonym of 'The Wasp' his poem, 'Found Dead in the Street', was published in the 'Answers to Correspondents' column on 4 June. It began:

An unfortunate woman was
Found dead in the street
By an officer of Justice
While on his early morn beat.
Conveyed to the Morgue
For a doleful inquest.
From the wages of sin
Her soul was at rest.

The work of most aspiring contributors was simply rejected; Tishler's was so strikingly bad that his contributions were printed in full. Often on topical themes or recording his observations of street life in Melbourne, his poems became a regular and popular feature in the magazine. In 1910 he began to use the pseudonym 'Bellerive' by which he was to be widely known. Described by the Bulletin as 'the Poet Laureate of the Perpetually Rejected', he continued to contribute until 1953: not only poems (including extensive autobiographical verse), but also a small three-act melodrama (published in the 'Red Page' on 13 December 1913) and an entry in the magazine's 1928 fiction competition.

'Bellerive' was shy, with a deep fear of being made a laughing-stock. He was encouraged and supported in his writing by the Bulletin's W. E. Fitz Henry, the poet Edward Harrington and the literary patron John Kinmont Moir who initiated a project to publish a selection of 'Bellerive's' verse. His aim was eventually achieved in Douglas Stewart's The Book of Bellerive (1961).

For most of the last thirty years of his life Tishler lived in North Melbourne with his wife Jane, née Pantille, whom he had married about 1918. There 'Bellerive' was a familiar figure wheeling an old handcart around the streets; when their house was destroyed by storms in 1952, they moved to Carlton. Harry Pearce described Tishler in 1950 as 'somewhat of a stooping build, but when younger and erect must have been fully six feet [183 cm], and built in proportion. He had a twinkle in his eyes and a sort of fleeting smile that seemed a permanent part of his expression'.

Despite the affectionate ridicule to which the Bulletin and the Australian public subjected him, 'Bellerive' never lost faith in himself as a serious poet. He continued to assure his supporters that he was 'breaking new ground'. Stewart concluded that he did so only in his naivety, although 'given another turn of the wheel, we would have had a minor lyrist of genuine quality in Bellerive'. Tishler died at Parkville on 7 August 1956 and was buried with Anglican rites in Melbourne general cemetery. His wife survived him; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • People (Sydney), 30 Aug 1950
  • Bulletin, 4 June 1908, 19 Sept 1912, 9, 16 Dec 1926, 10 May 1950
  • Tishler papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • J. K. Moir collection (State Library of Victoria)
  • H. H. Pearce reminiscences (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Tony Marshall, 'Tishler, Joseph (1871–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Wasp, The
  • Bellerive

18 March, 1871
Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand


7 August, 1956 (aged 85)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria, 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.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.