Rolf Boldrewood

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Thomas Alexander Browne

Thomas Alexander Browne
Thomas Alexander Browne

Thomas Alexander Browne (August 6, 1826 - March 11, 1915) was an Australian writer, who sometimes published under the pseudonym Rolf Boldrewood and best known for his novel Robbery Under Arms.

Browne was born in England, his father, Captain Sylvester John Browne, formerly of the East India Company's service, emigrated to Australia in 1830. His mother, Eliza Angell Alexander, was his "earliest admirer and most indulgent critic . . . to whom is chiefly due whatever meed of praise my readers may hereafter vouchsafe" (Dedication Old Melbourne Memories). The boy was sent to W. T. Cape's school at Sydney, and afterwards to Sydney College, when Cape became its headmaster.

When his father moved to Melbourne in 1840, he remained for some time at the school as a boarder. In 1843, though only 17 years old, Browne took up land near Port Fairy and was there until 1856. He visited England in 1860 and by 1864 had a property in the Riverina; but bad seasons in 1866 and 1868 compelled Browne to give up squatting, and in 1871 he became a police magistrate and goldfields commissioner. After living in Sydney a short time, in April 1871 he was appointed a police magistrate at Gulgong and in 1872 gold commissioner.

Browne was an experienced justice of the peace, having acted as chairman of the bench of justices at Narrandera, but in his first years at Gulgong, then one of the richest and largest goldfields in New South Wales, his ignorance of mining and the complicated regulations drew criticism of his competence as commissioner. He was persistently attacked by the Gulgong Guardian until in 1873 it published an anonymous letter accusing him of bias and corruption. Its editor was thereupon convicted in Sydney of criminal libel and sentenced to six months gaol. The charges against Browne were disproved, and he won favour with the miners by magnanimously interceding with the judge for a light punishment of his libeller. In 1881 Browne was transferred as magistrate and mining warden to Dubbo and in 1884 to Armidale. He moved to Albury as chairman of the Land Licensing Board in 1885 and served there as magistrate and warden from 1887 to 1895 when he retired to Melbourne. He died on 11 March 1915 and was buried in Brighton cemetery.

Browne spent some twenty-five years as a squatter and about the same time as a government official, but his third career as author extended over forty years. In 1865 he had two articles on pastoral life in Australia in the Cornhill Magazine, and he also began to contribute articles and serial stories to the Australian weeklies. One of these, Ups and Downs: a Story of Australian Life, was published in book form in London in 1878. It was well reviewed but attracted little notice. It was re-issued as The Squatter's Dream in 1890.

In 1884 Old Melbourne Memories, a book of reminiscences of the eighteen-forties was published at Melbourne, "by Rolf Boldrewood, author of My Run Home, The Squatter's Dream and Robbery Under Arms". These had appeared in the Sydney Town and Country Journal and the Sydney Mail, but only The Squatter's Dream had been published in book form and then under the title of Ups and Downs. In 1888 Robbery Under Arms appeared in three volumes and its merits were immediately recognized. Several editions were printed before the close of the century. At the beginning of this novel the narrator, Dick Marsden, is awaiting execution for crimes committed whilst he was a bushranger. He goes on to tell the story of his life and loves and his association with the notorious Captain Starlight. Some of the events in the book are based on actual incidents carried out by contemporary bushrangers like Daniel Morgan, Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner and John Gilbert. Robbery under Arms has, remained popular since its first publication in 1888 The novel was filmed in 1907, 1920 and 1957. A television series was made in 1985. The novel has also been serialised on radio in both Australia and Britain.

Other novels appeared in quick succession, including The Miner's Right, and A Colonial Reformer in 1890, A Sydney Side Saxon (1891), Nevermore (1892), A Modern Buccaneer (1894), The Sphinx of Eaglehawk (1895), The Crooked Stick (1895), The Sealskin Coat (1896), My Run Home (1897), Plain Living (1898), A Romance of Canvas Town (1898), War to the Knife (1899), Babes in the Bush (1900), In Bad Company and Other Stories (1901), The Ghost Camp (1902), The Last Chance (1905).

Browne lived near Melbourne from the time of his retirement in 1895 until his death on 11 March 1915. He married in 1860, Margaret Maria, daughter of W. E. Riley, who survived him with two sons and five daughters, one of whom, "Rose Boldrewood", published a novel The Complications at Collaroi in 1911. Mrs Browne was the author of The Flower Garden in Australia, published in 1893.


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Robbery Under Arms

By Rolf Boldrewood
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Robbery Under Arms
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