Lawson's Decline

After his return from London in 1902 Lawson's personal life went into a steady decline. He was often drunk, becoming a sad, familiar figure wandering the streets of Sydney, and he suffered from mental instability as a result of manic depression. He had frequent stays at the Mental Hospital, Darlinghurst to dry out. He was imprisoned several times for failing to pay maintenance to Bertha and their two children and for minor debts. Although Lawson could be difficult and aggressive when drunk, his friends and admirers still tried to help him. A committee was formed for this purpose and a Commonwealth pension and State stipend were eventually obtained for him. Friends also organised to send him away from Sydney for periods to remove him from the influence of drink. He was cared for by Mrs Isabel Byers, his housekeeper, for most of the twenty years between 1903 and his death.

Lawson still wrote intermittently but his best writing was behind him. Angus and Robertson and The Bulletin continued their support of Lawson, publishing some of his work, but George Robertson was forced to ban Lawson from the firm after he caused problems too many times whilst drunk. Lawson died in a cottage in Abbotsford where he had been living with Mrs Byers on 2nd September, 1922 at the age of fifty-five. He was farewelled with a state funeral, one of the largest Sydney had ever seen.

Letter from small creditor to Henry Lawson. Click to enlarge.

  Autograph letter from a small creditor to Henry Lawson, demanding repayment of 12/6, dated 1st November, 1906.

Lawson Collection (Lawson 26)

Letter from Henry Lawson to Fred Shenstone. Click to see pages 1 and 2.

  Autograph letter from Henry Lawson to Fred Shenstone, of the publishers Angus and Robertson, written from Darlinghurst Gaol, 26th July, 1905.

Lawson was charged with wife desertion on 24th July, 1905 after his alimony and maintenance payments to his wife Bertha had fallen behind by 8 weeks. His sentence was a fine of 12 pounds 5s 10d or imprisonment for 2 months. He spent 3 weeks and 3 days in gaol. His fine was paid but it is not known by whom.

Lawson Collection (Lawson 167)

Letter from Henry Lawson to Rev John Walker. Click to enlarge.

  Autograph letter from Henry Lawson to Reverend John Walker, dated 2nd January, 1908 and written from Darlinghurst Gaol.

Lawson was imprisoned for two charges of child desertion. He owed 9 pounds 17 s which was paid on 3rd January, 1908.

Lawson Collection (Lawson 169)

Note from Henry Lawson to Mrs Lala Fisher

  Autograph note from Henry Lawson to Mrs Lala Fisher, signed and dated at Sydney, 6th September, 1911.

Mrs Lala Fisher was a Sydney poet and journalist as well as part proprietor of the Theatre Magazine. She held soirees which were attended by people from literary, artistic and theatrical circles and Lawson was one of her regular guests. He wrote humorous notes for Mrs Fisher's autograph book in return for small donations. The note reads:

Dear Mrs Fisher
I get drunk because I'm in trouble and I get drunk again because I'm out of it. Reaction I suppose.
Yours sincerely
Henry Lawson

Lawson Collection (Lawson 171)

Letter from Henry Lawson to John Le Gay Brereton. Click to enlarge.

  Autograph letter from Henry Lawson to John Le Gay Brereton, dated 3rd February, 1910 and written from Darlinghurst Mental Hospital.

Lawson made numerous visits there between 1908 and 1910 while suffering from depression and alcoholism. It reads:

"Dear Jack,
Attached formal reply. Forgive me, old fellow, if you can really find anything to forgive.
Yours til deth, (sic)

Lawson Collection (Lawson 163)


Photograph of John Le Gay Brereton and Henry Lawson

  Photograph of John Le Gay Brereton (left) and Henry Lawson (right), c. 1895.

Lawson and Brereton first met in 1894 when they were introduced by Mary Cameron (later Dame Mary Gilmore) at the home of Mrs Anne Lane (wife of William Lane of the New Australia Movement) in Enmore Road, Marrickville. They remained friends until Lawson's death in 1922.

Statement for the Lawson Fund. Click to enlarge.

  Statement of receipts and expenditures of the Lawson Fund.

The fund was established in November 1909 to get Lawson away from Sydney and to stop him drinking. He spent time at Mallacoota Inlet in 1910 and at Yanco Irrigation Area, Leeton from 1916 to 1917. Leeton was a prohibition area at the time. Bertram Stevens and John Le Gay Brereton were among the main contributors.

Lawson Collection (Lawson 163)

Letter from Henry Lawson to C.J. Dennis. Click to enlarge.

  Autograph letter from Henry Lawson to the writer C.J. Dennis (author of The Sentimental Bloke), dated 18th March, 1920 and written from Coolac, NSW.

Henry Lawson was sent on holiday to Coolac, a small town between Cootamundra and Tumut, in order to remove him from Sydney yet again. He was to have stayed for six months but only lasted two weeks.

Lawson Collection (Lawson 172)

Photograph of Henry Lawson, 1921

  Photograph of Henry Lawson at the Coast Hospital, Sydney, 1921.

Lawson suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in 1921 and was hospitalised for some time afterwards. He died the following year.

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