Archive for the ‘John Clavering Wood’ Category

This was our first look at the manuscript found with a kinsman in Melbourne in November 2006.

This was our first look at the manuscript which was in the safe keeping of Richard Wood in Melbourne in November 2006.

J.K. ROWLING apparently suffered 12 rejection slips before her first Harry Potter book was accepted by a publisher. John Clavering Wood’s manuscript received at least one, according to the following email received earlier in 2013:

Gidday, I have just came across the review on the net of Tom Hurstbourne. In the early 50s when my father was packing up to move from Yarranung to Sydney, he came across an old handwritten manuscript called A Squatters Life or Tom Hurstbourne (can’t remember the spelling) by John Clavering Wood.

I asked about him as I had not much info on the family’s background. He just said Clavering Wood was the black sheep of the family and that I wouldn’t be interested. I remember something about him being found floating in the Thames upside down. Anyway sometime about 1951-53, I took the script all in its original binding into Angus and Robertson [book publishers]. They said to leave it and it would go to the readers for review.

Some good time later I received a letter saying that it was no good; it had no literary merit and would I pick it up. About a month later I went to claim it and they couldn’t find it. That was the last I thought of it until I saw the website a few minutes ago. Where would I get a copy? Regards, Phillip Wood, (born 1934).

The writer is the grandson of the novelist’s younger brother Peter Horsman Wood of Yarranung at Bega [and sister of Edith mentioned below]. His comments that JC Wood was the ‘black sheep’ of the family and was found in the Thames are intriguing — and more research is clearly needed to explain these two assertions. Meanwhile, Richard Wood (a descendant of JC Wood’s youngest brother, William Rigby Wood) very kindly supplied the follow explanation about how the manuscript came into his hands:

Dad (also named JCW) and Mum visited Australia sometime in the 1970s and my ex-wife and I took them up to Gosford, NSW to see Edith Wood, a granddaughter of the novelist’s other brother, Peter Horsman Wood of Bega. While there Dad and Edith began discussing the Wood family, in particular the two brothers who had come to Australia. At the time, it never dawned on me to take notes, so as a result a lot of information was not recorded.

It was on this visit that Edith showed Dad the manuscript which was assumed to be a record of the trip out to Australia from England. Edith gave the manuscript to Dad to keep and to pass on when he saw fit. On returning to our home, Dad said that I could keep the book – and the rest is history.

I believe Edith had two brothers, one of whom was named Phillip (I think). The other I can’t recall. I remember being told that one of the brothers was a pilot.

If these recollections are correct then it was possible Edith went to Sydney/Gosford with her father [Edward “Ned” Lancelot Horsman Wood] when the family left Bega. This may explain how she came to be given the manuscript. 


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DURING Gerard’s visit to Shrewsbury in September 2012, dropping into Shropshire Archives yielded a fascinating encounter with the turn of phrase of John Clavering Wood’s good friend, John Freeman Milward Dovaston (1782-1854), via a collection of letters written to Rev Thomas Archer (1780-1843) spanning 1805-35. The letters coincide with the years when Archer was a single man in Oxford, through his marriage and the arrival of children, to his incumbency at Whitchurch, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

A sketch of "Crazy Jack" Dovaston by Scottish artist James William Giles, Aug 1842. From ‘Two old Shropshire naturalists’, Forrest (1910) in Transactions of the Caradoc and Severn Valley Field Club, page 128

A sketch of “Crazy Jack” Dovaston by Scottish artist James William Giles, Aug 1842. From ‘Two old Shropshire naturalists’, Forrest (1910) in Transactions of the Caradoc and Severn Valley Field Club, page 128

The series begins with Dovaston’s letter of 20 June 1805 to Rev Archer, then at St Aldates’ Oxford. Dovaston, aged 23 years, is holidaying from the Temple at Stamford in Lincolnshire with Octavius Gilchrist (1779–1823), man of letters and an antiquary.

Dovaston protests his juvenile knowledge of the law: “For as yet I am but the lag in the lower form, and little skilled in the soft phrase of courts,” and refers to Shropshire as “his father’s house”.

Dovaston requests Archer to visit him: “If you come on horseback (which I should prefer), I wlll meet you at any intermediate town on the other side of Birmingham…” He signs it, “a rolling stone gathers no moss”.
*   *   *
In Letter 1422/4, addressed to Archer at Shutford, near Banbury, Oxon, Dovaston expresses the “pleasures of anticipation from an obscure village in Shropshire”, and mentions his own birthday (30 Dec) as “unpolluted with the tinsel of ephemeral frivolities…”

*   *   *

On 31 March 1808, Dovaston’s father (also John) died at West Felton. Later that year on 15 October, writing from West Felton, Dovaston addresses a letter to Rev Archer of Whitchurch Vicarage, Bucks, appealing for a visit, and embarrassed about being so long in writing:

‘Tis seldom that I am in a letter writing humour, and when in that humour, still more seldom in a letter writing condition, being perhaps far from pens, ink and paper, three sine qua nons (more Arabic) to the writing of letters. Should you ever chance (or if you do not chance, you must) to come into Shropshire because do not forget a little hut(?) at West Felton near Shrewsbury, where one Jack Dovaston is governor — Here are beds, etc, etc. etc, for you and yours, tho’ I go and lie in the pig sty, or with any other learned brethren elsewhere.

Cannot you come this winter? or next Summer? or when? We have organs for you to play on, churches for you to preach in (with ample room for reformation), plants for you to gaze at, ditches to search insects in, apparatus for philosophy, shops for your mechanical powers, stars for you to admire (equal to any in Oxford) and above all, good roast beef, good ale and excellent pipes and tobacco.

Come along, come along, what the devil would you have more? What, why a hearty welcome to make use of them, in the company of your friend and real well wisher, John FM Dovaston (1422/5)

*   *   *

Plaque to Dovaston

JFM Dovaston inherited the Nursery from his father. The estate and dwelling near Oswestry no longer remain. (Photo: G Benjamin)

On 10 June 1809 from West Felton, D writes: “…yet my wish is selfish – for what prompts my wish for you to come, is the pleasure you will give your friend.”

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In 1813, Archer is now incumbent at Whitchurch, Aylesbury and on 1 June 1813 (1422/8), writing from West Felton, Dovaston makes the only mention of Wood in this series of letters – namely Gerard’s ancestor John Clavering Wood (1778-1835) – when he says:

Dear Archer, Tho’ Wood is my neighbour (and we country folks call each of them neighbours tho’ fifteen miles apart), I have not seen him since Shakespeare’s birthday, which I must perhaps tell you, was the 23rd April. I have but little doubt but he received your very kindly sent parcel of the plants from Oxford; and I enclosed to him your letter to me about them, but he has not answered me. When I see him, depend on it, I will JAW him about it.

*   *   *

In a particularly reflective mood, Dovaston’s Letter of  27 November 1828 (1422/9) provides a summary of his life… There’s more rumination in the letter of 24 March 1829 when he writes, “I had and have multitudinous pegs whereon to hang the rich drapery of memory…” and later (7 July 1830), “My life has had a great deal more shine than shower…”

*   *   *
3 August 1832:

We kept the 23rd April as usual [Shakespeare’s birthday], for (I think) the 25th time, and among others drank your health with cordial conviviality – and last Friday this day week, our merry Festival on the heights of the Breidden Mountain was celebrated (during a solar eclipse) on one of the finest days of this fine summer. I have never once missed that Festival for upwards of forty years. The lasses were very gay, and the gallants very merry and we kept it up at that altitude till nearly midnight. I was the senior member present, and they brought me roaring down the mountain like old Silenus amid his nymphs and bacchanals. … That mountain is the most noted in all Britain for the greatest number of the rarest plants. Some are exclusively peculiar to that habitat.

*   *   *

Dovaston makes mention of the disease, the Collaring Morpheus, and the series ends with the letter of 7 January 1835 (1400/21) with:

Within these last three years, Death has made sad havock among mine: I have lost seven – not common acquaintances – but of the dearest, brightest, and best of men God ever made for friendship, men of my own age, that I had known and loved from infancy….

On 24 June, JC Wood of Marche Hall also passed away, thus adding to Dovaston’s ‘sad havock’. On 22 May 1843, the following entry appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine (p. 214):

Clergy Deceased: At Whitchurch, Bucks, aged 63, the Rev. Thomas Archer, Vicar of that Parish. He was of Peterhouse, Cambridge, M.A. 1807, and was presented to Whitchurch in 1812 by Lord Chancellor Eldon.

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Shrewsbury School

Now part of the Shrewsbury School, the large building overlooking the Severn River was once the House of Industry, with which Isaac Wood was closely connected. (Courtesy, Carmel Hazan)

Shrewsbury School

Gerard Benjamin and Mike Morrogh, in front of the Shrewsbury School’s building overlooking the River Severn.

HANGING on the wall of the study at Marche Manor was this modern sketch (pictured above) of the main building of the Shrewsbury School situated high on the riverbank overlooking the school’s rowing sheds and the River Severn.

This sketch was an unobtrusive reminder that the Woods – in particular Isaac Wood (1705-1801) – were connected to that particular building. Isaac Wood (brother of Capt Wood and uncle of the diarist JC Wood) was a prominent Shrewsbury citizen: watchmaker, editor of the “Salopian Journal”, and enthusiastic promoter of the Shrewsbury House of Industry.
The building was originally Dr Coram’s foundlings’ hospital, and later housed Dutch prisoners of war, before its incarnation as the Shrewsbury House of Industry in the 1790s, a literate protagonist of which was Isaac Wood.
Salop Fire Office

Salop Fire Office in Shrewsbury’s High Street. Isaac Wood was once secretary.

Salop Fire Office

A detail from the facade of the Salop Fire Office, established in 1780.

Unitarian Church

Also in the High Street is Shrewsbury’s Unitarian Church. As an aspiring preacher, Coleridge corresponded with church secretary, Isaac Wood.

Wood was also secretary to the Salop Fire Office, subscriber to the rebuilding of the town’s English bridge in 1765, and secretary to the Unitarian Church in Shrewsbury’s High Street. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s letter to him of 1798, declining a preaching position at the church, has been preserved.

On 15 September 2012, I was kindly given a tour of Shrewsbury School by Dr Mike Morrogh, archivist and school historian.
The tour included a look at the old House of Industry and the magnificent view of the town and river that it commanded.
A copy of A Shropshire Squire is now part of the school library collection.
It’s worth noting that though the school only moved to its current site in 1882, the diarist’s nephew, novelist John Clavering Wood (1837-1910) was clearly familiar with the school’s reputation. Why else would he make it the alma mater of two key characters in his 1865 novel Tom Hurstbourne or a Squatter’s Life?
To learn more about Isaac Wood, see A Shropshire Squire.

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OF THE MORE than 70 biographical sketches of persons mentioned in A Shropshire Squire, two names in particular – Robert Townson and James Ryan – stood out for one reader.

Those familiar with A Shropshire Squire may remember that Robert Townson studied the mineralogy of Shropshire, and that his scientific and scholarly interests led to his acquaintance with Sir Joseph Banks. When Townson died in NSW in 1827 – where he raised stock on his property Varro Ville near Campbelltown – part of his small fortune was inherited by Captain John Witts, the brother-in-law of diarist John Clavering Wood.

James Ryan was the mine manager at Middletown Hill (close to Marche Hall) where feldspar for the potteries was being extracted. JC Wood records many dealings with him.

Hugh Torrens, Emeritus Professor of History of Science and Technology at the University of Keele, UK, wrote: “I have only just come across your fascinating book A Shropshire Squire, and found so much in it to interest me, as I have long worked on both James Ryan and Robert Townson.”

“All my many files on the latter, on whom I have several times lectured in Australia, I loaned to the Shrewsbury Museum, and these might be of use, if you have any remaining queries, or unresolved matters.”

Hugh also supplied another jigsaw piece: the Shrewsbury Quaker, George Young (1750-1820), was a well known land surveyor. J.C. Wood’s diary and John Dovaston’s letters indicate that they were both acquainted with the Young family. Emeritus Professor Torrens also kindly alerted the editor to an article which offers further useful insights into Dovaston’s character: “JFM Dovaston, an overlooked pioneer of field ornithology”

Hugh Torrens will be lecturing on Robert Townson in Oxford in May 2012.

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Fern Vale Front CoverJOHN CLAVERING WOOD’S novel Tom Hurstbourne or A Squatter’s Life came into sharp focus on 19 November 2011, when an abridged version of its fellow literary work Fern Vale or The Queensland Squatter was published by Boolarong Press.

Fern Vale (1862) and Tom Hurstbourne (1865) are Queensland’s first and second novels respectively.

Historian Rod Fisher’s assessment of Tom Hurstbourne in the leadup to its publication in 2010 inspired him to look more closely at the novel’s predecessor, namely Colin Munro’s three-volume opus which was published in London in 1862. The result is Rod’s very fine abridged and notated one-volume version of Fern Vale.


While droving in Tambo in the 1870s (pictured ca 1888), novelist J. C. Wood was supplying a regular column to The Queenslander, using the pen-name Major Veritas.

Addressing the launch was Professor Pat Buckridge from Griffith University who wrote the literary forewords for both books. In comparing the novels, he wrote:

IT WOULD BE hard to imagine two more dissimilar treatments of similar subject matter, namely pastoral pioneering in southern Queensland prior to Separation in 1859. 

Where Hurstbourne surrounds its pioneering theme with large chunks of melodrama, romance and comedy, generating a fast-paced, suspenseful narrative, with many surprising twists and turns, Fern Vale proceeds at a stately and deliberate pace, keeping the focus firmly on the central action, that of the Ferguson’s family migration from New England to the Darling Downs.

Copies of both books may be ordered online from Boolarong Press

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Eugowra Holdup MemorialWHEN Frank Gardiner and gang held up the gold escort at Eugowra NSW in June 1862, and pulled off Australia’s largest gold robbery, John Clavering Wood was less than 170 miles away in Queanbeyan, writing for the local “Golden Age” newspaper.

Perhaps the brazen heist planted the seeds of an idea in JC Wood’s mind about featuring a bushranger in a possible future novel… After the robbery, Gardiner disappeared, only to be spotted in March 1864 as a respectable inn-keeper at Apis Creek on the road to Peak Downs outside Rockhampton.

"Fire in the Blood" a novel about Frank Gardiner by Robert Macklin

Is it any coincidence that JC Wood, who began his magnum opus in September 1864, set his novel for the most part at Peak Downs? Furthermore, Gardiner’s famous horse Darkie was reflected in JC Wood’s naming his character ‘Darkie Mason’. The congruences go on… If you have such a larger-than-life character in the newspapers, why not stitch him into the adventure and intrigue surrounding your protagonist Tom Hurstbourne!

For a close up first-person insight into Frank Gardiner’s character, keen readers with an eye to the historical need look no further than Robert Macklin’s excellent book Fire in the Blood about “Australia’s most notorious bushranger” who was a “gentleman to the core”.

This insightful study of Gardiner and the early bushranger phase of Australian history may one day serve to diminish Ned Kelly’s dominance  in the popular imagination, especially since Kelly came a generation later than Frank Gardiner. (Thanks to Peter Brockett for the Escort rock photograph)

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Booksigning at New FarmLAST Saturday morning’s book-signing at New Farm Editions in Merthyr Village brought lots of interesting conversations, particularly with people who love books and good stories, and are intrigued with the publication process.

On hand to assist Gerard were his mother Vivienne Benjamin and his middle sister Leonie McEniery. All the way from Ballarat (though not just for this event) was Sandra. She and her mother Aline were interested in Ethel Monk, grand-daughter of the novelist JCW. An enlarged family tree came in handy in order to plot the connections.

Tom Hurstbourne at New FarmJohn Clavering Wood's descendants celebrate his bookFamily meet-up at booksigning
Local New Farm resident Tamsin O’Connor, having grown up on the edge of Shropshire, obliged listeners with an ‘accent sampling’ of how both John Clavering Woods may have sounded.

Almost all who lingered to chat at this busy spot in Merthyr Village, knew about or had read Reflections on New Farm, but had not necessarily connected it with the editor of Tom Hurstbourne and A Shropshire Squire.

Many thanks to Chris Derrick for taking superb photos on the day.High traffic area for New Farm booksigning

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