Monday, 8 March 2010

An Australian Literary Legacy - William E Fitzhenry

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As some of you may know, my Fitzhenry line had strong conections to both the printing-and in later years-journalism industries. Consequently, when I come across any Fitzhenry with similar links, I am immediately curious (well, if I'm truely honest, hopeful!). Thus it was with great interest that I came across a passing reference to W.E.Fitzhenry a writer who had been printed in the iconic Australian journal 'The Bulletin'. Unable to locate much online, I decided to take advantage of my recent short trip to the nation'a capitol, Canberra, to see what was available at the National Library. Despite being buoyed with the promise of a book of biographical information, the thin 'volume' I actually received was made up of just two small newspaper cuttings - so admit to some disappointment. However, I did have enough to discover where he fits into the "World of Fitzhenry".

William Ernest Fitzhenry was born in 1902 in Waterloo, a suburb of Sydney to Alfred Ernest Fitzhenry and Florence Marion Graham. He was the second of four boys the others being Edward, Walter, and Francis all four born between 1901 and 1904.
Although I can find many references to letters both to and from William to various authors and members of the literary and public spheres, I was unable to locate anything more illuminating than the obituary written by his friend and collegue J.E. Webb, published some 7 days after the sudden passing of William or Bill as he was known.

Source: The Bulletin 13 February 1957


"Bill Fitz Henry is dead!" Towards the end of last week this thought was in the minds of hundreds, thousands of writers and artists: and to one and all, from Dame Mary Gilmore in years his oldest friend, to the latest recruit to the black-and white brotherhood, it brought grateful memories of good companionship, steady encouragement and help where help was needed, and a sense of personal loss.
No Australian has ever had a larger body of literary acquaintances, and when success came the way of novelist or poet Fitz Henry rejoiced in his quiet fashion. But to those who were struggling he was always the guide, philosopher and friend.
"Bill" to publishers, librarians and the like, as well as to the host of Bulletin contributors, Fitz Henry was always "Willie" to old-stagers on the staff. They saw in him a certain boyishness which he retained to the end, though it was never of the boisterous kind.
My own acquaintance with him began in 1920, when Willie, already three years on the paper, was approaching manhood. Short of stature and sparing of words, he gazed critically at the newcomer, who had unwisely been introduced as the Wild man from the West, obviously telling himself that if the mild-looking specimen facing him was the best the West could do in the way of wild men it must be over-rated. But once he was convinced that the stranger wouldn't let the Bulletin down, Willie thawed, and we became the best of friends.
In the line of office duty, Fitz Henry was the secretary to three Bulletin editors, and no editor ever had a better one. He could be trusted to do anything that came within the compass of his job, from conciliating a caller who had to be turned away, perhaps because the paper was going to press, to looking up a needed reference, however difficult the task - a knack placed at the service not only of the chief and his associates, but of countless contributors, no matter how remote or obscure. And he had an astonishing memory, particularly for racy events in the lives of those who have figured in the Australian literature of his time. Recognition of this fact led to his being granted a Commonwealth fellowship so that the unequalled lore he had accumulated might be preserved in a book. He was not destined to see it published.
Like all healthy-minded men who have led full lives, Fitz Henry was not given to harbouring vain regrets or musing on the manner of his passing. He died at his desk, in the office which, from boy to man, he had served for forty years; and that is how he would have wished to die."

Bill Fitz Henry had married in 1924, Sylvia May Goodwin. He was the father to three children Shirley, Mark and Owen, though sadly Mark predeceased his father in 1945. Bill's death notice whilst mentioning his children, did not refer to Sylvia. He was buried at the Church of England Cemetery French's Forest, and so appears to have been Protestant.
In an article in The Canberra Times dated 7 April 1983 The National Library of Australia announced the acquisition of "a number of papers by a former Bulletin writer and author, the late W.E.(Bill) Fitz Henry. The papers include an uncompleted history of the Bulletin 1800-1900, and the four volumes of "The Gentle Bohemian" and other essays." Although the library had attempted to acquire these papers in 1957 they were unavailable until 1983.

But for the historically minded (and isn't that all of us??) just where does Bill fit into the FitzHenry world-wide jigsaw?? Well once again the trail runs directly back to our London based couple, Michael and Anastasia Fitzhenry. As we know from previous posts their son Patrick migrated to NSW, where he married Sarah Phillips. This couple had a large family, and it was their youngest son, Alfred Ernest, who was Bill's father.

So once again, a Fitz Henry descendant has achieved a level of success and influence that his antecedents would no doubt be proud of.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lesley I am the granddaughter of Bill FitzHenry, my name is Christine Nelmes and I am the only daughter of Shirley. Such a treat to find your blog I have just discovered it and am reading with great interest the FitzHenry family stories.