Henry Kendall
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Henry Kendall

Kendall was named in honour of the poet, Henry Kendall (1839 – 1882).

Henry Kendall came to Camden Haven, as the village of Kendall was then called, in 1876 to work for his friend, Michael Fagan, whose timber mill stood on the site of today’s Kendall Services & Citizens Club. He loved the forest and riverine landscape and the five years he spent here with his wife, Charlotte, were happy ones. He wrote of the district:

Lying just halfway between the flourishing valley of the Manning, and the fine country watered by the most picturesque of all Australian rivers, the Hastings, it is at least the equal of either of these districts in fertility, while its superiority to both in the matter of timber is too well known to need manifestation… Sawyers and splitters form the busiest and most numerous class of people in the district; and within the last sixteen months no less than a hundred of these have become permanent settlers here.

Henry Kendall was born at Ulladulla in 1839, the son of Basil and Matilda Kendall and grandson of the missionary the Reverend Thomas Kendall who spent many years working in New Zealand. Henry’s childhood was not happy. His father, a some-time seaman and wanderer who spent some years in Chile, was always unsettled and died early of tuberculosis. His mother became a heavy drinker. At the age of seventeen, he went to sea for a short time but soon found that life did not appeal to him. He was encouraged into a literary career by the Grafton solicitor for whom he worked from time to time and began sending verses to newspapers and journals. They were published under the name Mr. H. Kendall, N.A.P. [Native Australian Poet].

He spent five years working as a public servant in Sydney and, by 1867, had become confident enough to deliver a series of lectures at the Sydney School of Arts. One of these, on “Love, Courtship and Marriage”, precipitated him into experience of all three. He walked home after the lecture with Miss Charlotte Rutter, daughter of a former Government medical officer, they fell in love, and, after a brief courtship, were married the following year. They moved to Melbourne where Henry attempted, unsuccessfully, to support his family with his earnings from journalism. Their first daughter Araluen was born there but their abject poverty contributed to her death from a dental fever aggravated by malnutrition. Araluen Street, Kendall, commemorates her.

Henry and Charlotte returned sadly to Sydney where, despite the birth of two sons, he suffered a mental breakdown. Charlotte left him and he spent some time in the Gladesville Asylum.

In 1873 Kendall was invited to stay with the Fagan brothers, timber merchants near Gosford, and in 1876 he moved to the Camden Haven (now Kendall). Charlotte returned to him with the children and they added a son and two daughters to the family. Altogether they had seven children although not all survived.

While here he composed topical and political skits for the press and, in 1879, wrote the words for the cantata to be sung at the Sydney International Exhibition. He also won 100 guineas for an occasional poem in celebration of the same event. His third volume of verse, Songs from the Mountains, published in 1880, was his first financial success, selling a record number of copies in the first two months.

Kendall enjoyed the admiration and patronage of Sir Henry Parkes, Premier of New South Wales. In 1881, Parkes appointed him as the first Inspector of Forests for NSW at the, then, enormous salary of £500 per annum. In 1881 the family moved to Cundletown but the arduous inspection tours on horseback in all weathers proved too much for him. His health failed and he died in Charlotte’s arms at the Fagans’ Redfern home on 1 August 1882. He was buried at Waverley Cemetery, overlooking the sea.

While in Camden Haven, Henry Kendall wrote to the Post-Master General lending support to the villagers’ request for a post office and, when it was later established, the name of the village was changed, posthumously, to Kendall in his honour on 1 October 1891.

Kendall is proud of its name and its association with Henry Kendall. He is a dearly loved presence in the district. The sesquicentenary of his birth was commemorated by the inaugural conference of the University of New England’s Centre for Language and Literature Studies, held in Kendall in 1990. The papers of that conference are collected under the title Henry Kendall, The Muse of Australia. He is honoured by a small park of contemplation at the corner of Comboyne and Graham Streets and celebrated annually by the Henry Kendall Oration given at a luncheon at the Kendall Services and Citizens Club.

Henry Kendall’s beautiful descriptive poem Bell Birds is perhaps his best known. Many Australian children learnt it at school.

By the channels of coolness the echoes are calling,
And down the dim gorges I hear the creek falling;
It lives in the mountain where moss and the sedges
Touch with their beauty the banks and the ledges.
Through breaks of the cedar and sycamore bowers
Struggles the light that is love to the flowers;
And, softer than slumber, and sweeter than singing,
The notes of the bell-birds are running and ringing.

The silver-voiced bell-birds, the darlings of day-time,
They sing in September their songs of the May-time;
When shadows wax strong, and thunder-bolts hurtle,
They hide with their fear in the leaves of the myrtle;
When rain and the sunbeams shine mingled together,
They start up like fairies that follow fair weather;
And straightway the hues of their feathers unfolden,
Are the green and the purple, the blue and the golden.

October, the maiden of bright yellow tresses,
Loiters for love in the cool wildernesses;
Loiters, knee-deep, in the grasses to listen.
Where dripping rocks gleam and the leafy pools glisten:
Then is the time when the water-moons splendid
Break with their gold, and are scattered or blended
Over the creeks, till the woodlands have warning
Of songs of the bell-bird and wings of the morning.

Welcome as waters unkissed by the summers
Are the voices of bell-birds to thirsty far-corners,
When fiery December sets foot in the forest,
And the need of the wayfarer presses the sorest,
Pent in the ridges for ever and ever,
The bell-birds direct him to spring and to river,
With ring and with ripple, like runnels whose torrents
Are toned by the pebbles and leaves in the currents.

Often I sit, looking back to a childhood
Mixt with the sights and the sounds of the wildwood,
Longing for power and the sweetness to fashion.
Lyrics with beats like the heart-beats of passion;
Songs interwoven of lights and of laughters
Borrowed from bell-birds in far forest rafters;
So I might keep in the city and alleys
The beauty and strength of the deep mountain valleys,
Charming to slumber the pain of my losses
With glimpses of creeks and a vision of mosses.

Henry Kendall

Henry Kendall, The Muse of Australia, ed. Russell McDougall, 1992. Centre for Australian Language & Literature Studies, University of New England, Armidale.

© Elaine van Kempen 2006


© Kendall Community Centre May 2006