On Being Ruined by a Fondness for Beer—Part III

In Part II of ‘On Being Ruined by a Fondness for Beer’, I left Derwent Moultrie Coleridge languishing in Sydney’s Darlinghurst Gaol. Having had the misfortune to find employment at two schools that then closed down (Geelong Grammar School in Victoria and St Mark’s Collegiate School in Macquarie Fields west of Sydney), Coleridge had resorted to the companionship of an old friend—alcohol.

An Elegiac Mood

But all is not yet lost for the banished son of a distinguished British educator and author. Coleridge combines his drinking with the family trade—writing. The rhythms of 19th century English poetry would have been second nature to Coleridge. He had grown up under the influence of his grandfather (Samuel Taylor Coleridge), his uncle (Hartley Coleridge), and his family’s friends and acquaintances (including William Wordsworth and John Moultrie).

Coleridge’s first published poem (as discovered to date via Trove Australia) appeared in the Empire newspaper on 29 May 1866. The poem is a lament for the death in Sydney of the 20-year-old Louis d’Orléans, Prince of Condé (the first member of a European royal family to visit Australia). Louis had been part-way through a world tour when he arrived at Port Jackson in April 1866, but he was not in good health and news of the death of his grandmother, Maria Amalia, ‘was so severe as to cause a fatal relapse’. His funeral procession took place before a ‘multitude of spectators’ who voiced frequent ‘exclamations of sorrow’ (Empire 29 May 1866: 5)—a sentiment echoed in Coleridge’s ‘plaintiff requiem’.

Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, 1868. National Library of Australia MS51. http://nla.gov.au/nla.ms-ms51-12-1283-s1

Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, 1868. National Library of Australia MS51.

Oddly enough, Coleridge’s next poem could have had a similarly mournful theme. In March 1868, Sydney’s newspapers published horrified reports of the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria’s 21-year-old son, Prince Alfred. (Alfred was the second European royal to attempt an Antipodean tour—one wonders whether his nephew, the future King George V, felt some trepidation when he set foot in Sydney in 1881 as the third royal visitor). Alfred survived his gunshot wound, and Coleridge was able to write a hymn of thanksgiving rather than another requiem. The hymn (set to music by William Cordner) opened a promenade concert in Hyde Park to celebrate the prince’s continued recovery.

Coleridge’s thanksgiving poem was published first in the Sydney Morning Herald (21 March 1868: 6) and then in newspapers across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. It also found its way into a poetry collection titled Prince Alfred’s Wreath. The book’s proceeds were directed to a public subscription fund (established no doubt with pangs of loyalist relief) that resulted in the building of a new Sydney hospital named in the prince’s honour—the Royal Prince Alfred.

Coleridge’s melancholic march continued some years later with a poem for the funeral of the famous explorer and prominent landowner William Charles Wentworth. (Wentworth had died in England in 1872 but, in accordance with his wishes, his body was returned to Sydney and a state funeral conducted in May 1873.) Coleridge’s maudlin theme flowed on into 1874. In March, he published a short poem honouring the recently deceased comic actor Charles Young and, in May, he took up the cause, on the widow’s behalf, of Emmanuel Jacinto (aka Jesson), a Portuguese man who had drowned in a boating accident on Watsons Bay.

Punch Staff Papers (1872). Frontispiece.

Punch Staff Papers (1872). Frontispiece.

Between the 1868 assassination attempt and the 1874 death of Jacinto, Coleridge’s poems appeared sporadically in colonial newspapers and he found some employment on the staff of Sydney’s Punch magazine. Despite his modest success, he remained financially dependent on his parents. The preface to the 1872 Punch Staff Papers (which included four of Coleridge’s poems) makes the situation plain: the ‘literary man’ in Australia is ‘comparatively underpaid’, ‘despised for his poverty’, and his talent is ‘unappreciated’ (iv).

A ‘Most Particularly Short Man’

'Mr. Justice Stareleigh.' Players Cigarettes.

‘Mr. Justice Stareleigh.’ Players Cigarettes.

Perhaps seeking another string to his impecunious bow, Coleridge tried his hand on the stage. At Sydney’s School of Arts in 1876, he joined the company presenting Pickwick, a play based on Charles Dickens’ novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Coleridge played the role of Mr Justice Stareleigh. In Dickens’ novel, Stareleigh is ‘a most particularly short man, and so fat, that he seemed all face and waistcoat’. He had ‘two queer little eyes’ and ‘one broad pink face’.

Did Coleridge’s own physique match that of the fictional character? Certainly he was a short man, standing at a height of only 5’ 3” (160 cm).  This fact is recorded plainly in one of Darlinghurst Gaol’s entry books.

A Further Fall from Grace

While the name ‘Derwent Moultrie Coleridge’ crops up in 19th century newspapers as a ship’s passenger or when letters from home await his collection, and when he finds employment or attends social engagements, it unfortunately also appears in court reports and prison logs.

Water Police Court. 11 June 1868.

Water Police Court. 11 June 1868.

The first court appearance is in 1868 when Coleridge is brought before the water police magistrate on a charge of drunkenness and is faced with the choice of a five-shilling fine or two-days’  imprisonment (The Sydney Morning Herald 11 June 1868: 2). The following year, he is charged with riotous behaviour; this crime escalates his choice of punishment to 20 shillings or seven days in prison. Sadly, the publication of Coleridge’s name in the literary pages seems to coincide with its appearance in the lists for the magistrate’s court.

Family Notices

Eventually, Coleridge’s name finds its way into one further section of the newspapers— the ‘Family Notices’ (i.e. Births, Deaths and Marriages)—but not before one final twist in the tale. In 1875, now aged in his late forties, Coleridge is again brought before the water police court. He is fined for drunkenness and ‘bound over to keep the peace for six months’ (The Sydney Morning Herald 1 Nov 1875: 5)—a sentence inferring some resort to violence on Coleridge’s part. The charge itself is not unusual, but the person laying it is cause for interest. The complainant is a woman named ‘Emma Taylor’. Now, fast forward four years. Coleridge pops up once more in the Herald‘s pages, this time under the ‘Marriages’ heading. And who does he wed? … a widow by the name of Emma Taylor.

Extract from Derwent Moultrie Coleridge's death certificate.

Extract. DMC’s death certificate.

Was she the same woman who laid the complaint against him? Very probably. (As ever, further research is required to establish this.) In any case, the marriage was short-lived. Less than two years later, Coleridge was dead from a ‘diseased liver’ (unsurprising for someone addicted to alcohol) and the medically vague ‘effusion on the brain’.

One Last Journey

On the 7th of December 1880, at 8.15 in the morning, Coleridge’s funeral procession left his residence in Cleveland St, Redfern. The cortege, destined for Mortuary Station en route to Rookwood Cemetery, would have moved along a street inhabited by blacksmiths and stonemasons, coachbuilders and compositors, ironmoulders and collarmakers. (Coleridge’s old Redfern address still reflects its era’s economic times—the University of Sydney’s School of Information Technology now stands on the site of 33 Cleveland Street.)

Derwent Moultrie Coleridge, grandson of the famed poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, had been sent into exile as punishment for alcoholism, financial recklessness and moral delinquency. His 30 years in the colonies of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales ended without producing the hoped for rectitude. His death did not even yield an ode of lament from his literary acquaintances. Perhaps his father’s assessment, in an 1874 letter to John Moultrie, can stand in place of a eulogy: Coleridge was ‘an odd mixture, with some talents, no judgement, much kindliness, little principle … [and] no temperance’.

Redfern Mortuary Station. Photo by Charles Bayliss, taken between 1873 and 1880. National Library of Australia.

Redfern Mortuary Station. Photo by Charles Bayliss, taken between 1873 and 1880. National Library of Australia.

Links and Sources

Items sourced via Trove Australia’s digitised newspapers resource:

Other online sources:

People named in this post with entries in the Australian Dictionary Biography:

Print sources:

  • Yarrington, W. H. H.  Prince Alfred’s Wreath: A Collection of Australian Poems.  Sydney: A. W. Douglas, 1868.
  • Coleridge, Derwent. ‘May 6th, 1873.’ (This is Coleridge’s poem for the funeral of William Charles Wentworth. Possibly the only extant copy of the poem is held at the State Library of NSW. The library catalogue mistakenly attributes the work to Coleridge’s father, also named ‘Derwent’.)
  • Punch Staff Papers.  Sydney: Punch Office, 1872.
  • Coleridge, Derwent (Snr). ‘Letter to John Moultrie’, in Hainton, Raymonde and Godfrey Hainton. The Unknown Coleridge: The Life and Times of Derwent Coleridge 1800-1883. London: Janus, 1996, p. 240. (A biography of Derwent Moultrie Coleridge’s father.)

On Being Ruined by a Fondness for Beer—Part I

I am sure you know the name Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834). You might even be familiar with the English poet’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, or perhaps these lines ring a bell from your school days: ‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree’. But you may be less familiar with the name of Coleridge’s grandson, Derwent Moultrie Coleridge—a clever but reckless man with a fondness for beer. I’d like to introduce you.

Death notice_Freeman's Journal_11 Dec 1880, p. 11

Freeman’s Journal. 11 Dec 1880, p. 11.

Let’s begin at the end. Derwent Moultrie Coleridge died at his home in the Sydney suburb of Redfern on 5 December 1880. His death notice, published widely in New South Wales newspapers, describes him as the ‘first son of the Rev. Derwent Coleridge … grandson of the illustrious Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and first cousin to the Lord Chief Justice Coleridge’. An impressive lineage, but one, it seems, that that the younger Derwent Coleridge found it hard to sustain. In December 1882, the Anglo-Australian correspondent for the South Australian Register (who seems to have been somewhat tardy in his duties) wrote that he had just learned of Coleridge’s death. The London-based reporter began his reflection on Coleridge’s life with the words: ‘Derwent Coleridge was too fond of beer, and it was his ruin.’

Was alcohol really his undoing? Did he rebel against the elevated standards set by his family? And how did he come to end his days in the colony of New South Wales?

St Michael's Church, Helston

St Michael’s Church, Helston

Living in a Land of Poets

Let’s go back to the year 1828. Coleridge was born on 17 October in that year in Helston—a village roughly equidistant from Penzance and Falmouth, on Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula—where his recently ordained father had accepted the curacy of the local parish. The Coleridge family’s social connections included the historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay, the poet Chauncey Hare Townsend (later Charles Dickens’ literary executor), and the cleric and hymn writer John Moultrie. Another family friend was Coleridge’s godmother Emily Trevenen, herself an acquaintance of William Wordsworth and a friend of Charles and Mary Lamb. When Coleridge was still a boy, Trevenen published a small book of poems for him—Little Derwent’s Breakfast.

Frontispiece. Little Derwent's Breakfast.

Frontispiece. Little Derwent’s Breakfast.

The poems take the English lad through the contents of his morning meal: the locally produced flour, yeast, salt, milk, honeycomb and eggs, and other ingredients sourced from across the Empire: tea from China, coffee from ‘Arabia’, sugar from the ‘negro’-tended plantations of the West Indies. When Trevenen reaches the end of her lesson in food production, commerce and trade, she leaves Coleridge with some final thoughts in the poem ‘Farewell’. She expresses the hope that he will develop a thirst for knowledge and asks him to always remember the ‘honoured name’ he bears:

Be it your aim to keep in view,
What most that grandsire loved,
No thought to think—no deed to do‒
He would have disapproved.

The weight of family expectation! Coleridge, as his godmother desired, did continue to learn. (Well, he continued to be taught, which is not quite the same thing.) But whether he avoided thoughts and deeds of which his famed grandfather would have disapproved is rather less certain.

Charterhouse School (pre-1872)

Charterhouse School (pre-1872)

‘The Fastest of the Fast’

In 1841, Coleridge’s father moved from Helston to London to become the founding principal of St Mark’s, Chelsea, the second oldest residential teacher training college in England. Young Coleridge was sent to King’s College, Wimbledon, and then to Charterhouse in Clerkenwell. (William Makepeace Thackeray was a student at Charterhouse from 1822 to 1828 and portrayed the school, under the name ‘Grey Friars’, in his 1855 novel The Newcomes.)

His schooldays over, Coleridge went up to Exeter College, Oxford in 1847. Perhaps this is where his fondness for beer begins to influence his behaviour. Remember the South Australian Register’s Anglo-Australian correspondent who I mentioned earlier? He wrote that, at Oxford, Coleridge ‘was the fastest of the fast, and soon made the University too warm for him. Clever he was, but foolish … This was his character—utterly thoughtless and reckless.’ (Shades of Jane Austen’s George Wickham.) His cleverness does not seem to have tempered his recklessness. In Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses, a biographical register for all students who came up to Oxford until 1886, Coleridge’s entry is modest. There is no mention of his gaining a degree and no departure date is recorded. But depart he did.

According to the erstwhile Register reporter, when Coleridge ‘came down from Oxford for the vacation he turned his father’s Training College upside down with his mad pranks, and made all the grave youths training for school masters as wild as himself’. One suspects his behaviour did not commend him either to Oxford or to his family in London.

Where to next, then, for the dissolute son of an esteemed educator and grandson of a celebrated poet? Perhaps some family strings were pulled. In an unusual move for the time, Coleridge was admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge, on 3 July 1850. His admission was based on the recommendation of the Reverend Richard William Jelf, principal of the young man’s former school, King’s College. Coleridge’s paternal grandfather had studied at Jesus College and his father was a student at another Cambridge college, St John’s. In a further anomaly for this era, Coleridge’s entry in Alumni Cantabrigiensis records no county of residence, nor is a place or date of birth provided. It is as if the young man slunk incognito into ‘the other place’.

He may also have slunk out again rather quickly. Although Alumni Cantabrigiensis confers on Coleridge the degree status ‘Bachelor of Arts’ in 1853, it is quite possible he did not successfully complete his studies and was not even still in England by that time. His name does not appear in the 1851 UK Census, but it is included in the list of ‘Passengers Inwards’ who arrived  at Port Adelaide on board the Thomas Chadwick on 8 March 1851. The ship had left London in November 1850.

Adelaide Times. 10 March 1851, p. 2.

Adelaide Times. 10 March 1851, p. 2.

Exile in the Antipodes

With his family probably in equal parts embarrassed and demoralised by his ongoing recklessness, Coleridge had been ‘packed off to Adelaide with a comfortable sum of money to try and be steady in the antipodes’. But it seems ‘the glorious climate of the sunny south was too intoxicating’ and Coleridge’s money was soon gone. The Register’s correspondent says that within a year the profligate youth had to ‘fall back upon his own resources and his university career’.

Initially, ‘his own resources’ seem to have offered limited opportunities. I’ll let the Register‘s correspondent continue the tale: ‘Within a year after Coleridge’s sailing, a young clergyman went also to Adelaide, and he was asked by relations to give an eye to this mad, wild fellow. Shortly after landing he took the opportunity in the Bishop’s Palace to ask Dr. Short if he happened to know anything of Coleridge. “Come to this window,” said the Bishop. “Do you see that heap of stones?” he continued; “well, if you had been here a week ago you would have seen Derwent Coleridge breaking them.”

Where to next for this young man cast off by his English family? Did he remember his godmother’s plea to respect his ‘honoured name’ and do nothing of which Samuel Taylor Coleridge would have disapproved? (Although, it must be said, ST’s well-known opium addiction gave his grandson some latitude.) Did he, at least for a time, re-shape his life according to respectable norms? Or did the intoxicating climate of the ‘sunny south’ seduce him into further drunkenness and dishevelment? Here’s a hint:

Geelong Grammar School advertisement_Argus_4 July 1859, p.8

The Argus. 4 July 1859, p. 8.

Not what you were expecting?

Stay tuned for Part II of Derwent Moultrie Coleridge’s peripatetic antipodean tale.

Links and Sources