On Being Ruined by a Fondness for Beer—Part II

In Part I of ‘On Being Ruined by a Fondness for Beer’, I sketched the life of Derwent Moultrie Coleridge, grandson of the opium-addled poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, until his arrival in Australia in 1851. Here is a quick re-cap: the young Coleridge was born in Cornwall in 1828; he completed his early education in London (excelling mostly at hairstyles and fashion); in 1847, he went up to Oxford where he was rusticated (effectively expelled) during his first year; in 1848, he tried his luck at Jesus College, Cambridge, but the outcome was much the same—Coleridge was confirmed as a spendthrift, a womaniser and a carouser.

Derwent and Mary Coleridge. Unknown photographer, 1856. NPG P322 © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Derwent and Mary Coleridge. Unknown photographer, 1856. NPG P322 © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Coleridge’s parents, wearied by his ‘career of reckless dissipation’ (Hainton, p. 234), decided to pack him off to the Antipodes with a small quantity of cash and a fond hope that he would redeem himself—or at least be far enough removed from them so as to cause no further embarrassment.

Exile in the Antipodes

A family connection provided the Coleridges with an introduction to the explorer and South Australian Colonial Secretary Charles Sturt. The plan was that Sturt would administer minimal funds until the young man found regular employment.  On the eve of his departure, Coleridge wrote to his mother: ‘As you read this I shall be on my way to a new world, to find new friends, to lead, I hope in all ways, a new life. What I shall do wherewith to gain my bread I know not … I may even now … become an honest upright man’ (qtd in Hainton, p. 236).

Departure of Emigration Ship. Illustrated London News 6 July 1850: 16.

Departure of Emigration Ship. Illustrated London News, 6 July 1850: 16.

Despite his best hopes, Coleridge did not make an auspicious start. Nearly two years passed before he made contact with his family. Again writing to his mother (qtd in Hainton, p. 237), he relayed the ‘almost insurmountable’ difficulties of his life in South Australia. He had struggled to find work and had often gone without food or shelter.

When Sturt had been unable to find suitable employment for the young man, Coleridge had briefly joined a road gang. His next job was with a publican’s family where he lasted only five weeks. (Finding the workload disagreeable, he gave his master a horsewhipping.) Positions in bars and mines followed before he decided to head for the goldfields, but after three weeks of arduous trudging, and with his shoes worn out, he settled—temporarily—on work at a sheep station. Then, continuing his migration eastwards, he took jobs with the police in Victoria.

Teaching—A Profession Better Suiting a Gentleman

Eventually, Coleridge found an occupation that suited him better: he became a Resident Assistant Master at the newly-established Geelong Grammar School. When he joined the staff in 1859, the school boasted a principal who had studied at Oxford, a vice-principal who hailed from St John’s College, Cambridge, and two further assistant masters with qualifications from King’s College, London, and Trinity College, Dublin.

Early Geelong Grammar School Building, completed 1857. Image sourced via Wayback Machine.

Early Geelong Grammar School Building, completed 1857. Image sourced via Wayback Machine.

At last, life seemed more promising. In a letter dated 10 February 1859 (qtd in Persse, p. 114), Coleridge swoons with delight over his new situation at Geelong Grammar. ‘The tone here is so high’, he says, ‘quite up to an English public school’. He happily recites his grandfather’s poetry to the students, he lounges around after supper reading Tennyson and Longfellow with his fellow masters, and he plays cricket on Saturdays (the latter recreation affording ‘no end of openings for incipient flirtations’). In March, he writes that he has been accepted into the local Literary and Scientific Association, and has gained his first promotion at the school. He is also visiting ‘some really good families—Clergy, Doctors and Trustees of the School’ (115). He even writes of returning to England (between terms) ‘to matriculate at the University’ (116).

Coleridge’s self-declared hope of establishing an honest and upright life with new friends seems to be coming to fruition. By April 1859, there is the prospect of a rise in salary; he is leading a ‘quiet life’; he has ‘entree to all good houses in Geelong’; and his friends are solid ‘family folk’. He is even introduced to the Governor of Victoria. ‘So you see’, he reassures his mother, ‘I’m in the land of grandeur and good things’.

But, Alas…

Coleridge’s good fortune did not last. At the end of 1859, Geelong Grammar School closed (albeit temporarily). Student numbers had not reached expected levels; lower than anticipated income had led to a debt of £7,000; and the school had lost its battle for educational supremacy with its rival, the Geelong National Grammar School. The teaching job that had promised salvation for Coleridge came to an abrupt end. And so, as Shakespeare’s Henry V would have it: ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more’.

Coleridge starts over in Melbourne. According to The Unknown Coleridge (a biography of Coleridge’s father), the 32-year-old Coleridge took up a post at Brighton Park School, but that job did not last long, and nor did his next position in a survey office.

In 1863, Coleridge makes the decision to return to England. Once there, he travels to the Lake District and the Isle of Man with his father, and follows this journey with a seven-week tour of Switzerland and Germany with a small party of family and family friends. His parents press him to remain in England, but, after a further six months, Coleridge decides to return to Australia.

He sails on the Royal Albert with 53 other passengers—44 travelling steerage and 10, including Coleridge, in saloon class. Paying for the more expensive saloon passage entitles Coleridge to the privacy of a cabin, superior catering, and the advantage of promenade space on the poop deck—a world away from those languishing below deck in steerage.

State Records Authority of New South Wales: Shipping Master's Office; Passengers Arriving 1855 - 1922.

State Records Authority of New South Wales: Shipping Master’s Office; Passengers Arriving 1855 – 1922.

A Second ‘New Start’

St Mark's Collegiate School. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Jul 1864: 6

St Mark’s Collegiate School. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 1864: 6.

Coleridge must have arranged a teaching position in New South Wales prior to his departure from England. He docks in Sydney on Wednesday, 10 August 1864, but an advertisement for St Mark’s Collegiate School in Macquarie Fields, near Liverpool, had appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald a month earlier. It named Coleridge as a staff member in the Classics Department. The address listed beside his name is that of his father’s teacher training college in Chelsea. Another staff member at Coleridge’s new school, W G Collings, is a graduate of that same London establishment.

Perhaps everything will turn out well after all. Coleridge is still a relatively young man, just shy of his 36th birthday, and he has a new job in a reputable school (the headmaster of which is George Fairfowl Macarthur, great nephew of the pastoralist John Macarthur). So, what happens next?

History repeats itself. In late 1868, George Macarthur accepts the position of headmaster at his alma mater, The King’s School, Sydney. Some of his masters and students accompany him to King’s, and St Mark’s Collegiate School closes down. It is not certain that Coleridge was still working at the school at the time of the closure, but what is certain is that by the following year the name ‘Derwent Moultrie Coleridge, teacher’ begins to appear in the entry logs of Darlinghurst Gaol.

Darlinghurst Gaol log book, 25 October 1869.

Darlinghurst Gaol log book, 25 October 1869.

Eleven years later, Coleridge is dead. But by then, he has left his mark—literally—in the pages of Sydney’s colonial history, his name permanently linked with such eminent persons as the explorer W C Wentworth and Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred. This last phase of Coleridge’s life will be explored in the third and final part of ‘On Being Ruined by a Fondness for Beer’.

Links and Sources

My thanks to the Geelong Grammar School Archivist for searching out information on Derwent Moultrie Coleridge, and thanks also to the Friends of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (@FriendsofSTC) for alerting me to the Haintons’ biography of Coleridge’s father.

‘Departures.’ Illustrated London News. 22 January 1949: 106.

Derwent Coleridge; Mary Coleridge (née Pridham). Unknown photographer. 1856. NPG P322 © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under Creation Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Hainton, Raymonde, and Godfrey Hainton. The Unknown Coleridge: The Life and Times of Derwent Coleridge 1800-1883. London: Janus, 1996. (This book is a biography of Derwent Moultrie Coleridge’s father and includes extracts of letters written to and by Coleridge. The letters are held in the Derwent Moultrie Coleridge Collection (MS-0855), Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas.)

‘Some Letters from Derwent M Coleridge’ in Persse, Michael, and Justin Corfield. Geelong Grammarians: A Biographical Register (1st ed). Corio, Vic: Geelong Grammar School in association with Geelong Grammar Foundation & the Old Geelong Grammarians, 1996.

Geelong Grammar School building at the time of Coleridge’s employment (on the site bounded by Moorabool, McKillop, Yarra and Maude Streets). Image sourced via cached GGS website, Wayback Machine.

Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters: Royal Albert.’ State Records Authority of New South Wales: Shipping Master’s Office; Passengers Arriving 1855‒1922.

Advertising.’ The Sydney Morning Herald. 6 July 1864: 6.

Macquarie Fields: One of Our Earliest Schools.’ The Sydney Morning Herald. 1 August 1931: 7.

(Newspaper items quoted in this blog post were sourced via Trove Australia’s digitised newspapers collection.)

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