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.

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.)

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.)