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Kingsley, Henry. The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn

Kingsley, Henry. The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn [Bound With] The Bushranger’s Sweetheart by Hume Nisbet.

London: London, Ward Lock and Co. [also] F.V. White and Co., 1900.

Sixpenny Novel Edition. 8vo. 256pp. + 127pp. + ads. Bound in a functional contemporary dark blue pebble grained cloth binding, titled in gold to spine, strong and handsome. Two sixpenny novel format novels, sharing an Australian theme, bound as one. Actually the kind of thing I rather like, sixpenny novels, not Geoffry Hamlyn. Penned by the younger brother of Charles “Water Babies” Kingsley after a stint down under; Geoffry Hamlyn is one of those briskly written, confident, muscular, crushing handshake kind of novels that hurls its crass and rather childish message at you with the speed of a well thrown rugby ball, and then laughs at you when you complain about getting hit in the face. The frontispiece, just as a hint, features a European chap on horseback slashing at a group of running tribesmen with a bloody sabre. Bruh. English nobility, down on their luck because people don’t value good breeding any more, run off to Australia to make their fortune. All the well bred chaps are in charge, all the poor chaps, brown chaps, or chaps of poor stock are convicts, or lower orders, or need to keep a weather eye open for swords and horses. Well bred chaps indulge in a bit of land speculation and a spot of noblesse oblige, return to Devon with their fortunes restored and beautiful wives and everything is back as it should be. It’s fascinating for a number of reasons, both in spite of and because of its rampant colonialist heavy footedness; written in 1859, just after India had broken the heart of the Empire and kind of chucked all our belief that we were God’s Own teachers, policemen and nursemaids back in our face, if it had been written 20 years earlier it would have taken place in Bengal. Fictionally speaking we needed to find new places to send our young chaps off to, hand in hand with God, to seek and make their fortunes as good, muscular, Christians. Australia, later South Africa and a number of other distant climes suited very well, and each came with their own mythology of the occupants, both indigenous and otherwise. Bluff stockmen, villainous bushrangers, broad shouldered chaps who would stand no nonsense and blushed within ten feet of any woman, sly foreigners (actually didn’t matter if they were Aboriginal, Chinese, Portuguese or whatever; all those who are not British have traits in common, one of those traits is “slyness”, there ought to be a concordance written), and an innate understanding that all that was great and good and pure and strong almost by definition had to emanate from an island off the coast of France where, apparently, God lived. You can blame generals and statesmen, kings and governments, or any number of destinies, manifest or otherwise; but it’s the Henry Kingsleys of the world who have the real power to set things in motion, it wasn’t a politician who said “Go West, Young Man...” nor a king who spoke of the “White Man’s Burden.” and it wasn’t government ministers who fomented populist hatred of the Chinese in the late 19th century, writers, man, you’ve got to watch them. The type of book that should be read at the moment, just to get an insight into where most of our current problems emanated.

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