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The reception of Robbery under Arms in Albury in 1888/89.

The 1889 publication of Robbery under Arms by Macmillan & Co. catapulted Thomas Alexander Browne, under his nom de plume 'Rolf Boldrewood,' from a minor author of novels serialised in newspapers, to an established author of colonial, and to a degree of British, repute. That transformation occurred while Browne lived in Albury, NSW, serving as Chairman of the Land Licensing Board (January 1885 to June 1887) and Police Magistrate (August 1887 to July 1895).

Though dealing with the general area, Boldrewood's most famous work, Robbery under Arms, was not written while he was living at Albury--even though this has been commonly asserted, even during Boldrewood's life-time. The novel had first appeared in serial form in 1882 in the Sydney Mail. Encouraged by his Albury colleague, member of the Land Licensing Board and Police Magistrate, Henry Keightley, Boldrewood decided to send a revised Robbery under Arms to a friend for evaluation and in the hope that this would lead to publication. The manuscript was sent off in two instalments on 3 and 4 February 1885. Browne was determined to see it published in the United Kingdom if he could afford the printing subsidy that this was likely to entail. In 1888 the work was published in book form as a triple-decker in London by Remington & Co.

It seems that the book itself, however, was not available in Albury until much later. While the Albury Banner comments on the publication of the Remington edition of the novel, and notes British book reviews by the Athenaeum and the World, it does not mention the book as available for purchase. Indeed, none of the Albury papers make any reference to the availability of the 1888 Remington edition, even though the Border Post and the Albury Banner both ran their own bookshops as part of the printing business. In addition to distribution problems, it is possible, that the book which had been published in a three-volume edition, was simply too expensive for the local market to warrant it being stocked.

The Macmillan edition of Robbery under Arms, a one-volume edition published in June 1889, became available in Albury's two book-stores in mid-July 1889 (Figure 1). While the Albury Banner printed a lengthy and glowing review, the Border Post remained silent apart from a brief notice regarding its publication. It is possible that Browne's relationship with George Adams, publisher of the Albury Banner, may have influenced this. While the weekly Albury papers commented on the publication, the press of the surrounding communities ignored the book, as indeed did the Albury dailies.

Only one advertisement ever appeared (figure 1), and that was published in the Border Post, possible in order to offset the lacking review in that paper. Sales of the book, however, must have been brisk, with a large number of mail enquiries coming in from the surrounding districts. The Albury Banner Office had sold out its first consignment at the time the review went to press, with more on order. The Border Post reported that all copies held by the Border Post Stationery Emporium were sold out by 13 August and that copies could no longer be procured not only in Albury, but in Australia as a whole, and that new copies had been ordered. Indeed, Robbery under Arms underwent two reprintings in 1889. The Albury Banner of 18 October 1889 stated in its columns that a fresh supply was received and for sale at 3 shillings at the Banner Office.

Browne of course continued to write while in Albury, mainly to generate sufficient income to support his large family and to repay old debts. Shortly after arrival he sent off the 52nd and last chapter of The Sealskin Cloak and soon after wrote Bendemeer (on 30 January) and in early March commenced writing instalments of Walks Abroad and in July we find him working on The Crooked Stick. Browne's appeal was boosted when Robbery under Arms was dramatised by Alfred Dampier and Garnet Walch and staged in Melbourne in March 1890.

Given that Boldrewood was a rising star of the literary establishment at the time, one wonders whether the local press provided him with an outlet. After all, the two main papers, the Border Post, a bi-weekly paper with a 20-page Saturday edition, and the Albury Banner, a weekly 48-page paper, both regularly ran serialised novels as well as short fiction. In fact, the Border Post ignored him, while the Albury Banner was somewhat supportive at the local level: it reproduced the article 'Border Towns' from the Sydney Telegraph in July 1885, carried a book review in 1886, and in 1892 printed in four instalments a paper Browne had read at the Australian Academy of Sciences. However it did not serialise any of his novels. For this there are two possible explanations. Either Browne's royalty demands were too high for the Banner to pay for the first (or second) Australian serial rights, or the Banner did not deem serialisation of a Boldrewood novel to be a good investment in column inches in view of its readership. Given the Albury Banner's taste for the serialisation of sensationalist novels, the latter appears the more likely explanation.

Browne, it would appear, was not well received in Albury. Indeed, while Browne went from strength to strength after the publication of Robbery under Arms, with six further novels appearing in book form during his Albury period, his local fame was not wide-spread and limited to the literati of the community. When the journalist Tighe Ryan visited Browne in Albury in 1894, he found that while he was famous among the intelligentsia of the town, the common populace had never heard of 'Boldrewood'--but of course had heard of the Police Magistrate Browne.


(1) For general biographical context see:Brissenden, Alan (1972) Rolf Boldrewood. Australian writers and their work. Melbourne: Oxford University Press; and De Serville, Paul (2000). Rolf Boldrewood. A Life. Melbourne, Miagunyah Press.--For his living conditions in Albury see: Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (2001) Mrs. "Rolf Boldrewood's" The Flower Garden in Australia. Margin no 53, April 2001, pp. 10-21. and Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (2005) The 'Boldrewoods' at home in Albury (1885-1895) Margin no 66, July 2005. in prep.

(2) cf. Vagabond (1896) 'Albury, the border city.' [Albury : s.n.] Supplement to the Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, 11th September, 1896.

(3) After the proposed serial had been rejected by The Australasian and the Town and Country Journal, 'Robbery under Arms' was first serialised in the Sydney Mail from 1 July 1882 to 11 August 1883.

(4) Diary entry 3 February 1885, sent to sister Lucy Daley. (T.A. Browne diary for 1885. National Library of Australia, microfilm G9945).

(5) Albury Banner 5 October 1888, p. 23 col. 1.

(6) Albury Banner 19 July 1889, p. 23 col 4.

(7) Border Post 19 July 1889, p. 11 col. 1.

(8) See Spennemann, The 'Boldrewoods' at home' op cit.

(9) cf. Corowa Free Press, The Upper Murray and Mitta Mitta Herald (Tallangatta).

(10) cf. Albury Evening Mail, Albury Daily News.

(11) Border Post 9 August 1889, p. 9 col. 4.

(12) Albury Banner 19 July 1889, p. 23 col. 4.

(13) BorderPost 13 August 1889, p. 11 col. 3

(14) Reprinted in August and December 1889. In addition, a colonial edition was published in the same year. For 1890 four reprintings are on record.

(15) Advertisement Albury Banner 18 October 1889, p. 6. col. 4. The advertisement was carded only in that particular week.

(16) Diary entry for 17 January 1885. (Browne Diary op. cit.).

(17) Diary entry for 3 March 1885. (Browne Diary op. cit.)

(18) Diary entry for 7 July 1885, (having completed chapter 3) (Browne Diary op. cit.).

(19) Dampier, Alfred; Walch, Garnet; Fotheringham, Richard and Boldrewood, Rolf(1985) Robbery under arms. Sydney: Currency Press in association with Australasian Drama Studies St. Lucia.

(20) Border Post 7 March 1890.--Dramatised by Alfred Dampier, it opened on 1 March 1890 in Melbourne (Table Talk Melbourne 7 March 1890).

(21) cf. Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (2001) The Border Post (Albury, NSW) Fiction Index 1856-1885. Albury, N.S.W. : Letao Publishing.--Speunematm, Dirk H.R. (in prep) The Border Post (Albury, NSW) Fiction Index 1886-1900.--Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (in prep) The Albury Banner Fiction Index (1860-1900).

(22) 'Border Towns.' Albury Banner 16 July 1885 p. 25 col. 1.

(23) 'Book Review: Old New Zealand.' Albury Banner and Wodonga Express 9 April 1886, p. 15; 16 April 1886, p. 15-16.

(24) 'Heralds of Australian Literature.' Paper read before the Australian Academy of Sciences. Albury Banner and Wodonga Express 13 May 1892, p. 25 col. 4-p. 26 col. 1; 20 May, p. 25 cols. 1-2; 27 May, p. 25 cols 1-2; 3 June, p. 27 cols 2-4.

(25) cf. Spermemann, Dirk H.R. (2003). Mary Elizabeth Braddon's novels in the Albury Banner. Margin 59, pp. 23-28.

(26) During the time Browne live in Albury, the Banner serialised five novels: Rider Haggard, 'Beatrice' (10 January 1889-23 May 1890); [Anon.] 'The Mystery of the Abbey' (22 May-21 October 1891); Edmund Mitchell, 'The Temple of Death' (14 July-1 December 1893); Frederick Boyle, 'An English Vendetta. Or: The mystery of the Old Manor House' (27 April-5 October 1894); and [Anon.] 'Who was the heiress?' (30 November 1894-12 June 1895).

(27) J. Tighe Ryan (1894) Australasian Charac-ter Sketch. An Australian Novelist. Rolf Boldrewood. Review of Reviews (Australasian Edi-tion) IV (5), May 1894, pp. 125-130.
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Author:Spennemann, Dirk H.R.
Publication:M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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