Henry Lawson and the Wickham School of Arts
By Ross Edmonds
The Wickham School of Arts opened in 1882 and over the next 100 years the building has been ‘home’ to various diverse groups such as a kindergarten, a Police Citizens Boys Club, a yoga studio and a men’s hostel.
Its main claim to fame is that when a 16 year old Henry Lawson came to work for Hudson Brothers in Wickham he spent most of his free time there during the six or seven months he lived in Wickham.
In his Fragment of Autobiography he says:
“ I worked at Hudson Bro’s branch railway work shops at Wickham, Newcastle, where I haunted the School of Arts, still with an idea of learning before it was too late. I felt that I must take up some branch of study or other and it seemed getting too late fast.”
Unfortunately he doesn’t say what books and magazines he read there and how useful they were though that fact that he kept coming back indicates that the reading material was helpful in furthering his education and therefore was an influence on his future writing.
His first tentative efforts to becoming a writer began about two years after he returned to Sydney. His first poem to be published however didn’t appear until October 1887 in The Bulletin.
It should not be necessary to point out the important role that Lawson went on to play during the 1890s in the development of a distinctive national literature and hence the importance of preserving the old Wickham School of Arts.
It is, therefore, astounding and deeply disturbing that there is a rumor circulating in Newcastle that the Hunter Development Corporation plans to demolish the building. We have already lost much of our built heritage in the rush to “re-new Newcastle”. It is imperative that we don’t lose any more of it.
(The original manuscript of Lawson’s Fragment of Autobiography can be seen online courtesy of the State Library of NSW. Its call no. is MLMSS 314 / 182 (A 1888) and it is listed as Vol. 182 Angus & Robertson ms. The reference to Lawson’s time in Wickham is on page 25 in the second part of that volume)
[Postscript] By Gionni Di Gravio University Archivist, and Chair Hunter Living Histories.
Henry Lawson on Newcastle:
“It was on the first trip to Newcastle with Mr Dean that I got my first breath of the ocean, and , as the steamer rose to the swell outside the heads. I drew a breath as deep as the sea itself.” – Page 32