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McCrae, George Gordon


Was born near Leith, Scotland, on 29 May 1833. His father, Andrew Murison McCrae, was a writer to the signet, Edinburgh, his mother, Georgiana Huntly McCrae. His father sailed for Australia in advance in 1838, and George Gordon McCrae arrived at Melbourne with his mother on 1 March 1841. They lived for a time at Abbotsford, about two miles out of Melbourne, and then at Arthur's Seat, where his father had taken up land. Here the boy was educated by a private tutor, John McClure, M.A., who remained with the family for nine years. When about 17 years of age, McCrae joined a surveying party as a probationer, and narrowly escaped being caught in the flames of "Black Thursday". After being in one or two offices to obtain business experience, he was appointed to a position in the government service on 1 January 1854. He remained in the service for 39 years becoming eventually deputy registrar-general, and retired with a pension in 1893, having reached the age limit.

McCrae began to contribute verse to the Australasian and other papers, and gradually became acquainted with all the literary men of his period including Gordon (q.v.), Kendall (q.v.), Horne (q.v.), and Clarke (q.v.). Some of these he met at Dwight's second-hand bookshop in Bourke-street, Melbourne, and it was Dwight who published in 1867, McCrae's two little volumes, The Story of Balladeädro and Mämba, both based on aboriginal legends. He had hoped to publish a third book with an aboriginal setting, Karakorok, but it remained in manuscript. He became very friendly with Gordon, who praised his verse, and Kendall, whom he was able to help during his troubled days in Melbourne. In 1873 appeared a long poem in blank verse, The Man in the Iron Mask, from which Longfellow selected some lines for an anthrology of sea poems. McCrae was always fond of the sea and by saving up his leave was enabled to visit Great Britain, and to make two voyages to the Seychelles in which islands he became very interested. He did much preliminary work for a history of the Seychelles which was never completed, and began to work on a novel, John Rous, a badly arranged but readable story of the reign of Queen Anne, which was not published until 1918. He also wrote a poem, Don César, in ottava rima, as long as Don Juan, several extracts from which appeared in the Bulletin. In 1915 a small selection of his poems was published, The Fleet and Convoy and Other Verses. This little volume is full of misprints and scarcely represents the poet at his best. An opportunity was lost to include some of McCrae's more distinguished work, such as "A Rosebud from the Garden of the Taj", now buried in old papers and journals. He died at Hawthorn, Melbourne, on 15 August 1927, in his ninety-fifth year, his mind still quite unimpaired. Of few men has it been so truly said that he was universally loved and regretted. He married in July 1871, Augusta Helen Brown, who predeceased him. He was survived by a son and three daughters. Another son was killed in the 1914-18 war.

McCrae was well over six feet in height and in his youth strikingly handsome. He had a gift for writing musical verse, often charming and at times rising into poetry. He was apparently quite incapable of self-criticism, and never realized how much his work might have gained by pruning and condensation. His son, Hugh Raymond McCrae, born in 1876, became the author of Satyrs and Sunlight, and other volumes which proclaimed him one of the finest poets produced in Australia. He also published some volumes in prose of which My Father and My Father's Friends gives a very pleasant picture of his father's associates. One of McCrae's daughters, Dorothy Frances McCrae, also published verse.


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