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Rae, John


Was born at Aberdeen, Scotland, on 9 January 1813, and was educated at the grammar school, Marischal College, and Aberdeen university. He graduated M.A. in 1832. He studied law and in 1839 went to Australia to take up the position of secretary and accountant to the North British Australasian Loan and Investment Company. He arrived in Sydney on 8 December 1839 and became interested in the mechanics' school of arts; he delivered in connexion with it a series of lectures on "Taste" and "The English Language" in 1841. In 1842 he was responsible for the letterpress for Sydney Illustrated, and was appointed town clerk of Sydney on 27 July 1843, the second to occupy that position, but the first had been in office for only a few months. In August 1844 a fancy dress ball was given by the mayor of Sydney, the first of its kind in Australia. Rae wrote a long humorous and satirical poem on this event which was printed anonymously in four issues of the Sydney Morning Herald in April 1845. His first acknowledged publication was The Book of the Prophet Isaiah rendered into English Blank Verse, which was published in 1853. At the end of this year the Sydney corporation was abolished, and from 1 January 1854 the city was managed by three commissioners, of whom Rae was one. In 1856 J. T. Smith (q.v.), then mayor of Melbourne, endeavoured to have Rae appointed town clerk of Melbourne, but E. G. Fitzgibbon (q.v.) was chosen for the position. In April 1857 the city council of Sydney was again constituted, and in July Rae was appointed secretary and accountant to the railway commissioners. In January 1861 he became under-secretary for works and commissioner for railways. He published in 1869, Gleanings from my Scrap-Book in two series, collections of his work in verse, which were followed by Gleanings from My ScrapBook: Third Series, dated 1874. This consisted of the "The Mayor's Fancy Ball" already referred to. The three series were printed by the author himself, and are remarkably good examples of amateur printing. In 1877 Rae gave up the office of commissioner for railways, and in 1888 he became a member of the civil service board. He retired in 1893 at the age of 80, but retained his active mind until his death at Sydney on 15 July 1900. He married in 1845 Elizabeth Thompson and was survived by four sons and two daughters.

Rae has been called the "Admirable Crichton" of his time. He was a good public servant in all his positions, he wrote excellent verse; the "Mayor's Fancy Ball" can still be read with pleasure, and in its own way was not excelled in the following 100 years. He was also a good amateur painter in water-colours; a series of 26 views of the streets of Sydney may be seen in the Dixson gallery at the Mitchell library, Sydney.


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