Welcome to some very interesting details about a man well known in this part of the world. Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke FRSA was an English-born Australian novelist and poet, best known for his novel For the Term of His Natural Life.
The boy was thus forced to give up the life of dilettante literary frittering which at 16 had been his expectation. He was not prepared for any career. He spoke loftily of prospects at the Foreign Office and of living for a year or two in France to perfect his French; but this was vague. Earlier an attempt was made to get him into the army but he was turned down for physical disabilities. All that is certain is that he was spoilt, conceited and aimless; clearly his view of life was much coloured by the novels which he avidly read. Probably under persuasion from relations who could see no solution for him in England, he chose to go to Australia.
After his father's collapse, his cousin, (Sir) Andrew Clarke, then in London, arranged to send the youth to Melbourne where an uncle, James Langton Clarke, a County Court judge at Ararat, could keep an eye on him. He arrived on 6 June 1863 with something like £800 scraped together from his father's mysteriously dissipated resources.
On Andrew Clarke's recommendation employment was found for him in a bank, but he proved totally unfitted for it. He later wrote some amusing impressions of the experience. In his first year in Melbourne he gathered many observations which afterwards served as literary material, the product of a lively mind and a perceptive eye.
Late in 1867 he began contributing a column of topicalities under the heading 'The Peripatetic Philosopher', purporting to be the observations of a kind of Melbourne Diogenes inhabiting a gas pipe on Cole's Wharf. He was at once established. The first notable victim of his witty impertinence was the Duke of Edinburgh, then on a state visit to the colonies. Clarke's association with the Argus lasted a number of years, but he eventually quarrelled, transferring his allegiance to the Melbourne Herald, the Daily Telegraph and finally the Age. He retained a schoolboy humour: for example, in parting from the Argus at a time when all the papers were fighting a battle of principle with the Victoria Racing Club, he published a high-spirited 'spoof' in the 'scurrilous' rival Herald, holding the Argus up to ridicule and pretending to report the running of the Melbourne Cup by direct observation from a camera obscura set up on the roof of the Herald office.
Clarke from the first lusted after editorial power, for which he never had the necessary steadiness. Whatever remained of his patrimony seems to have gone, along with other funds contributed by a group of literary friends, to buy the Australian Monthly Magazine, which he edited under the altered title of the Colonial Monthly in 1868-69. For it he wrote his novel 'Long Odds'; two instalments in July and August 1868 were contributed by his friend G. A. Walstab when Clarke was seriously incapacitated by a fall from a horse. When the novel ended, his energies flagged; the magazine passed to J. J. Shillinglaw and soon failed. Clarke put what he could recoup from it into the comic weekly Humbug, but it also quickly collapsed; Melbourne Punch ascribed its demise to morbus clerici.
The article provoked Bishop Moorhouse into reply and Clarke was accused of atheism. His last word, published in the Melbourne Review, April 1880, cleverly exposed the weaknesses in the bishop's argument and scored a notable victory. These exchanges aroused enormous public interest in Melbourne. Later that year Clarke had a hand surreptitiously in the presentation of 'The Happy Land', a satirical operetta on a tinder-dry political subject: the row between the Berry government and the Legislative Council. This caused another furore and probably contributed to his later downfall. Apart from this work of mischief he was very active in the theatre both as an original author and as a translator. However, he wrote nothing for the stage that made any lasting impression. His liveliest dramatic writings were pantomimes, sometimes in collaboration with R. P. Whitworth.
After Clarke's death his friend Hamilton Mackinnon assembled the Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume (Melbourne, 1884), a selection of his most popular journalism with a biographical introduction. The witty, often malicious, ephemeral humour which colours the greater part of these writings contrasts strangely with the dark, powerful imagination exhibited in His Natural Life, the revised, shortened and best known version of which appeared in book form in 1874 and 1875. The title, For the Term of His Natural Life, was applied by publishers to this work after Clarke's death.
Clancy's comment: I read his most famous book as a kid and was enthralled by his descriptions.