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Richard Henry Horne

For children's book author, cartoonist, and video game designer of the same name, see Harry Horse.

Richard Hengist Horne (born Richard Henry Horne) (31 December 1802 – 13 March 1884)[1] was an English poet and critic most famous for his poem Orion.

Early life

Horne was born at Edmonton, London, son of James Horne, a quarter-master in the 61st Regiment. The family moved to Guernsey, where James was stationed, until James' death on April 16, 1810.[2] Horne was raised at the home of his rich paternal grandmother[1] and sent to a school at Edmonton and then to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, as he was intended for the army. Horne appears to have had as little sense of discipline as Adam Lindsay Gordon showed at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and like him was asked to leave. It appears that he caricatured the headmaster, and took part in a rebellion. He began writing while still in his teens, but he was intended for the army, and entered at Sandhurst, but receiving no commission, he left his country and in 1825 went as a midshipman to the Mexican expedition, was taken prisoner and joined the Mexican navy.[3] He served in the war against Spain, traveled in the United States and Canada, returned to England in 1827, and took up literature as a profession.[4]

Early career

Horne became a journalist, and from 1836 to 1837 edited the Monthly Repository. In 1837 he published two tragedies, Cosmo de' Medici and The Death of Marlowe. Another drama in blank verse, Gregory VII, appeared in 1840, and in 1841 a History of Napoleon in prose.

About the end of 1840 Horne was given employment as a sub-commissioner in connection with the royal commission on the employment of children in mines and manufactures. This commission finished its labours at the beginning of 1843, and in the same year Horne published his epic poem, Orion, which appeared in 1843. It was published originally at the price of one farthing, was widely read; three editions were published at that price, and three more at increased prices before the end of the year. In the next year he set forth a volume of critical essays called A New Spirit of the Age, in which he was assisted by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, with whom, from 1839 to her marriage in 1845, he conducted a voluminous correspondence.

In December 1849 Horne's acquaintance Charles Dickens gave him a position as a sub-editor on his new weekly magazine Household Words at a salary of 'five guineas a week'.[5]


In June 1852 Horne migrated to Australia, traveling as a passenger on the same ship as William Howitt and arriving in Melbourne in September. With assistance from Captain Archibald Chisholm, husband of Caroline Chisholm a contributor to Household Words, he was given a position as commander of a gold escort.[6] It was later reported that on the first trip of the escort under Horne's command they returned to Melbourne with 'two tonnes weight of gold'.[7] The escort was robbed in 1853 and Horne wrote to The Argus with his recollections of George Melville, the bushranger convicted of the crime and hanged.[8]

In 1854 he was a Goldfields Commissioner at the Waranga goldrush and named the township of Rushworth. During his time there he also reached a peaceful settlement with over 4,000 gold miners who had rioted over the payment of their mining license fee and, in his memoirs, stated that he believed this action, in light of the events at the Eureka Stockade a few months later, was never adequately recognised.

During his time at Rushworth, as part of a 'foolhardy business transaction', Horne had invested in blocks of land at nearby Murchison on the Goulburn River.[9] But as 'the village grew slowly' he was eager to 'promote any venture which might bring prosperity to the district' and joined with his friend, Rushworth storekeeper Ludovic Marie in establishing a vineyard on the river near Nagambie.[9] The two set up a public company, the Goulburn Vineyard Proprietary, with Marie as manager and Horne as honorary secretary. A third partner 'died mysteriously in the Melbourne scrub' but the venture lasted and still exists as the Tahbilk winery.[9] The venture didn't compensate Horne for the money he had lost in an early public float but he later claimed 'he was the father of the Australian wine industry'.[9]

In 1856, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Victorian Electoral district of Rodney.[10] In his platform of policies was an ambitious proposal for an irrigation system which was realised with the construction of the Waranga Basin in the 1900s.

Following Waranga, Horne acted as a 'counsel's clerk to his friend, Mr Mitchie'.[11] It is usually stated that he became a commissioner of the Yan Yean water-supply either in 1858 or 1859, but as he responded for the commissioners at the dinner held on the opening day 31 December 1857, it is clear that he was given the position in that year or earlier.[11] It is unfortunate that his lively Australian Autobiography, prefixed to his Australian Facts and Prospects published in 1859, abruptly breaks off about 1854-5. From among the Commissioners he was elected President of the Victorian Sewerage and Water Commission.[12]

He lost the position 'as a consequence of departmental changes' and was promised another 'by successive Governments' however this did not eventuate.[11] He 'wasted three years and upwards, in fruitless expectation', and, with his capital tied up in Goulburn River investments, he applied to the Royal Literary Fund, of London, where he 'was at once recognised, and a handsome assistance transmitted to him by return mail'.[11]

While in Australia Horne brought out an Australian edition of Orion (1854),[13] and in 1864 published his lyrical drama Prometheus the Fire-bringer.[14] Another edition, printed in Australia, came out in 1866. In this year was also published The South Sea Sisters, a Lyric Masque, for which Charles Edward Horsley, then living in Melbourne, wrote the music. It was sung at the opening of the intercolonial exhibition held in 1866. Along with such literary figures as Henry Kendall, Adam Lindsay Gordon, George Gordon McCrae and Marcus Clarke he was a member of the Yorick Club where members met and discussed literature.

Horne was the founding President of Melbourne's Garrick Club in the 1850s [15] and at a charitable theatrical fundraiser in 1855 'kindly consented to sing a Spanish Romansa and Serence' between the two short plays.[16]

London and later life

In 1860 Horne was again unemployed. In 1869, "dissatisfied with the failure of the Victorian government to fulfil what he conceived to be its obligations to him", he returned to England. A later memoria of Horne notes that after his return from Australia he settled in 'poor quarters in Marylebone' and 'ill at ease in London' his health suffered. This included 'a melancholy increase in weight' that resulted in 'V-shaped additions' having to be added to his trousers to accommodate his girth. However, courtesy of his physician, Dr. Bird, of Wellbeck Street, his health returned and one day two ladies entering the Doctor's practice 'were startled to see an old gentleman sliding headfirst down the banisters. This was Mr. Horne celebrating his return to health'.[17]

During the 15 years after his return to England Horne published several books, but the only one which aroused much interest he did not write, the Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Richard Hengist Horne.

Horne received a Civil List pension of £50 a year in 1874, which was increased to £100 in 1880, and died at Margate on 13 March 1884, leaving behind him much unpublished work. Of his published volumes only the more important have been mentioned here. A more complete list will be found in the British museum catalogue. Horne married a Miss Foggo in 1847, but husband and wife soon parted.

Legacy and Influence

Horne possessed extraordinary versatility, but, except in the case of Orion, he never attained to a very high degree of distinction. That poem, indeed, has much of the quality of fine poetry; it is earnest, vivid and alive with spirit. But Horne early drove his talent too hard, and continued to write when he had little left to say. In criticism he had insight and quickness. He was one of the first to appreciate Keats and Tennyson, and he gave valuable encouragement to Mrs. Browning when she was still Miss Elizabeth Barrett.

His epic poem, Orion was reprinted by the Scholartis Press in 1928.[18]

He has been the subject of two biographies:

  • Always morning : the life of Richard Henry "Orion" Horne by Cyril Pearl (1960)
  • The farthing poet : a biography of Richard Hengist Horne, 1802-84; a lesser literary lion by Ann Blainey (1960)


  1. ^ a b Ann Blainey, 'Horne, Richard Henry (1802 - 1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, MUP, 1972, p. 424. Retrieved 3 August 2009
  2. ^ Blainey, Ann (1963). The farthing poet : a biography of Richard Hengist Horne, 1802-84; a lesser literary lion. London: Longmans. p. 6. 
  3. ^ Mennell, Philip (1892). "12px Horne, Richard Henry". The Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co. Wikisource 
  4. ^ "Biography.". The Queenslander (National Library of Australia). 22 March 1884. p. 452. Retrieved 4 September 2013. 
  5. ^ Blainey, Ann (1963). The farthing poet : a biography of Richard Hengist Horne, 1802-84; a lesser literary lion. London: Longmans. p. 179. 
  6. ^ Blainey, Ann (1963). The farthing poet : a biography of Richard Hengist Horne, 1802-84; a lesser literary lion. London: Longmans. pp. 196–7. 
  7. ^ "UNCLAIMED GOLD.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 17 March 1855. p. 5. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  8. ^ "MELVILLE'S EXPLOITS.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 26 November 1856. p. 6. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c d Blainey, Ann (1963). The farthing poet : a biography of Richard Hengist Horne, 1802-84; a lesser literary lion. London: Longmans. p. 219. 
  10. ^ Blainey, Ann (1963). The farthing poet : a biography of Richard Hengist Horne, 1802-84; a lesser literary lion. London: Longmans. p. 211. 
  11. ^ a b c d "MR R. H. HORNE AND THE GOVERNMENT.". The Ballarat Star (Vic.: National Library of Australia). 9 June 1869. p. 3. Retrieved 6 September 2013. 
  12. ^ "MINING BOARDS AND MINING LEASES.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 24 December 1858. p. 5. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  13. ^ "No title.". The Empire (Sydney: National Library of Australia). 25 October 1854. p. 5. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  14. ^ "AUSTRALIAN POETRY.". Launceston Examiner (Tas.: National Library of Australia). 21 May 1867. p. 4. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  15. ^ "THE GARRICK CLUB DINNER.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 20 February 1856. p. 5. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  16. ^ "Advertising.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 26 July 1855. p. 8. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  17. ^ ""ORION" HORNE MEMORIAS.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 23 January 1904. p. 5. Retrieved 4 September 2013. 
  18. ^ National Union Catalog, v.254, p134, citing the LC copy of the 10th edition of 1874.

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