Literary Aspiration and the Papers of William Gosse Hay


This article sets out to explore the literary aspirations and career of the early post-federation Australian writer William Gosse Hay through the extensive collection of personal papers he left behind him. Hay was born into an affluent Adelaide family in 1875, and attended Melbourne Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge, before marrying and settling down to a reclusive life in the Adelaide foothills to begin writing full time. He eventually published six novels and a collection of short stories. Many of these were favourably reviewed, but they failed to attract significant commercial success. After a brief revival of critical interest in his writing after his death in 1945, Hay once again faded from prominence – remembered only in passing as an enigmatic figure who fell outside of the mainstream of Australian literary production. In tracing Hay’s pursuit of literary success and popular notoriety through his personal papers, the article draws on recent archival studies research to explore Hay’s career from the ‘inside’ and considers the role of the archive itself as a factor in his quest for recognition.

The early post-federation Australian writer William Gosse Hay, like many of his colonial predecessors, has largely been forgotten today. Born into a prominent Adelaide family in 1875, he was educated at Melbourne Grammar School before attending Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1895.1 He published his first novel, Stifled Laughter: A Melodrama (1901), in England, before returning to South Australia to marry Mary Williams, the daughter of a local Anglican minister. The couple settled in the grand ‘Tower House’ in the Adelaide foothills where they raised three sons and later moved to ‘Nangawooka’ in the rural township of Victor Harbour spending their summers at coastal Seacliff in an impressive ‘cottage’ that Hay designed and had built. ‘Mount Breckan’, the imposing summer residence he had inherited, was destroyed by fire in 1908. Independently wealthy and increasingly reclusive, Hay devoted his life to writing full time, eventually publishing six novels and a collection of…

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Published 9 July 2018 in Volume 33 No. 2. Subjects: Literary career, William Gosse Hay, Literary archive.

Cite as: Weaver, Rachael. ‘Literary Aspiration and the Papers of William Gosse Hay.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 33, no. 2, 2018, doi: 10.20314/als.12a7939ea2.