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Guy Newell Boothby (1867–1905)

from Advertiser

The death is announced of Mr. Guy Newell Boothby, the well-known novelist, who was a native of South Australia, being the eldest son of Mr. Thomas Wilde Boothby, for some time member of the House of Assembly, and grandson of Mr. Justice Boothby.

Mr. Guy Boothby was born on October 13, 1867, in the house of his grandfather, who was living then in what is now the Passionist Monastery, at Glen Osmond. He was a son of the late Mr. T. W. Boothby, formerly member of Parliament for Victoria. When 23 years old he became private secretary to the Mayor of Adelaide, and assisted in carrying out the arrangements for the first big ball given by Mr. Cohen, in the Exhibition Building. He was always of a literary turn of mind, and many playgoers will remember the production of his drama, The Jonquil, at the Theatre Royal, where it was far from successful. His first writing of any importance was an account of his bush travels, but his success as a novelist was the result of his creation of the wonderful character of Dr. Nikola, in A Bid for Fortune. Some people think Dr. Nikola was made to do duty altogether too long in Boothby's novels, but there is no doubt he achieved a remarkable success as a story-writer, an avocation which he must have found very profitable. His output of fiction was considerable, as, apart from short stories, he published during the past ten years about two dozen stories. His best-known were Dr. Nikola, Dr. Nikola's Experiment, In Strange Company, A Sailor's Bride, The Marriage of Esther, and A Lost Endeavor. He married an English lady, Miss Rose Bristowe. Of late years he had resided near Brighton, Sussex, where he found time for rearing prize dogs, horses, and cattle, as well as collecting live fish from all parts of the world.

In answer to a request made by an interviewer of the London Weekly Sun, some time ago, Mr. Guy Boothby explained his methods of work. They were somewhat paralysing. He got up at a fearful hour in the early dawn, when Londoners were just going to bed. His two secretaries had to be there at 5.30 a.m. He talked his novels into a phonograph, and when he had talked enough his secretaries transcribed it direct on the typewriter. A telephone communicated from his room to theirs, as to every part of his large estate.

I asked mildly (says the interviewer) what time Mr. Boothby went to bed, if, indeed, he ever did so, and was told at 9 p.m.

"You must get through heaps of work?"

"Oh, I've finished one novel in the morning and begun another in the afternoon before now. Have to, the work comes pouring in so. Luck? Not much! I had 10 years of steady rejection, without a spark of success to begin with; then I met Kipling in Australia, about '90, and his encouragement helped to keep my heart up. We've been great friends ever since; he's a double man to me—Kipling the Great Man and Kipling the Pal, but I like the Pal best. Well, my first book appeared in '94, when I was 27, and since then I've published 11 others; four are running serially, four more the publishers have got, and six others are in hand." He smiled at my wide-open eyes of surprise. "You see," he added, "I don't take literature seriously."

"But art—" I was beginning, when— "Art's got nothing to do with it," said Mr. Boothby, "there's no art in literature!"

"What!" I felt myself turning pale. Shade of Matthew Arnold, no art in literature! To one who had sat in turn at the feet of all the little gods in Grub-street—imbibed their philosophy, and sworn by their catchwords—such a statement seemed the sheerest blasphemy. I expected to see a bolt from heaven descend on the rash speaker. But Guy Boothby sat unmoved and smiling. ". . . . Not in literature as I make it," he continued, and it was once more possible to breathe. "You see, if a man can do a thing easily, without effort, that is to say, it can't very well be an art. You paint or write because it's in you; where does the art come in? You might as well say that driving a butcher's cart is an art. Of course, there's more of it in painting than in literature, because you have to study technique, and so on."

"But surely literature has its technique too? Henry James—"

"Oh, Henry James is a stylist, and doesn't come into the question. Suppose I choose to spend two years on a book, like some of my esteemed contemporaries. . . and . . . perhaps I'd be an artist too; but it would bore me to death to stick at one so long. Style? Read some of the reviews, and you'll see that I've no style!"

This was embarrassing, but Mr. Boothby continued serenely—"No, if all I'm told is true, I'm not an artist, but I turn out books that seem to interest folk and take them out of themselves for a bit, and in return I have everything I want, country house, kennels, stables, and er—well, if you must have it, secretaries who get up at 5.30 a.m. With regard to my work, I never let myself forget what Kipling once said to me, 'Boothby, remember that your appreciation of A's work is just what A thinks of yours!' "

Mr. Josiah Boothby, C.M.G., when seen late on Tuesday night by a representative of The Advertiser, was much surprised to hear of his nephew's death. Asked to give some particulars of the deceased author, Mr. Boothby said—

"It is a long time since he left South Australia, and I'm afraid that I can't say much about him on the spur of the moment. He was the son of Mr. Thomas Wilde Boothby, my brother, who represented the South-Eastern district in Parliament for some time. He was the eldest of three children, all boys, and was born, I think, at Glen Osmond, in 1867. He was therefore only in the prime of life, as it were. His brothers are Benjamin and Herbert, and they, like poor Guy—whose full name was Guy Newell Boothby—live in England. His mother before marrying my brother was Miss Hodding, whose people lived at Fullarton. Guy was only in his teens when the whole family left for England, but he returned when he was about 22, and almost immediately became private secretary to Mr. Cohen, the Mayor of Adelaide. It was at that time he took to writing. He wrote a play called The Jonquil, and it was produced by a set of amateurs at the Theatre Royal, with Guy in the leading male part. He stayed at my father's house while in Adelaide, and was very fond of fiction, his room being always full of light literature. Before he left Australia finally for the old country he and a friend travelled extensively in the back country of Queensland and Central Australia. They drove a buggy, and saw a lot of back country life. After he had been home for some time, I think about 10 or 12 years ago, he married an English lady, Miss Bristowe. He had three children, one boy and two girls. The last letter we had from home informed us that he was unwell, but I had no idea that his illness was serious."

On hearing of Mr. Boothby's death Mr. Cohen expressed his deep regret, and kindly volunteered some information as to his own relations with the deceased novelist. Mr. Cohen stated that Mr. Boothby about 15 years ago entered the services of the Adelaide Corporation. He began in the capacity of a cadet, but shortly afterwards was promoted to the rank of junior clerk. He served for some time as a junior clerk, and was then elevated to the position of senior clerk. Not long afterwards Mr. Cohen was elected Mayor of Adelaide. Immediately Mr. Cohen took office he appointed Mr. Boothby as his private secretary. This was in the year 1890-1. Mr. Cohen stated that Mr. Boothby, with his literary turn, was not contented with his position. He held that there was little opportunity for him to rise in the service of the corporation, and consulted Mr. Cohen as to whether he should not leave and proceed to Brisbane, where he believed there was a wider opening for his talents than Adelaide could offer. Recognising his ability and the small possibility of his having the opportunity to rise to any appreciable degree for some years in the corporation employ, Mr. Cohen, rather reluctantly, advised him to go. Mr. Boothby proceeded to Brisbane, and subsequently journeyed to England. He formerly corresponded frequently, but Mr. Cohen had not heard from him by letter for some years.

Original publication

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Additional Resources

Citation details

'Boothby, Guy Newell (1867–1905)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 October, 1867
Glen Osmond, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


26 February, 1905 (aged 37)
Bournemouth, Dorset, England

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.