Bohemian: noun 1. a person with artistic or intellectual tendencies or pretensions who lives and acts without regard for conventional rules of behaviour (Macquarie dictionary online).
There were a number of clubs in early Melbourne, frequented by novelists, journalists, academics, poets and painters, which nurtured free thinking and self-expression. ‘Bohemia emerged in Melbourne in tandem with the expansion and professionalisation of the press, driven by the desire for culture by the growth in a literate, cashed-up market.’ (1)
Australia’s first bohemian club, The Yorick Club, began in a cafe in Bourke Street 1868. The objective of the club was to bring together Literary men and those connected with literature, art or science.
Members included Marcus Clarke, author of For the term of his natural life, poets George Gordon McCrae, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall and writer Patrick Moloney. The Argus reported a year later of their first AGM.
The Argus, Saturday 19 June 1869, p.1s, column 4
It wasn’t until the 1880s that women were admitted when the Buonarotti Society allowed women artists to become members. Following this, and on from Melbourne’s economic bust in the 1890s, was the Cannibal Club which comprised mainly of painters, including Norman Lindsay, Max Meldrum and Alek Sass. Meetings were held in George Coates‘ Swanston Street studio. Many members of the Cannibal Club later joined the Ishmael Club, who were dedicated to becoming the ‘artistic outsiders in society.’ (2) They were championed by the University of Melbourne’s music Professor George Marshall-Hall.
I think men are SO cheeky, by Alek Sass, H97.248/85
[Portrait of a woman], by George Coates, H84.370/19
You can hear more about Australia’s bohemians as part of the Making public histories lecture series. On 21 March, Dr Tony Moore, will discuss his book Dancing with empty pockets: Australia’s bohemians, and the challenges of popularising Australian history.
The Library holds many resources on Melbourne’s bohemians and more information on the Yorick Club can be found in the book The Yorick Club: its origin and development, May, 1868, to December, 1910.
1. Moore, T 2012, Dancing with empty pockets: Australia’s bohemians since 1860, Pier 9, Millers Point, N.S.W.
2. Radic, T 2012, Marshall-Hall’s Melbourne: music, art and controversy 1891-1915, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne, Vic.
Written by Paul Dee
Librarian, Australian History and Literature