Episode 43: A Strange Goldfield by Guy Boothby

Guy Boothby

Guy Boothby was born in Adelaide, Australia in 1867 and died in Bournemouth, England in 1905. At the time of his birth South Australia was a recently established British colony and his father’s family were important administrators and legislators of the colony. Boothby’s mother was English and she separated from his father when he was only seven, and took him back to England where he was educated at Salisbury.

He returned to Australia aged sixteen and entered the colonial administration where he was secretary to the mayor of Adelaide, but he didn’t like the work. He began writing lyrics for light operas aged 23, in which he acted. The Australian colonies suffered an economic collapse in 1890 and he took ship for London. However, he didn’t have enough money for the full passage and disembarked in Colombo, Sri Lanka and made his way back to Australia. He worked in various ventures across south east Asia, working on ships, stoking furnaces, becoming a ruby miner, working in an opium den in Singapore, acting, being a cowherd and even as a prize fighter. He was even a pearl diver for a while in Queensland before making his way back to Adelaide.

He did manage to reach London eventually and wrote a book about his adventures. When his travel memoir was successful, he wrote a series of novel and was so prolific he ended up writing around six novels a year. 

He was only 38 when he died in 1905, officially of flu, but no doubt worn out by the hard and adventurous life he had led. He is buried in Bournemouth.

A Strange Goldfield

I think the merit of A Strange Goldfield is particularly how it gives us an insight into Australia during the early days of European settlement there. We have a picture of adventurers wandering the huge continent searching for riches among and putting up with incredibly hard conditions. It has echoes of the goldrush in California and the Yukon but it’s set against the burning Australian desert.

In that, it has echoes of Victorian stories of explorers and novels suggesting that strange things are to be discovered in distant and difficult to get to lands, such as in Rider Haggard’s She stories and all the interest there was among the British at home in the tales of explorers in Africa such as Livingstone, or even Scott of the Antarctic. It is in essence a boy’s own adventure yarn as much as a ghost story. Though ghost story it is with the ghosts of the goldfield being forced to toil after death. 

There is an echo of morality here perhaps. Are they being punished for their greed? Was the destroying angel of typhoid sent to punish them for that and are they kept at the goldfield still as some kind of purgatory for the sin of venality.

Strange Times

I’m writing this on 18th March. We were supposed to be going to York for my birthday tomorrow, but that’s been cancelled due to the Coronavirus precautions. By the time this episode airs, it will be early April and who knows what will have happened? There might be light at the end of the tunnel or there might not. I have no idea. All I can do, is keep on reading stories like I have done for the past six months in the hope that it gives some entertaintment for those of you locked in by the coronavirus. Keep well and safe.

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