The Australian Journal and Marcus Clarke
‘One day on board a bay excursion steamer an acquaintance was speaking about books, and calmly remarked, "I’m sure there’s a book which you have never read. It is called For the Term of His Natural Life," I told him I’d heard of it.’ A.H. Massina8
The Australian Journal was published by Clarson, Massina & Co from 1865 to 1962. It remains one of Australia’s longest in-print periodicals. When Alfred Henry Massina retired in 1909 he was also a director of The Herald, and Weekly Times Ltd. The latter published a tribute to him.
‘Master Printer Retires’ (Alfred Henry Massina) published in the Weekly Times Melbourne, Saturday 6 March, 1909 offers a historical antedote into how Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life came to be written. Following is an extract:
'On one occasion,' said Mr Massina, 'we (Clarson and I) determined to improve the Australian Journal. We hit upon Marcus Clarke to give the ‘boost’ we had in view. He ran it for a month, during which time the circulation dropped from 12,000 to 4,000. If he had run it for another month it would have been dead.'
'Clarke came to me one day and said ‘Massina, I want £50.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘you’ve had enough out of me. What more do you want?’ ‘£50,’ replied Clarke, ‘I can write a story for your journal. I am going to Tasmania to write up the criminal record and I’ll do the story for £100.’ We jumped at it. Now, Clarke was going to write that story in twelve monthly sections. At first, he wrote enough for two months, then enough for one month, and got down to very little. In fact, we had once to put it in pica type instead of brevier, to swell out the size of that month’s contribution. But on one occasion he had nothing ready, and we had to go to press with an apology to our readers. Finally we had to lock him in a room to get another written.'
‘A funny thing happened when Clarke brought the last of his copy of For the Term of His Natural Life. He said ‘There’s the end of it,’ and I said ‘Thank God!’ Clarke said, ‘Why?’ and I said ‘I don’t want to hear the name of the blessed thing any more.’ ‘Will you give me the story to me?’ said Clarke, I did, there and then. He went right away and got £15 for it to start with from George Robertson. I could have made a lot of money out of it, but at the moment was glad to be rid of it.’
Ronald G Campbell states in his book The First Ninety years: the Printing House of Massina, Melbourne, 1859-1949, (1949) that the planned twelve instalments of His Natural Life became twenty-seven, ‘well beyond what Clarke was expected to write for £100,’ and that ‘Massina’s later recollection that Clarke had held the initial position for only one month was wrong: it was closer to eighteen.’