Australian Scholarly Editions Centre Projects (ASEC)

The Academy Editions of Australian Literature

Robbery Under Arms

by Rolf Boldrewood
Edited by Paul Eggert and Elizabeth Webby

General Editor Paul Eggert

Robbery Under Arms is the quintessential bushranging adventure tale. Recognised as an Australian classic only a few years after it first appeared in book form in 1888, it has remained in print ever since and has frequently been adapted for stage, radio, film and television.

Many cultural meanings have been claimed in its name. While praised by its first readers for its excitement, romance and the historical authenticity of its pictures of the 1850s in Australia, Robbery Under Arms was, by the 1950s, being heralded for its pioneering use of the Australian vernacular. Earlier writers had produced some journalistic sketches in this style, but Rolf Boldrewood appears to have been the first to attempt a long narrative in the voice of an uneducated Australian bushman. By the 1980s and 1990s this response had become overshadowed by exposure of the stress fractures of masculinist and colonial discourse that the novel gingerly bridges.

During all of this time the novel’s text was not stable. It lost some material accidentally in its early typesettings, and these omissions were never repaired. It was later abridged by its author at the publisher’s request, but the publisher botched his instructions. And, as with any much reprinted work, thousands of small changes gradually crept into the text.

This Academy Edition, published in 2006, is the first full-scale critical edition of the novel. It presents the text as it originally appeared in instalments in the pages of the Sydney Mail in 1882–83. It allows readers to experience the first-person narration that Henry Lawson was inspired by, to appreciate how the special qualities of voice were partially flattened` over time and to know exactly what material was omitted.

The introduction gives a fresh account of the writing, publishing and reception of the novel, informed by a great many new discoveries. Explanatory notes, a comprehensive glossary, and appendixes covering the novel’s historical background and places, its adaptations and later Canadian serialisations richly contextualise the novel for readers of today.


TRobbery Under Arms Cover

About the Author

'Rolf Boldrewood' was the pen-name of Thomas Alexander Browne (1826–1915), failed squatter in colonial Victoria and New South Wales, then police magistrate, goldfields commissioner and part-time writer of serialised novels. Ultimately the author of sixteen novels, two collections of short stories and two small books on farm management, Robbery Under Arms was the work that earned him an enduring international reputation.

About the Editors

Paul Eggert FAHA is Professor of English at the University of New South Wales at ADFA, Canberra, where he has directed the Australian Scholarly Editions Centre since 1993 and served as general editor of the Academy Editions of Australian Literature. He edited two critical editions for the Cambridge Works of D. H. Lawrence, and is co-editing Under Western Eyes for the Cambridge Works of Joseph Conrad. He is president of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand and writes in the areas of Australian print culture, editorial theories of the text, and the restoration of historic buildings and paintings.

Elizabeth Webby AM FAHA is Professor of Australian Literature and Director of Australian Studies at the University of Sydney. Since 1962 she has been researching the literary and cultural history of Australia, with a particular emphasis on the nineteenth century. Her publications include Early Australian Poetry (1982), Colonial Voices (1989), Modern Australian Plays (1990), The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature (2000) and, as joint editor, Happy Endings (1987), Goodbye to Romance (1989), The Penguin Book of Australian Ballads (1993) and Walter & Mary: The Letters of Walter & Mary Richardson (2000).