Monday, July 18, 2022

Walter Henry Bone (1863-1934) Author, Journalist, Bushman, and Soldier of Fortune

 Walter Henry Bone was born at 52 Crown St Sydney in 1863, his father was Robert Bone, printer, aged 30 of London; his mother was Sophia Mary nee Lymings, age 29 also of London. The parents had married in 1853 and immigration records show they arrived in Australia on the ship Herald of the Morning, as assisted immigrants in 1858 with their daughter Augusta 3, and the body of their infant son Robert, who had died on the voyage.

At the time of Walter’s birth there was a living son Robert Jnr, born 1860, named after his dead brother and his father; and Augusta, born in England. There were in fact six sons born in Australia: Robert Jnr (1860-?), Walter (1863-1934), Ernest (1866-1937), Horace H (1868-?), George (1871-?), Septimus (or Stephinas) Clarence (1874-1941), Augusta never married and died in 1940 aged about 85.

Walter and Frances Bone with their expertly pitched tent,
camping in the Megalong Valley c.1900 
(Local Studies collection PF 538)

Following his education at Sydney Grammar School, Walter left for Africa and adventure. His obituary states he was ADC to the Sultan of Zanzibar, and was skilled in ancient weaponry and horsemanship. It seems amazing that a young man, born and raised in Sydney, became officer in an African Sultan’s cavalry. Access to sub-Saharan Africa at that time was usually via cargo ship to Cape Town. London to Sydney passenger shipping had been via the Suez Canal since 1869. Walter was then about 23, and he does not appear in any relevant shipping departures or arrivals. It is possible that Walter entered Africa from the port of Aden and travelled down the East African trade routes to Zanzibar, but no shipping records have been uncovered to confirm this.

Walter’s 1896 article in the Sydney Mail however, does show a real familiarity with the Zanzibar situation. The Sultan’s Palace at Zanzibar was built in 1883 by Sayyid Barghash, the third Sultan of Zanzibar, (ruled 1870-1896). In 1886, the British and Germans secretly met and re-established control of the area under the sultan’s rule. Over the next few years, most of the mainland possessions of the sultanate were taken by European imperial powers. With the signing of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty in 1890 during Ali ibn Sa’id’s reign, Zanzibar became a British protectorate. 

If Walter was in Zanzibar in the mid-1880s, he was more likely working as a journalist for the Sydney Mail. Interestingly the photos of Zanzibar used to produce the engravings for the Sydney Mail article were produced by Staff-Surgeon F. J. Lilly, of H.M.S. Katoomba, which may explain the absence of civilian shipping records recording Walter’s foreign travels. The 1892 photo of Walter among a group of influential local men, including prominent sportsmen, politicians and Freemasons, may go some way in explaining how the young journalist obtained the posting to Zanzibar on a naval ship.

Walter Bone as a young journalist, back row fifth from right, with some Katoomba identities 1892.
(Local Studies Collection PF 147)

By 1889 when he married Frances Emily née Budgett, Walter was living back in Australia, and from 1890 to 1891 held the position of joint editor of The Blue Mountains Express newspaper in Katoomba. Walter was also associated with Katoomba College, the private school founded by John Walter Fletcher in 1884. When the art studio and gymnasium at the college were destroyed by Fire in October 1890, Walter and the artist Blamire Young were there. The Nepean Times article reporting the fire describes the studio and supplies more detail on Walter’s African sojourn :

The furniture consisted of lounges, tables and chairs, all of different historical eras— bookcases, easels, desks, &c. On the walls were a plethora of valuable etchings, oil and watercolour pictures, drawings and engravings. The floors were covered with rich and expensive carpets, whilst the many valuable articles of virtu, are beyond description. All these were the property of Mr W. Blamire-Young (Acting Headmaster of the College, in the absence of Mr J. W. Fletcher). In addition to the above, there were in the studio a large collection of African Trophies and Curiosities, the property of Mr Walter H. Bone, editor of this journal. These comprised a number of tiger, leopard, and other skins, weapons, utensils, ornaments, tusks, horns, &c., trophies of war and the chase, also the original journal of two years' experiences in Central Africa. Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 - 1962), Saturday 18 October 1890, page 6
Walter with clients on a hunting expedition into the Megalong Valley 1920s
(Local Studies collection PF 539)

  After leaving Katoomba the couple's address was Pile St, Marrickville where they had two daughters, Vera (1891) and Hazel (1896). Vera married Alan Parkinson at Gosford in 1915; Hazel married Albert Drinkwater at Hamilton in 1933. The 1930 electoral shows Walter Bone, journalist and Frances Emily Bone residing at 24 Springdale Rd Killara. In Walter’s obituary Mrs Bone is said to be visiting her daughter Mrs F Powley in California, there is no record of a Bone – Powley marriage in NSW, this may be another daughter or a remarriage.

Walter later worked in the family printing business and wrote a regular children’s column for the Sydney Mail. He also illustrated and published children’s books, including, “Hoppity: being the life of an albino kangaroo” (1933) and his collected stories from the Sydney Mail, “What became of them? Australian stories for children.” In his later years he maintained a rural property at Nattai near Mittagong and conducted guided shooting trips into the Burragorang and Megalong valleys. After his death in 1934, his children’s books continued to be reprinted until the 1950s.

Walter's inside cover illustration for 'What Became of Them?'

Walter was a member of the Linnaean Society of New South Wales and contributed articles to a number of learned journals; the article below is from Science 1920 and includes Walter’s own fine illustration of a goanna.

The Booming Lizard of Australia

In July 1913, I was hunting in the Cox’s River Ranges with two companions – Andrew and John Duncan, of Megalong. We found a black-and-yellow banded monitor lizard about five feet long concealed in a crevice on the face of a wall. We had no intention of injuring him, but out of mischief Andrew Duncan suggested that we should make him yell. I was sceptical, but both men assured me that the lizard could, and would yell under persuasion.

On condition that there should be no cruelty, I consented to a demonstration. They laughed at the idea of cruelty. Andrew picked up a stick and began poking the reptile in the ribs and tickling him under the arm. It stood it for a while, merely squirming closer down in the crevice, then, having had enough of it, blew himself out and emitted a most comically doleful bellow that could be heard several hundred yards away. This he did repeatedly until we had laughed ourselves tired. It was funny, on looking back after we had gone fifty yards, to see the lizard stick his head around the corner to make sure that we had really departed.

I have had for the last four years at my hunting-box on the Nattai river, a tame monitor whom I have called “Joseph” on account of his coat of many colors, and who is the interesting companion of my solitude and incidentally keeps the snakes away. With the above in my mind, I experimented on him. I found him camped under the bench beneath the window and irritated him with the end of a stick. He did as the other had done-filled himself with wind and then emitted it in a prolonged bellowing groan. By the way, our “bookbook owl” does much the same thing. He fills himself nearly to bursting in a succession of gasps, and then says “Hoo-hoo hoo” till he has no more breath, then fills up again.

Walter H. Bone, Linnaean Society of New South Wales, Sydney

From: Science, September 17, 1920, Vol. LII (1342), p. 273

Mr Bone with a young Jack Duncan shooting in the Megalong Valley
(Local Studies collection PF 538)  


"MR. W. H. BONE."

    "Mr Walter Henry Bone, master printer of Dean’s Place, Sydney, died suddenly at home in Springdale Rd. Killara on Sunday last [15 July 1934]. His father, the late Robert Bone, was a Sydney printer. He was born in Sydney and was educated at the Sydney Grammar School. As a young man he went to Africa in search of adventure and became officer in command of the cavalry of the Sultan of Zanzibar. He had stories to relate of hard fighting, a duel and big-game hunting. On his return to Australia, he became a journalist and was associated with papers at Penrith and Katoomba.    

   More than 30 years ago he was a frequent contributor to the Sydney Mail. He wrote and illustrated popular animal and bush stories for children. In bush lore he had remarkable knowledge, and this led to his membership of the Royal Society, the Linnaean Society and Zoological Society.  He was an expert swordsman and revolver shot, and an authority on ancient and modern weapons. Much of his spare time was spent at his shooting box ‘Singing Water,’ near Mittagong. At 70 years of age, he was straight, alert, and athletic, with a military bearing. In December last he published “Hoppity, a book of the bush”.

     The funeral took place at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium on Tuesday. The chief mourners were, Mrs Parkinson (daughter), Messrs Clarence Bone (brother), C. and V. Parkinson (grandsons), A. Parkinson (son-in-law), H. Budgett (brother-in-law) and W. Doyle (cousin). Messrs W. H. Bone and Co. were represented by Messrs C. Bailey and W. Cowan, P. Sharpe and D. Farnsworth.

     Others present were Mrs. E. A. Grace and Mrs. Rupert King, Messrs T. W. F. Riley, W. M. and T. Green, R. Sullivan, A. F. Waters and A. Field (Lodge Australia). Mr. R. S. Murray-Prior, W. M., and many brethren ‘Lodge Old Sydneians’. Mr. J. Russell French (president) Schools Club Ltd., Messrs J. C. Close, J. H. Robinson and other members of the Old Sydneians Union and Club. Scott Anderson, H. Stansell, A. Field and Stenhouse (Winchcombe Carson Ltd.), S. Penton (Tooth and Co.), J. Logie and G. Watson (Alexander Moir and Co. Ltd.), G. and C. Watson (W. Neville and Co.), F. J Hook representing Mr. Body, Solicitor’s Admission Board, Thomas Buckland, Bowie Wilson, sen. and jun., W. R. Charlton, editor the Sydney Mail, P. Mullens, J. Le Gay Brereton, C. A. Messmer, Guy Blaxland, J. Russell Jones, A. R. Ducker, G. Herring, E. R. Stow, Alwyn Gorman, George Christie, J. M. Graham, H. G. Meek, H. Dyerson, Karl Mitchell, R. F. Marshall and H. S. Burton.

     Among many beautiful wreaths were those from the Old Sydneians Lodge and Club, Lodge Australia and the Killara Music Club.

    Mrs. Bone is visiting her daughter Mrs. F. Powley in California. Many messages of sympathy were cabled from Sydney." Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 20 July 1934

A notable presence at the funeral was the writer, John Le Gay Brereton.

It is probable that Walter Bone did visit Zanzibar in the 1880s; as a correspondent, collector and hunter, and at least partly as soldier of fortune, as he later recorded. His fertile imagination produced unique, and at the time, popular Australian children’s stories, now long forgotten. But he was also deeply skilled as a bushman and his keen observations of the natural world are still relevant to the modern reader.

John Merriman

Local Studies Librarian, Blue Mountains Library

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