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Rae, John


Was born at Aberdeen, Scotland, on 9 January 1813, and was educated at the grammar school, Marischal College, and Aberdeen university. He graduated M.A. in 1832. He studied law and in 1839 went to Australia to take up the position of secretary and accountant to the North British Australasian Loan and Investment Company. He arrived in Sydney on 8 December 1839 and became interested in the mechanics' school of arts; he delivered in connexion with it a series of lectures on "Taste" and "The English Language" in 1841. In 1842 he was responsible for the letterpress for Sydney Illustrated, and was appointed town clerk of Sydney on 27 July 1843, the second to occupy that position, but the first had been in office for only a few months. In August 1844 a fancy dress ball was given by the mayor of Sydney, the first of its kind in Australia. Rae wrote a long humorous and satirical poem on this event which was printed anonymously in four issues of the Sydney Morning Herald in April 1845. His first acknowledged publication was The Book of the Prophet Isaiah rendered into English Blank Verse, which was published in 1853. At the end of this year the Sydney corporation was abolished, and from 1 January 1854 the city was managed by three commissioners, of whom Rae was one. In 1856 J. T. Smith (q.v.), then mayor of Melbourne, endeavoured to have Rae appointed town clerk of Melbourne, but E. G. Fitzgibbon (q.v.) was chosen for the position. In April 1857 the city council of Sydney was again constituted, and in July Rae was appointed secretary and accountant to the railway commissioners. In January 1861 he became under-secretary for works and commissioner for railways. He published in 1869, Gleanings from my Scrap-Book in two series, collections of his work in verse, which were followed by Gleanings from My ScrapBook: Third Series, dated 1874. This consisted of the "The Mayor's Fancy Ball" already referred to. The three series were printed by the author himself, and are remarkably good examples of amateur printing. In 1877 Rae gave up the office of commissioner for railways, and in 1888 he became a member of the civil service board. He retired in 1893 at the age of 80, but retained his active mind until his death at Sydney on 15 July 1900. He married in 1845 Elizabeth Thompson and was survived by four sons and two daughters.

Rae has been called the "Admirable Crichton" of his time. He was a good public servant in all his positions, he wrote excellent verse; the "Mayor's Fancy Ball" can still be read with pleasure, and in its own way was not excelled in the following 100 years. He was also a good amateur painter in water-colours; a series of 26 views of the streets of Sydney may be seen in the Dixson gallery at the Mitchell library, Sydney.


John Rae.—An Aberdonian, born in 1812 and educated at the Grammar School and Marischal College. Emigrated to Sydney in 1839 as secretary and accountant to the North British Australasian Loan and Investment Company. In 1843 he was appointed the first town clerk of Sydney, which position he held for many years. Afterwards City Commissioner, Under-Secretary for Works, Commissioner for Railways up to 1888, and a member of the Civil Service Board. He died at Sydney on the 15th July, 1900, aged 88. He published in 1853 a version of the book of Isaiah in blank verse, with elaborate explanatory notes. He delivered lectures (five) in 1845 on the genius and character of Burns, and wrote a sonocomic poem, in four cantos, on the Mayor of Sydney's Fancy Dress Ball. He likewise edited a Sydney illustrated paper, and wrote a great deal of clever and vivacious verse, to the exceeding wonderment of many stolid Englishers who religiously believed that no Scot could be a witty man. Mr Rae disproved their pet dogma repeatedly. I saw him once in 1882 on board a steamer when returning from Tasmania to Melbourne. He was a tall man, with strong resolute features, white hair and beard, and bushy overhanging eycbrows. With a book in his hand, on which he occasionally looked, he darted hither and thither amongst the passengers exchanging remarks. There were other Sydneyites on board, but the majority were Melbournera, and the usual debate upon the merits of the two cities became rampant. A series of articles had appeared in the Argus, headed "Marvellous Melbourne," the writer contrasting the progress of his city with that of Sydney much to the disadvantage of the latter, and they were referred to rather boastfully. The voyage was a pleasant one until we entered the river Yarra. and churned up the black and pestiferous mud of the narrow channel when the stench became unbearable, and their was an immediate stampede below for drinks and cigars. Mr. Rae was noticable then: holding his nose tightly, he snorted out—"Ha! Mairvellons Smellborn! Ho! Malevolous Smellburn! Pliew! Mcellifluous Smellburn!" and then vanished below. I laughed immoderately, for I saw nothing then particularly grand or impressive in endless rows of wooden shanties and tumble-down hovels; but the Melbourne contingent were too mortified and even "soomfished" to make any retaliation.


John Rae.—Another Aberdeenshire bard of the same name as the poetical Sydney town clerk already noticed, and the most prolific weaver of didactic verse in Victoria. Born in the parish of Strathdon in 1826, and trained to the teaching profession. Endgrated to Australia in 1851, shortly after the gold discoveries. He founded the Ironbark School, near Bendigo, instructing the diggers' children long before the era of school boards and educational syndicates, and remained there until 1884, when he was appointed head teacher of the Port Melbourne State School. Died at residence, "Balmoral," near Sandridge, on 15th July, 1894, aged 63. His first appearance as a poet was at Geelong in 1860. when he competed for a prize offered by the Comunnity Fienne Society—a confraternity of Highland settlers—and won it. He published four series of homely verse, entitled "Chirps, by an Australian Sparrow," last in 1883. Two of his sons had a weekly paper in North Melbourne in 1881, and to its columns Mr Rae contributed a great number of lyrics and two stories, afterwards published in book form, concerning the Highlands, one of 1745, "The Shield and Banner Won," and the other. "Stanley Gordon," a tale of the Peninsular War, both having plenty of verse interwoven with the prose. At one time nearly every country newspaper I handled had a poem by John Rae, for he turned out hundreds of them, all inculcating around morality, and often indiciously and tersely expressed. I occasionally saw the old gentleman a living embodiment of Father Christmas, sitting in an alcove outside his sons' printing office, quietly smoking, and gazing at the Brunswick trams passing to and from Melbourne, and at last I determined on accosting him; but the opportunity never came again.


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