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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Boothby, Guy Newell (1867–1905)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Guy Newell Boothby (1867-1905), novelist, was born on 13 October 1867 at Glen Osmond, South Australia, son of Thomas Wilde Boothby, stock and station agent and politician, and his wife Mary Agnes, née Hodding; he was a grandson of Judge Benjamin Boothby. About 1874 Guy went with his mother and brothers to England where he was educated at the Priory School, Salisbury, and Warminster Grammar School. Aged 16 he returned to his father and worked as a clerk in the Adelaide town clerk's office. He became private secretary to the mayor (Sir) Lewis Cohen in 1890.

The South Australian Register had been accepting some of Boothby's contributions and he also wrote plays and musical comedies which he showed to leading actresses. Several of his works were performed locally, and included the author as actor, but none was really successful. The Jonquille (1891), which the Observer said 'fell flat', was an ambitious melodrama with a French Revolution setting; a repeat 'author's benefit' performance was financially unrewarding.

With a friend, Longley Taylor, Boothby sailed steerage for England in December 1891, but they ran out of funds, landed at Colombo and wandered for some months. Sometimes working before the mast, they touched at Singapore, Borneo and Java, stayed on Thursday Island where Boothby dived for pearl-shell, drifted down the Queensland coast, and travelled overland by buggy from Normanton to the Darling river.

Next year Boothby wrote up this experience in the autobiographical On the Wallaby which he took to England and had published in 1894. That year his first novel, In Strange Company, also appeared and did well. On 8 October 1895, with four more novels written, he married Rose Alice Bristowe in London. Six thousand words a day became his average output and fifty novels appeared over the next ten years. The stories, packed with bizarre events ingeniously linked, were related in a light ironic tone. Boothby claimed that he was encouraged by his 'pal' Rudyard Kipling. The early novels about Australia were among his best; he later used more exotic settings and themes, of which a series about Dr Nikola was extremely popular. Nikola resembled Mephistopheles, possessed hypnotic powers and studied witchcraft and the occult. 'Frank sensationalism carried to its furthest limits', said The Times critic, but Boothby unashamedly aimed to entertain his avid audience: 'I give the reading public what they want … in return my readers give me what I want'. His income rose to possibly £20,000 a year: he lived comfortably, collecting books, breeding horses, cattle and bulldogs, and keeping an exotic aquarium at his mansion, Winsley Lodge, at Boscombe near Bournemouth. With success, his method of working became more eccentric. He retired at nine o'clock, rose in the small hours, dictated into a wax-cylinder phonograph, and required his two secretaries to get up at 5.30 a.m. and transcribe the result into typescript.

Survived by his wife, two daughters and a son, Boothby died suddenly of pneumonia on 26 February 1905, aged 37, and was buried at Bournemouth.

Select Bibliography

  • Windsor Magazine, Dec 1896
  • Athenaeum (London), 4 Mar 1905
  • Bulletin, 7, 14, 21 Nov 1891, 9 Mar 1905, 24 Feb 1960
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 9 Nov 1901
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 28 Feb 1905, p 10
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 Mar 1905
  • Register (Adelaide), 1 Mar 1905
  • Bournemouth Guardian, 4 Mar 1905.

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Boothby, Guy Newell (1867–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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