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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Derham, Enid (1882–1941)

by Imelda Palmer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Enid Derham (1882-1941), university lecturer and poet, was born on 24 March 1882 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, eldest daughter of Thomas Plumley Derham, Bristol-born solicitor, and his wife Ellen Hyde, née Hodgson, of Melbourne. Enid was educated first at Hessle College, Camberwell, then at the Presbyterian Ladies' College. Hers was the last generation of P.L.C. girls to be educated in the strictly classical tradition. Having won a non-resident exhibition to Ormond College, she entered the University of Melbourne in 1900. She completed a B.A. degree under Professor T. G. Tucker in classical philology in 1903, with first place and first-class honours, and was awarded a scholarship to complete her M.A. In December 1904 she won the Shakespeare scholarship, and in 1905 gained first-class honours (and second place) in modern languages and literature.

For some years she tutored in English at Trinity and Ormond colleges, as well as lecturing for the University Extension Board and the Workers' Educational Association. In 1912 she became a foundation member of both the Lyceum Club and the Classical Association of Victoria. Shortly before World War I, she spent six months at Oxford, studying Anglo-Saxon and Old English, then returned to Melbourne and resumed tutoring in the colleges.

In 1921 Miss Derham accepted a temporary appointment as lecturer in English at the University of Western Australia, and the next year was appointed lecturer in English at the University of Melbourne, being the first woman to hold an appointment in that department. Her commencing salary of £400 rose to £450 in 1924, by which time she was senior lecturer. When she was granted twelve months leave from February 1927, to enable her to work at Oxford, a large part of her salary (then £525) was reserved to meet the cost of her replacement, but £200 was paid to her during her absence.

Her academic career, which began brilliantly, was full but unremarkable, except for a brief term as acting professor in 1938. Professor Cowling described her as 'one of Tucker's best pupils', but there is no evidence that the early promise was fulfilled. Her scholarly output was slight and her effectiveness as a teacher was marred by poor technique. Yet she clearly enjoyed her work. Former colleagues describe her as warm hearted and gracious, always pleasant and always busy.

Enid Derham is remembered mainly as a minor lyric poet, who first captured the attention of literary critics with the publication of a slender volume entitled The Mountain Road and Other Verses. Over the years she contributed irregularly to literary periodicals, but it was only in 1958, with the posthumous publication of a selection of her best poems, some previously unknown, that her reputation was established. The later poems, especially, reveal an intensity of emotion, even passion, quite unsuspected by those who knew her well. She died suddenly of cerebral haemorrhage at her home at Kew on 13 November 1941, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Z. Cross, An Introduction to the Study of Australian Literature (Syd, 1922)
  • M. O. Reid, The Ladies Came to Stay (Melb, 1960)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 13 Apr 1922
  • Argus (Melbourne), 15 Nov 1941.

Citation details

Imelda Palmer, 'Derham, Enid (1882–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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