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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Holdsworth, Philip Joseph (1851–1902)

by H. P. Heseltine

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Philip Joseph Holdsworth (1851-1902), by S. Jun. Milbourn

Philip Joseph Holdsworth (1851-1902), by S. Jun. Milbourn

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H4042

Philip Joseph Holdsworth (1851-1902), public servant and writer, was born on 12 January 1851 at Sydney, the only son of Philip Risby Holdsworth, a respected boatbuilder, and his wife Kate, née Bevan. His father was prominent in temperance and early protectionist movements in Sydney. Philip Joseph was educated at Fort Street High School. In 1870 he told Nicol Stenhouse that he was temporarily unemployed. On 8 March 1871 he became a clerk in the revenue branch of the Treasury and in May 1878 assistant receiver. He was reputed to be a 'good financial man'. On 10 August 1890 he became secretary under John Ednie Brown in the Forestry Department, until its abolition in 1893 when, despite a personal appeal to Sir Henry Parkes, he was retrenched on a small pension.

As early as 1869 Holdsworth was probably a sub-editor of the Illustrated Sydney News and became its editor in the 1880s. In 1888 he supervised the publication of a special centenary issue. When the paper changed hands he left and in the 1890s contributed to a number of Sydney journals such as the Bulletin, Freeman's Journal and Athenaeum. He was a founding member of the Athenaeum Club in the early 1880s. Slightly dandified in dress, he was generous to individuals and causes of which he approved. He was associated with the memorial committee for Henry Kendall (d.1882) with whom he had become friendly in the early 1870s.

Holdsworth's writing is of little permanent interest. He published only one book, Station Hunting on the Warrego … and Other Poems (Sydney, 1885). Most of the verse had been written when he was young and is conventional in both subject and style. One or two later pieces enjoyed some favour with his contemporaries: 'Quis Separabit' and 'My Queen of Dreams' were singled out for praise. In prose he attempted a brief history of Australia, a pamphlet on the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel and a number of pen-portraits of notable contemporaries. His most important work was probably his prefatory note to the 1886 edition of Kendall's poems. He was accepted as an amiable member of the literary community rather than a significant writer. He died suddenly on 19 January 1902 at his home in Ocean Street, Woollahra, and was buried in the Anglican section of the Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Charlotte Emily, née Atkins, whom he had married in Sydney in 1869, and by his only son.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Jan 1902
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • newsclippings and notes under P. J. Holdsworth (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

H. P. Heseltine, 'Holdsworth, Philip Joseph (1851–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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