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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jones, Thomas Henry (1921–1965)

by Julian Croft

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Thomas Henry Jones (1921-1965), poet and literary critic, was born on 21 December 1921 at Cwm Crogau, near Llanfihangel Bryn Pabuan, Brecknockshire, Wales, only son and eldest of five children of Llewelyn Morgan Jones, road-mender, and his wife Ruth, née Teideman. Although his father spoke Welsh, Harri and his siblings adopted their mother's language, English. The bare hills and hard weather of the isolated region where he was raised were to provide the imagery for many of his poems. He attended (from 1932) the county school at nearby Builth Wells, wrote proficiently, was adept at languages and poetry, and won a scholarship in 1939 to the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (B.A., 1945; M.A., 1947).

Suspending his studies, in 1941 Jones joined the Royal Navy. He served in the Mediterranean and experienced the horrors of the Malta convoys—which he recorded in later poems—before being demobilized in 1946 as a leading wireless telegraphist. On 14 December that year at the register office, Camberwell, London, he married Fanny Christina Madeleine Scott, an art student who became a potter. From 1951 he taught English at the Portsmouth Dockyard School (later Technical College). His poetry first appeared in the Welsh Review in 1946. Over the next ten years he was remarkably productive. (Sir) Rupert Hart-Davis unhesitatingly published The Enemy in the Heart (London, 1957) and the three volumes which followed: Songs of a Mad Prince (1960), The Beast at the Door (1963) and, after Jones's death, The Colour of Cockcrowing (1966).

In 1959 Jones was appointed a lecturer (senior lecturer from 1962) in English at Newcastle University College and emigrated to New South Wales. Participating enthusiastically in the local literary community, he published verse and reviews in Quadrant and Meanjin. A number of the poems he wrote in Australia dealt with his sense of exile and his resentment at having to live abroad due to the lack of opportunities in Wales. There are, however, poems which show his delight in his new home and the enjoyment of friends and children. The monograph, Dylan Thomas (Edinburgh, 1963), established his claims as a critic. He accidentally drowned in the waters of the Bogey Hole, Newcastle, on 29 January 1965; survived by his wife and three daughters, he was cremated with Anglican rites and his ashes were buried at Llanfihangel Bryn Pabuan.

Jones's early poetry was highly formal and mannered. His writings later assumed a more muscular and individual voice, though the rhetorical cadences of Milton and the Bible can still be heard. Much of his work was concerned with the temptations of sensuality and with the puritan traditions of the Nonconformist Welsh churches. Australia became the hedonist antithesis of the Spartan theology and life of Wales. At the time of his death, his work had developed an authority and fluency which enhanced his reputation in Wales as one of the best Anglo-Welsh poets of the 1950s and 1960s. His Australian poems are fine records of the postwar immigration experience and have often been included in anthologies. The Collected Poems of T. Harri Jones (Llandysul, Wales, 1977) depicts a form of his name he never used.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Croft, T. H. Jones (Cardiff, Wales, 1976), and for bibliography
  • P. Power, T. Harri Jones (Cardiff, Wales, 1987).

Citation details

Julian Croft, 'Jones, Thomas Henry (1921–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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