Robbery under Arms

The “True Tale” of an Australian Bushranger Gang

BOLDREWOOD, Rolf. Robbery Under Arms. A Story of Life and Adventure in the Bush and in the Goldfields of Australia. By Rolf Bolderwood [sic]. Three Volumes. London: Remington and Co Publishers, 1888.

First edition. Three octavo volumes (7 3/16 x 4 13/16 inches; 182 x 122 mm.). [4], 300; [4], 300; [4], 291, [1, blank] pp.

Original smooth grass-green cloth with front covers decoratively stamped in black and spines ruled and lettered in gilt. Gray floral patterned endpapers. Very slightly skewed, spines very slightly darkened, minor rubbing to corners, a few tiny splits to cloth at spine extremities, hinges neatly repaired, free endpapers slightly browned. Minimal foxing and soiling, a few leaves with tiny black spots (ink splatters?) in the upper blank margin. Volume I with short tear (3/8 inch) to upper blank margin of B7 (pp. 13/14) and with R5 (pp. 249/250) creased. Volume III with B4 (pp. 7/8) creased and a tiny paper flaw in the upper blank margin of G8 (pp. 95/96).

Overall, an excellent copy of this “true tale” of a bushranger gang, led by the immigrant Englishman Captain Starlight, and narrated by an ex-bushranger awaiting execution for his crimes.

Rolf Boldrewood (1826-1915), “pseudonym of Thomas Alexander Browne. Born in London, Browne and his family emigrated to Australia in 1830 and he was educated in Sydney. He found his pseudonym in the work of Scott but he did not begin to write until he was in his forties. For some years Browne was a squatter in Victoria, living the sort of life he later described in his fiction. Later he became a commissioner in the goldfields and a magistrate. His best-known novel, Robbery Under Arms, was published as a serial in The Sydney Mail before appearing in volume form in 1888. This story of a bushranger gang, led by the immigrant Englishman Captain Starlight, is narrated by an ex-bushranger. A Colonial Reformer and A Squatter’s Dream (both 1890) are generally regarded as the best fictional pictures of the squatter’s life. The Miner’s Right (also 1890) is a novel about the goldfields, and Nevermore (1892) a story of prison life. A Sydneyside Saxon (1891) and A Modern Buccaneer [1894] complete the list. Boldrewod’s novels are notable for their vigorous narratives, unambiguous character drawing, and for their picture of life recorded by a keen observer” (The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English).

“Browne was tall and big framed, fond of hunting and shooting. He began to write as the result of an accident. He had been kicked on the ankle by a horse and wrote his articles for the Cornhill while confined to his house. Most of his work after he became a magistrate was written before breakfast and in the evening. There was no waiting for inspiration; once having got his characters together and made a start he could always see the way to the finish. Robbery Under Arms became a classic in the author's lifetime, and will continue to rank as one of the best Australian novels. He knew his subject perfectly, every detail of the life was familiar to him, and all is set down with a simplicity and sincerity that will prevent the story from becoming old-fashioned. Some of his novels are the merely pedestrian work of a ready writer, but his Old Melbourne Memories is a valuable record of the conditions soon after the founding of that city, and interesting sketches of Browne's boyhood at Sydney will be found in the volume In Bad Company and Other Stories” (Dictionary of Australian Biography).

The book has been adapted to film on four occasions: 1907 (one of the earliest narrative movies), 1920, 1957 (starring Peter Finch), and a TV movie in 1985 (starring Sam Neill).

Sadleir 261. Wolff 586. Item #00655

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