Henry Kendall was born in Yatte Yattah, New South Wales, Australia in August of 1839. His birth, along with that of his twin brother, took place in a settler’s hut by Yackungarrah Creek close to the larger, coastal town of Ulladulla. Kendall’s birth name was actually Thomas, but there is no record of his ever having used it. His father was Basil Kendall and his mother, Melinda née McNally.
Early Life and Education
Kendall was limited in the education he received. He spent two years of his early teens with an uncle on a whaling voyage. When he returned, he was seventeen and got a job as a shop assistant. He was able to rent a house for his mother, brother, and sisters in Newtown. Here, he began focusing on his writing and contributing poems to the Month. In 1859 he was introduced to James Michael who gave him a job as a clerk at Michael’s law firm. Four years later Kendall became a clerk in the Department of Lands. This position came with the benefit of a regular salary. He later transferred to the Colonial Secretary’s Office where he was given a raise.
While working he was also gaining a reputation as a poet. He contributed to periodicals throughout Australia. In 1862 he published, Poems and Songs. This volume of Henry Kendall’s poetry was noted for its unapologetic Australian roots. He did not publish another collection until 1869. It was titled, Leaves from Austrian Forests and included the very well-known poem, ‘The Bell Birds.’ A year before its release he married Charlotte Rutter.
Although he was continually employed he was also constantly in debt. His siblings took advantage of what money he did have and he was forced to resign from the civil service. He moved to Melbourne where Leaves from Austrian Forests was published. Unfortunately, it did not bring in the much needed financial boost. Kendall was forced to return to Sydney, sick and drunk.
Arrest and Failing Health
In 1870 he was arrested for forging a check, found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was sent to Gladesville Hospital for the Insane. After his release, he found work with friends and resumed writing. Kendall’s reputation slowly re-established itself and he published Songs from the Mountains in 1880. It was a huge success. Two years later, after collapsing at Wagga Wagga, he died of phthisis. He was buried in Waverley cemetery.