Biography Dowell O'Reilly

Dowell O'Reilly

photo of Dowell O'Reilly
  • Time Period1865 - 1923
  • Place
  • CountryAustralia

Poet Biography

Dowell Philip O'Reilly (18 July 1865 - 5 November 1923) was an Australian poet, short story writer and politician.

O'Reilly was born at Sydney. His father, Rev. Thomas O'Reilly, was a well known clergyman of the Church of England, who came of a family with many military and naval associations. Dowell was the son of his second marriage, to a Miss Smith who came from a well-educated and artistic family. Dowell O'Reilly was educated at Sydney Grammar School, and when his father died he assisted his mother in keeping a preparatory school for boys at Parramatta. In 1884 O'Reilly published a small volume, Australian Poems, and in 1888 a larger volume of verse, A Pedlar's Pack. Both books are now extremely rare. It has been stated that the author destroyed most of the copies of the second volume in his disappointment at its lack of success.

O'Reilly was remembered as witty, kindly, generously tolerant, and sensitive. Though he did not feel challenged by his work as a schoolmaster, he had a good understanding of boys and gained their affection. Not long before his death he wrote of himself: "I am a failure; I have attempted many things, writing, teaching, politics, drifted along, done just enough to live." This feeling of frustration and failure was characteristic. His early verse was seldom of more than average quality, but the little selection published in 1924 with Tears and Triumph and Five Corners, under the title of The Prose and Verse of Dowell O'Reilly, shows him to be a poet, however limited in output and scope. Five Corners contains some of the best Australian short stories ever written. "His Photo on the wall" is considered a masterpiece for its mingling of humour and tragedy, and his beautiful little sketch, "Twilight" is a triumph in economy of means. O'Reilly wrote so little perhaps because of his tendency towards self-criticism. He was known as a perfectionist.