We read the Prince and the Pauper last year and might do Tom Sawyer this year. Not many people realise that Twain visited Australia and even came to Ballarat. I have seen a very short old piece of early film of him taking tea with his daughter but I'm unaware of any recordings of him which is a pity.
In 1895, American writer Mark Twain made quite an impression on his audiences during his whistlestop visit to colonial Australia. The brazen writer sold out theatres, poked fun at politicians—and made a lot of money.
It was Mark Twain's brilliance on stage that made his visit to Australia in the late 19th century so memorable, Australian writer Don Watson and literary lecturer Susannah Fullerton believe.
But he was also popular amongst Colonial cartoonists, especially when he passed comment on Sir Henry Parkes' hair.
In all his writings, you're aware that there's a very serious person at work as well as a very funny one.
'Had he lived his life in the States, he would have been president! That head of hair would have been irresistible,' Twain remarked.
Twain himself had wild unruly hair, a huge moustache and bushy whiskers. Australians found it a never-ending source of amusement.
'His head is like an amazed gum tree,' recorded The Bulletin. 'His hair gives him the wild expression of a man who has just found a baby's shoe in his soup.'
Audiences at his talks would yell out, 'Get your hair cut, Mark!'—always raising a laugh amongst the crowd.
The other thing raised during Twain's tour in 1895 was a lot of money.
His words had travelled the world. Twain referred to himself as the most conspicuous man on earth, and Watson thinks that was probably right, with perhaps Kipling and Gladstone his only serious rivals.
Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in a small village in Missouri in 1835. His father died when he was 12 years old.
Fullerton says that despite his family struggles, Twain inherited his father's eternal optimism about making money, and with it, his total lack of business acumen.
He did well at whatever he put his hand to—printer, miner, riverboat pilot, reporter, and finally lecturer and writer.
Meanwhile, he fastidiously kept notes and diaries about every observation and encounter.
Writing seemed to pay off and the money came in fast, but his passion for gadgets and inventions led him to invest in unviable projects and accumulate massive debts.
A last-ditch effort to avoid financial ruin
Twain's only way of getting his family out of serious financial ruin was by writing and talking, so he planned a 13-month lecture tour taking him from America to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India and finally England.
He set off with his devoted wife Olivia and his middle daughter Clara on what he described as 'our lecturing raid around the world'.
Twain arrived in Watsons Bay in Sydney in 1895 aboard the RMS Warrimoo, having followed Robert Louis Stevenson's directions—sail west and take the first turn left.
Initially Australian audiences were put off by the high price of tickets to his shows, but soon his 'at homes' were the talk of every town he visited.
People were warned not to wear tight clothing as they'd burst their buttons.
Audiences were fascinated. First there was his 'mad-cap' look, and then he'd open his mouth, followed by a long silence—Twain loved the pause.
Watson says he was a total master of delivery, firstly because the writing was so beautiful, and secondly because of his sense of timing.
'He had a languid style, a brilliant ear, a deep intelligence and a vast practical knowledge of the world,' said Watson.
Watson recounts Twain observing that humour always came from sadness.
'In all his writings, you're aware that there's a very serious person at work as well as a very funny one,' he said.
A writer of ordinary people as they saw the world
Despite his conservative upbringing he ended up left-leaning, non-conformist, and fiercely anti-slavery.
'I don't think he was ever ashamed of his childhood, but I think if you go from one kind of childhood to a different kind of adulthood where your opinions change, it adds to your deep understanding of the world because it involves some understanding of yourself,' Watson said.
Twain was the first American to write so thoroughly in the vernacular—to write about ordinary people as they saw the world and as they spoke about it.
'You're almost obliged to be a performer if you write now,' Watson says.
'Twain was a genius at it. He even introduced the standard wear for male writers, the linen suit; buy something crushed if you're going to end up looking crushed anyway.'
But when Twain departed Australia, he was far from crushed. He was a wealthy man, and Watson thinks he deserved every penny.
'He was one of the greats, a genius and a one-off,' he says.
'People loved him. He broke new ground for the 19th century, and he was condemned for it.
'His instinctive ear for the way people spoke became commonplace in American literature in the 20th century, but Twain was the first to do it.'
Craig's Royal Hotel has been home to some of the state's most significant events. The Royal Commission into the Eureka Stockade considered its findings here in 1855 and the hotel hosted the Shenandoah Ball in 1865, held by the Confederate Navy which arrived in Melbourne on the C.S.S. Shenandoah hoping to enlist recruits to fight in the American Civil War. and Mark Twain, Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred, the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) and Dame Nellie Melba all visited the hotel, with Melba giving a performance from the balcony of the hotel's Reading Room.