WILLIAM WARREN JENKINS, ESQ.
The man of large and gen’rous heart
Has left a blank behind;
To those who really knew him well,
‘Tis hard his like to find.
His tenants always found a friend
To help them when distressed;
And in their grateful hearts at least
His memory will be blest.
His nearer friends, and those who sat
Beside him at his board,
Will miss that kind and genial face
And mind so richly stored.
With all kind thoughts and impulses
His heart was ever stirred;
His sympathies were with the wronged –
E’en with the wretch who erred.
If Ireland only had such men
As Jenkins to the fore
For landlords, we might hope for peace –
Her troubles would be o’er.
‘Tis true we seldom mind the things
We love until we lack;
But though we all did love him well,
We would not wish him back.
(Illawarra Mercury, June 3, 1884)
“IN MEMORIAM: WILLIAM WARREN JENKINS, ESQ.”
William Warren Jenkins was an important and powerful man in late nineteenth-century Illawarra society. It is a measure of the regard the editors of the Illawarra Mercury must have held for Melinda Kendall that her poem in memory of the man was published in the newspaper’s pages – and not on the usual page 4, where poetry was nearly always published, but in the middle of the current regional news on page 2. Jenkins was a “respected citizen” (web site) who donated land for the building of the first school and church in the Berkeley / Unanderra area, and the poem remembers him as “The man of large and gen’rous heart.”
Jenkins died in May 1884 at the age of sixty-six, only a month before this poem appears. He inherited the Berkeley Estate from his father Robert, who “was one of the first five land grantees in the Illawarra, receiving from Governor Lachlan Macquarie a holding of 1,000 acres on January 24, 1817.” (web site) This original grant was increased to 3,280 acres by the addition of adjacent areas purchased by William Warren’s mother Jemima in 1834, five years before he assumed management of the estate.
He immediately divided the acreage and let it to tenants under the clearing lease system, so that the estate was developed by the convicts and settlers who were paying rent, at no cost to him. The poem records that “His tenants always found a friend / To help them when distressed.”
He was wealthy enough to engage the colonial architect Edmund Blacket to design his residence Berkeley House. The mansion was built by convicts and was ostentatious by the standards of the time and the region. It “incorporated features such as a six metre-wide hallway and Italian marble tiles and fireplaces.” (web site) He later built another mansion, Nudjia House, on the western boundary of the Estate for his son William James Robert. The writing of a poem in his memory could have been entrusted to any of a number of celebrated poets of the time, but it is Kendall’s that is bequeathed to us. Her omission from Australian literary history may suggest to twenty-first century observers that she was a minor poet in her time, but here is evidence to the contrary.
Like Melinda Kendall, William Warren Jenkins was Australian-born of Irish parentage. This connection makes its way into the poem as a statement about the rebellion taking place in Ireland: “If Ireland only had such men / As Jenkins to the fore / For landlords, we might hope for peace / Her troubles would be o’er.”
At the end of the poem, however, Kendall’s dislike of the colonial monied class intrudes from the poem’s praise of its subject’s philanthropic attributes. The irreverent concluding stanza challenges the very genre of In Memoriam verse and its usual intent to praise. It is also a telling statement about the risks the Mercury editors were willing to take to air the voice of this woman poet who would suggest about such a distinguished gentleman that “though we all did love him well, / We would not wish him back.”