PRAED, Winthrop Mackworth (1802-1839)
Australasia : a poem which obtained the Chancellor’s Medal at the Cambridge commencement, July 1823
[Cambridge : s.n., 1823]. Octavo, plain blue wrappers (edges chipped, label of J. O. Edwards inside upper wrapper), pp. 14; , stitchbound, occasional slight foxing, else very good.
The Chancellor’s Gold Medal is the premier prize for poetry at Cambridge University. It was founded in 1813, and is an annual event, with each poem being on the same topic set by the examiners. Some early topics included ‘Columbus‘ (1813), ‘Mahomet’ (1816), ‘Jerusalem’ (1817), ‘Waterloo’ (1820) and this poem, ‘Australasia’ in 1823. Alfred Lord Tennyson won the Medal for his poem ‘Timbuctoo’ in 1829.
Some of the rules of the competition can be found in the book A complete collection of the English Poems which have obtained the Chancellor’s Gold Medal in the University of Cambridge, Cambridge: Macmillan & Co., 1859. It stated the medal was ‘to be conferred upon a resident Undergraduate, who should compose in English the best Ode or best Poem in Heroic Verse’. The rules surrounding the entry of the poems are meticulous, and copied here verbatim:
The subject is given out by the Vice-Chancellor at the end of the Michelmas Term. The Exercises must be sent in to him on or before the 31st of March following, and must not exceed two hundred lines. Each candidate is to send his exercise privately, with some motto prefixed; to be accompanied by a paper sealed up, with the same motto on the outside, which paper is to enclose another, folded up, having the candidate’s name and college written within. The papers containing the names of those persons who do not succeed are destroyed unopened. No prize given to any exercise which is written, wholly or in part (or which the title, motto, superscription, address &c., are written), in the hand-writing of the candidate; nor to any one who has not, at the time for sending in the exercises, resided one term at least. Candidates are at liberty to send in their exercise printed or lithographed. On Commencement-day the successful candidate recites his Poem in the Senate-House.
The 1823 Medal was won by a brilliant twenty-one year old student Winthrop Mackworth Praed, who went on to win it again the following year. Praed had a successful early life in politics but died from tuberculosis at the age of 36.
The runner-up in the competition was William Wentworth, born the son of a convict and raised in Norfolk Island and then Sydney in the 1790s during the fledgling years of the colony at Port Jackson. He finished his education in England but returned to Sydney in 1810, and had a distinguished career under Governor Macquarie, as well as fame for being among the first explorers to cross the Blue Mountains. Again he returned to England, and during studies at Cambridge entered his poem Australasia in the Chancellor’s Medal for 1823, his entry was also published in that year, again a rare book. Wentworth was terribly disappointed that his entry did not win and the award went to Praed, who had never set foot on Australian soil. Wentworth went on to other achievements in Australia and died in 1872.