MEE, Samuel Gill
[MANUSCRIPT] Unpublished poem about a bushfire suicide, composed by an amateur Brisbane poet. Dated December 1861.
Manuscript in ink on blue paper (245 x 195 mm), an untitled poem of 7 quatrains (4-line stanzas), with an extensive explanatory footnote; signed and dated at bottom margin in the same hand ‘Brisbane, December 2nd 1861 / Samuel Gill Mee’; verso with newspaper cuttings from 1861, suggesting that the sheet was removed from a commonplace book at some point; well preserved and legible.
The author of this unpublished manuscript poem – which is of an exceptionally early date for Brisbane or, indeed, Queensland – was Samuel Gill Mee, a compositor who from the late 1850s until his death in 1909 worked on the first three incarnations of Brisbane’s most famous newpspaper: the Moreton Bay Courier, The Courier, and the Brisbane Courier.
The opening quatrain reads: ‘In a fierce flaming desert wild-laughing, and leaping / Into its hell with demoniac groans; / And his murderer sleeping while wild dogs are keeping / Carnival over his body and bones!’
Mee’s footnote, referring to these opening lines, reads: ‘This is no imagination! Not a great distance from whence these lines are dated, a poor victim of delirium tremens leapt into a bush fire, and perished. He was the father of a family and its mother came looking for him! This case was known to the author, but (scarily like many others) was never chronicled! Bush taverns are rare friends to the native dogs! They save the Registrar of Deaths many a page; and deserts – like dead men – “tell no tales”.’
The poem was written prior to Mee’s marriage to Catherine Mackay, which took place in Brisbane at the Fortitude Valley residence of Presbyterian minister Rev. James Love on 1 December 1862.
The following obituary for Mee, accompanied by his portrait, was published in the Brisbane Courier, 11 November 1909:
‘Late Mr. S. G. Mee, considered to be the oldest working compositor, who had at the time of his death completed within a few months his fifty years’ service with the “Courier.”
The funeral of Mr. S. G. Mee, who for nearly 50 years was employed in the composing room of the Brisbane Newspaper Company, took place at Toowong yesterday afternoon, and was attended by many of his fellow craftsmen. At the graveside Mr. S. W. Brooks, an old and valued friend of Mr. Mee’s eulogised the nobility of character and the sterling worth of the grand old comp. A number of beautiful wreaths were tenderly placed upon his grave, and included those from Mrs. S. G. Mee (widow of the deceased), the Directors of the Brisbane Newspaper Company, Limited, his fellow workers in the composing room of the Brisbane Newspaper Company, his friends on the literary staffs of the “Courier,” “Observer,” and “Queenslander,” Mr. and Mrs. Steinthal and family, Mr and Mrs. Ryan and family, Mr. and Mrs. Brant, Mr. Cumming and family, the members of the Queensland Typographical Association, … and others … The hall mark of Mr Mee’s life (writes a correspondent who has been privileged to call him friend for a period of nearly 50 years) was character. While he had a deep feeling of reverence for everything that was good and true, and which tended to elevate the human mind, his nature detested all sham. He was an earnest seeker after truth, but quite apart from tradition, sect, dogma or theory and often a radiant illumination of mind and heart came to him, so grand sometimes as to be almost overwhelming in its beauty. Truly, as Emerson says, “every book, even proverb, even byword that is meant for guidance or for comfort will come home to thee through open and winding passages.” Although poor in this world’s goods. Mr Mee was rich in intellectual qualities, and his mind and his memory were embellished with some of the richest gems in the English classics. His life was happy and contented, and as peaceful as the drift of a barge with the tide. Indeed, he used to say that in his daily life he was realising to the utmost the beautiful lines of the late James Brunton Stephens in his “Convict Once” :- “Pleasantly almost too pleasantly, blendeth today with tomorrow ; Hours are as moments – a twinkle of white wings, and lo ! they are gone. Day bringest work without bondage, and night bringeth dreams without sorrow. Pleasantly almost too pleasantly, life is meandering on.” His fellow workers keenly regret his passing, but they have the heritage of a beautiful life to guide them through the future years.’