MICHAEL, James Lionel (1824-1868)


MICHAEL, James Lionel (1824-1868)
poet, and friend of Kendall (q.v.)
born in London in October 1824, was the eldest son of James Walter Michael, solicitor, and his wife, Rose Lemon Hart. Michael afterwards told his friend Joseph Sheridan Moore, that the passage on page 12 of John Cumberland, beginning "My earliest memory", gives an exact picture of his childhood. He was articled to his father and began to mix in artistic and literary circles. Sheridan Moore states that Michael became friendly with Millais and Ruskin, and published a pamphlet which made some stir at the time, vindicating the position of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. Moore also says that though "always temperate and abstemious in his habits he had a talent for frittering away his money". This may possibly have been one of the reasons for his coming to Australia.
Michael arrived in New South Wales towards the end of 1853 and practised his profession with some success. He became friendly with Sheridan Moore who introduced him to Kendall, whom he afterwards took into his office and "treated as an affectionate elder brother would a younger one". In 1857 he published Songs without Music, a volume of lyrics, and in 1860 John Cumberland, a long poem largely autobiographical. In the same year he removed to Grafton on the Clarence River and for a time practised successfully; but towards the end of his life he appears to have made enemies and was in money difficulties. On the evening of Sunday 26 April 1868 he went for a walk and two days later his body was found floating in the river. The medical evidence stated that there was a deep cut over the right eye "such as might be produced by falling on a broken bottle". The coroner's jury returned an open verdict, and although a set of verses Michael had written a few weeks before suggested to some people that he had contemplated suicide, the possibility of this was indignantly denied by his friend, Sheridan Moore, who declared that the evidence suggested either foul play or accident, rather than suicide. Michael married in 1854 and was survived by a son.
Michael wrote musical verse, some of which has been included in Australian anthologies. His long poem, John Cumberland, contains some good passages, but is marred by many patches of prose. Though distinctly a minor Australian poet Michael's encouragement of the young Kendall gives him a special interest. His friends were agreed about the charm of his conversation and personality.
J. Sheridan Moore, The Life and Genius of James Lionel Michael; The Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 28 April and 5 May 1868.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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