Featured Image: A signed copy of a photograph presented to the dentist in Newcastle Mr Albert Wells
America’s famous humourist and orator Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens) visited Newcastle on 19 December 1895, en route to deliver a public lecture in the upper Hunter township of Scone. On the train trip he had been working on his great Australian poem which he would later debut at this public lecture. Although he did plan for a more extensive tour of the region, Scone remains the farthest north he reached on his Australian journey. The original Willow Tree Hotel in Liverpool Street was built in the early 1840s. In 1894 it boasted to providing the best accommodation, an excellent sampling room for commercials, good stabling and a convenient paddock. Mark Twain stayed overnight at this hotel on Thursday 19th December 1895. He gave a lecture at the School of Arts in Kingdon Street before departing the next day at 11:25am arriving in Sydney at 7:15pm.
Since that transitory visit over one hundred years ago, a contemporary legend has emerged. A famous quote purported to have been uttered by Mark Twain that “Newcastle consists of a long street with a graveyard at one end with no bodies in it, and a gentleman’s club at the other with no gentlemen in it”, has infused the public imagination.
Writing in his reminiscences book “The Imitation Dude” Twain describes his train trip thus:
‘Then to Newcastle, a rushing town, capital of the rich coal regions. Approaching Scone, wide farming and grazing levels, with pretty frequent glimpses of a troublesome plant – a pretty devilish little prickly pear, daily damned in the orisons of the agriculturalist; imported by a lady of sentiment, and contributed gratis to the colony …. Blazing hot all day.
December 20. Blazing hot again.
Low on money, in 1895, Mark twain traveled to Australia on a speaking tour. During his tour Twain’s stop in Newcastle has become part legend due to a quote attributed to Twain but cannot be substantiated. He was quoted as saying, “Newcastle consists of a long street with a graveyard at one end with no bodies in it, and a gentlemen’s club at the other with no gentlemen in it.” Twain’s quote has been debated back and forth on what he actually said, but we do know that he unexpectedly stopped in Newcastle and has become part of its history.
It wasn’t until about 80 years after his visit that it was found out that he stopped in Newcastle. In an old dentist ledger, hidden among old papers in an antique shop, a letter Twain wrote to a dentist was found. He had a tooth removed by a local dentist by the name of Mr. Wells. The letter simply thanked Mr. Wells for removing his tooth, which caused him pain:
“Sir, I congratulate you on your ministrations. I now depart on my journey in greater comfort than on my arrival. I thank you. Mark Twain”. (Hand written and signed)
The Wells brothers owned a dentist shop on the corner of Bolton and King Street in Newcastle; a brief walk from the train station. It’s believed that Albert Well’s removed Twains tooth and before Twain continued on his journey to Scone where he presented a poem in honour of the Australian landscapes and towns he visited titled, A Sweltering Day in Australia.
Twain said it best talking about Australian history when he said, “It does not read like history but like the most beautiful lies; and all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises and adventures, the incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.” Whether or not the legendary quote was actually said by Twain, he is forever linked to a part of Newcastle history.
“A Sweltering Day in Australia”
The Bombola faints in the hot Bowral tree,
Where fierce Mullengudgery’s smothering fires
Far from the breezes of Coolgardie
Burn ghastly and blue as the day expires;
And Murriwillumba complaineth in song
For the garlanded bowers of Woolloomooloo,
And the Ballarat Fly and the lone Wollongong
They dream of the gardens of Jamberoo;
The wallabi sighs for the Murrubidgee,
For the velvety sod of the Munno Parah,
Where the waters of healing from Muloowurtie
Flow dim in the gloaming by Yaranyackah;
The Koppio sorrows for lost Wolloway,
And sigheth in secret for Murrurundi,
The Whangeroo wombat lamenteth the day
That made him an exile from Jerrilderie;
The Teawamute Tumut from Wirrega’s glade,
The Nangkita swallow, the Wallaroo swan,
They long for the peace of the Timaru shade
And thy balmy soft airs, O sweet Mittagong!
The Kooringa buffalo pants in the sun,
The Kondoparinga lies gaping for breath,
The Kongorong Camaum to the shadow has won,
But the Goomeroo sinks in the slumber of death;
In the weltering hell of the Moorooroo plain
The Yatala Wangary withers and dies,
And the Worrow Wanilla, demented with pain,
To the Woolgoolga woodlands despairingly flies;
Sweet Nangwarry’s desolate, Coonamble wails,
And Tungkillo Kuito in sables is drest,
For the Whangerei winds fall asleep in the sails
And the Booleroo life-breeze is dead in the west.
Mypongo, Kapunda, O slumber no more
Yankalilla, Parawirra, be warned
There’s death in the air!
Shall the prayer of Penola be scorned?
Cootamundra, and Takee, and Wakatipu,
Toowoomba, Kaikoura are lost
From Onkaparinga to far Oamaru
All burn in this hell’s holocaust!
Paramatta and Binnum are gone to their rest
In the vale of Tapanni Taroom,
Kawakawa, Deniliquin – all that was best
In the earth are but graves and a tomb!
Narrandera mourns, Cameron answers not
When the roll of the scathless we cry
Tongariro, Goondiwindi, Woolundunga, the spot
Is mute and forlorn where ye lie.