Banner Image
Literaire Spéciale Ecole Supranormale 1919, State Library of New South Wales PXA49

The Randolph Hughes Collection

Geoff Barker
French literature and Pre-Raphaelite works 1800-1950

Randolph Hughes was born in Burwood, Sydney in 1889 and was educated at Sydney Boys' High School and later Sydney University. While at University he studied literature and poetry and met the Australian poet Christopher Brennan who appears to have introduced him to Algernon Swinburne and the French symbolist poets. Both of these literary figures played a significant role in Hughes' career as he completed his doctoral thesis at King's College, London on Baudelaire and spent his later years preparing editions of Swinburne's work for publication.  

Randolph Hughes
Randolph Hughes, c. 1930-1940, vintage print by Van Dyke, State Library of New South Wales

It was at the University too that he began his lifelong friendship with Alan Chisholm,  founder of the Modern Language Review of New South Wales. Chisholm described Randolph Hughes at the time as being  

.. an elegant youth, with soft and plentiful reddish-golden hair, a slight impediment in his speech, [and] somewhat prominent eyes that burned with a strange inner fire.1  

After graduating with a B.A. in 1913 Hughes took a teaching post at Bathurst, where he met and married Ina Stanley Hall on 29 December 1914. In 1915, after fathering twin sons, he  received his M.A. and took up a travelling scholarship to travel to London alone. In 1916 he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers and served in Egypt and Cairo.  

Literaire Spesciiale Ecole Supranormale 1919, State Library of New South Wales
Literaire Spesciiale Ecole Supranormale 1919, State Library of New South Wales

From 1920 to 1922 he taught English Literature in France, first at University of Rennes and then at the Ecole Normale Superieure in the University of Paris. He then moved back to London where he was appointed a lecturer in French Language and Literature at King’s College, University of London.  

While firmly embedded in the European literary scene he still found time to complete a major study, C. J. Brennan (Sydney, 1934). 2 He remained at King's College until 1935, when he resigned following an acrimonious dispute with a colleague. For the next twenty years he survived as a freelance writer and by marking examination papers.  

Often wearing a monocle and gloves, and carrying a walking-stick Hughes was a passionate man who held to his beliefs tenaciously. A talented scholar he referred to himself as both a pagan and a Tory and appears to have been a difficult man for women to deal with. He not only had a number of marriages but was often dismissive of women in his critical pieces.  Ernestine Normandy as an opening statement for her article directed at Randolph Hughes in "The New English Weekly"  wrote,   

Quoth a mouse once, encountering Mahomet, "here be toes!" And I, in like manner, before the general majesty of that eminent critic and distinguished scholar, Mr. Randolph Hughes, have noted the particular severity of some of his verdicts recently on the intellectual attainments of certain members of my sex. I set out to retrieve at least the human remains of these unhappy ladies from their fiery martyrdom  

While Ernestine's initial critique of Hughes may have set out to retrieve "human remains" she then follows with a lengthy exposition justifying Hughes' original criticism of women writers. Even so it seems to illustrate the general tone of Hughes' attitude to women  in the 1930s.3 

He also aligned himself with the far-right of the political spectrum. These views were clearly articulated in his 1936 pamphlet entitled 'The New Germany' completed a year after returning from a tour of Hitler's Germany.4 The following quotes, all taken from this publication, clearly articulate his view of Germany as,  

… a country that in the truest sense of the word was a nation; a living whole of concordant wills; a people regenerate and restored, physically and morally sound.5 

Everywhere health, character and order, and a virtual absence of the evils that are their negation; one does not see here louts and hooligans and wastrels, sinister or feckless toughs or softies, the contemptable malformations of humanity, sloughing and lounging at street corners and elsewhere as one sees them so often in this country and in other parts of the British Empire.6 

And everywhere there is the manifestation of a whole nation devoted to Hitler, and stirred by feelings of real affection towards him. He is the vital animating force behind all this, and he is recognised as such.7 

I have already said that my strong impression is that Herr Hitler and the immense majority of the German people desire peace.8

The same year he also courted controversy in Australia with his savage review of P. R. Stephenson's The Foundations of Culture in Australia.9 In the article Hughes claims,  

If a talent such as his essayed to make its way to any truly intellectual avocation in Europe it would be on poor rates before the year was out.10 

 If this were not enough he managed to raise the ire of the Agent-general for Queensland after claiming in the same article that soldiers returning to that State from World War One were spat on by anti-English supporters of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Queensland, Mr, Duhig.11 

In 1942, Hughes married Dorothy Freda Ayres. This marriage also dissolved with Hughes later claiming she 'basely and dishonourably' deserted him 'at a very critical period' in his life.12  

In later years, Hughes lived in Chelsea, developing a wide circle of acquaintances including artists and creative writers. For a long period, the bulk of his creative energies were devoted to Swinburne. Despite failing health, he produced a beautiful edition of Lucretia Borgia, published by the Golden Cockerel Press in 1942;13 a handsome edition of Pasiphae in 1950;14 and a large volume containing a reconstruction of Swinburne's unfinished novel, Lesbia Brandon, published by the Falcon Press in 1952.15  

Of this, A.R. Chisholm has said,

 many of the long notes in the ... volume are independent entities, prose poems of a very high order, written in an incomparable style and with a sweep of imagination of which only men of genius are capable.16  

By the 1950s he was living in Tunbridge Wells where he died  on 21 March, 1955, aged 65.  Among a large quantity of unpublished material, he left an unfinished volume dealing with the correspondence between Swinburne and Rossetti.  

Though essentially a creative writer, Randolph Hughes published little in this field. The Lost Eurydice, his only long work of imaginative prose, was never finished. Much of his other writing was published  in numerous English and French periodicals, producing his European wide reputation as a brilliant, creative and uncompromising critic with a vast breadth of scholarship. 

The Randolph Hughes Collection was acquired by the State Library of New South Wales after Miss Phyllis Mander-Jones, then Mitchell Librarian, wrote to Hughes in 1952. She was interested in acquiring material relating to Christopher Brennan which might be in his possession but this appears to have promtped the idea in Hughes' mind that the State Library might be a fitting repository for his Swinburne manuscripts as well. 

When he died he left all his books and manuscripts to his son the Rev. Philip Hughes who ensured the placement of most of his fathers collections with the library between 1955 and 1967. This included not only the literary manuscripts of Randolph Hughes but original material of Swinburn and  Dante Gabriel Rossetti, photographs, Hughes' portrait by Edward Wolfe, and around 1800 books relating to French Literature and the Pre-Raphaelites.17 Included among these are  early editions of French Symbolist and Surrealiat literature. The Randolph Hughes Collection can be found in the Library's online catalogue. and is available for research.


1. Chisholm, A.R. Men were my milestones, p.58
2 Hughes, R. (1934). C. J. Brennan : An essay in values / by Randolph Hughes. (Australian writers). Sydney: P.R. Stephensen.
3 Ernestine Normandy, Dignity and Impudence, The New English Weekly, March 21, 1935
4 Randolph Hughes, The New Germany, Randolph Hughes, November 1936 State Library of New South Wales 914.3 4
5 Randolph Hughes, The New Germany, Randolph Hughes, November 1936 State Library of New South Wales 914.3 4, p. 1-2 
6 Randolph Hughes, The New Germany, Randolph Hughes, November 1936 State Library of New South Wales 914.3 4, p. 11
7 Randolph Hughes, The New Germany, Randolph Hughes, November 1936 State Library of New South Wales 914.3 4, p. 12
8 Randolph Hughes, The New Germany, Randolph Hughes, November 1936 State Library of New South Wales 914.3 4, p. 24
9 Stephensen, P. (1936). The foundations of culture in Australia / by P. R. Stephenson. Gordon, N.S.W.: W. J. Miles, 
10  Amazing Attack Made on Australians, Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, 1 January 1937
11 Culture in Australia, Hobert Mercury, Tasmania, 1 January, 1937
12 Gregory Melleuish, 'Hughes, Randolph William (1889–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 10 July 2017.
13 Swinburne, Hughes, Stone, Hughes, Randolph, Stone, Reynolds, & Swinburne, Algernon Charles. (1942). Lucretia Borgia : The chronicle of Tebaldeo Tebaldei - Renaissance period / by Algernon Charles Swinburne ; commentary and notes by Randolph Hughes ; engravings by Reynolds Stone. London]: Golden Cockerel Press.
14 Swinburne, Hughes, Hughes, Randolph, & Golden Cockerel Press. (1950). Pasiphaë : A poem / by A. C. Swinburne. London, England: Golden Cockerel Press. 
15 Swinburne, Hughes, & Hughes, Randolph. (1952). Lesbia Brandon / by Algernon Charles Swinburne. An historical and critical commentary being largely a study (and elevation) of Swinburne as a novelist / by Randolph Hughes. London: Falcon Press.  
16 Chisholm, A.R. Men were my milestones, p.69
17 Randolph Hughes, Guide to the Papers and Books in the Mitchell Library, Library Council of New South Wales, monograph, 1982


Chisholm, A.R. Men were my milestones; Australian portraits and sketches Melb., University Press, 1958.  
Chisholm, A.R.: Randolph William Hughes; in memoriam. Australian Quarterly, June 1955. '  
Hughes, Rev. Philip E., Correspondence with the Mitchell Librarian, 1980-1981.  
Hughes, R. (1934). C. J. Brennan : An essay in values / by Randolph Hughes. (Australian writers). Sydney: P.R. Stephensen.  
Melleuish Gregory , 'Hughes, Randolph William (1889–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 June 2017. 
Hughes R. W., Collection of photographs owned by R.W. Hughes, including portraits of himself, 1918-ca. 1930, State Library of New South Wales,  
Swinburne Algernon Charles, Lucretia Borgia: the chronicle of Tebaldeo Tebaldei - Renaissance period / by  ; commentary and notes by Randolph Hughes; engravings by Reynolds Stone, London, Golden Cockerel Press, 1942,  
The Times Obituary for R.W. Hughes, 9 May 1955 
Wolfe Edward , Portrait of Randolph Hughes, painting, about 1932, Sate Library of New South Wales,