Charles H. Kirmess

[Editor: This article provides some information about Charles H. Kirmess and the authorship of The Australian Crisis.]

Charles H. Kirmess was the author of “The Commonwealth Crisis”, a fictional work about a Japanese invasion of Australia, which was printed as a serial in The Lone Hand (Sydney) from October 1908 to August 1909. The story was published in book form in 1909 as The Australian Crisis by Thomas Lothian (Melbourne), George Robertson (Melbourne), and by the Walter Scott Publishing Company (London).

Very little about the identity of C.H. Kirmess is known. The Bibliography of Australian Literature refers to correspondence between Kirmess and Thomas Lothian (publisher of the book) and gives two other possibilities: that the author was Ambrose Pratt, or possibly a young German who returned to his home country prior to the advent of World War One. There is a distinct lack of official records relating to the existence of Charles Kirmess, where he came from, and who he was.

Neville Meaney, in the first edition of The Search for Security in the Pacific 1901-1914, attributed the authorship of The Australian Crisis to Frank Fox (the original editor of The Lone Hand), but later revealed that he had since discovered information to show that this was not the case. He noted that the State Library of Victoria holds correspondence between C.H. Kirmess and the Lothian Publishing Company (including 19 letters from Kirmess in his own handwriting) and that a comparison of the handwriting of Fox and Kirmess demonstrates that they were different people. The letters showed that Kirmess had met with Thomas Lothian in Sydney, and that he had business dealings with both Frank Fox and Arthur Henry Adams (the latter was the second editor of The Lone Hand).

Philippa Scarlett maintains that Kirmess was born in Prussia, was known to her family, and had been temporarily engaged to her grandmother’s cousin (Lily Service of Randwick, NSW).

Since the letters from Kirmess mention that he collaborated often with “several well-known Sydney University men”, there is a possibility that The Australian Crisis was a collaborative effort, or that Kirmess was acting as a “front man” for another person, or persons, who felt that their careers may be damaged by being publicly identified as having written the novel.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer, as yet, to the mystery of the life story of C.H. Kirmess and the authorship of The Australian Crisis.

References:
John Arnold, John Hay (general editors). The Bibliography of Australian Literature: Volume 3 K-O, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia (Qld.), 2007, pages 77-78 (accessed 23 October 2012)
The Australian crisis / by C.H. Kirmess” [catalogue entry for edition published by Lothian, 1909], National Library of Australia (accessed 25 October 2012)
Correspondence [manuscript]. Lothian Publishing Company” [catalogue entry], National Library of Australia (accessed 25 October 2012) [Correspondence with the author C.H. Kirmess, regarding the publication of his novel “The Australian crisis”; 1908-1910; Manucripts reference no.: NLA MS 7767; Photocopies; Originals held by the State Library of Victoria at MS 6026 (Box 2)]
C. H. Kirmess. The Australian Crisis, George Robertson & Company, Melbourne, April 1909
C. H. Kirmess. The Australian Crisis, Walter Scott Publishing Company, London, April 1909, page 4
Neville Meaney. The Search for Security in the Pacific 1901-1914: A History of Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1901-23, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 2009 (first published 1976), page 164
Neville Meaney. “The Yellow Peril: Invasion scare novels and Australian political culture”, in: Ken Stewart (editor). The 1890s: Australian Literature and Literary Culture, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia (Qld.), 1996, pages 347-348
Philippa Scarlett. “The secret centenary” [forum topic], The Desert Column [forum], 31 January 2012 2:54 pm and 3 May 2012 6:18 pm (accessed 23 October 2012)
Thomas W. Tanner. “Race as a factor in the strengthening of central authority: White Australia and the establishment of compulsory military training”, in: Bruce W. Hodgins, Don Wright, and W. H. Heick (editors). Federalism in Canada and Australia: The Early Years, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo (Ontario, Canada), 1978, pages 245-246 (accessed 23 October 2012)

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