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 Australian journalist, dramatist and poet, Louis Esson (1878-1943), was in kinship care as a child.

Thomas Louis Buvelot Esson was born in the port city of Leith in the north of Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1880, he came to Melbourne with his mother Mary Jane (nee Paterson) where Mary Jane already had eight siblings living, including the landscape artist John Ford Paterson. Although Mary Jane said she was a widow, it is not clear what happened to Louis’ father, marine engineer Thomas Clarence Esson.

Mary Ann Esson remarried in 1887, after which she “moved decisively to the edge of Louis’ life” (Fitzpatrick, 16). Louis was left to be raised by his aunts in Carlton; he attended Carlton Grammar School and visited his mother on the farm at Berwick during school holidays.

Louis developed an interest in painting through his uncle John and in theatre through his uncle Hugh, who became one of Melbourne’s leading architectural designers.

Louis Esson commenced an arts degree at the University of Melbourne in 1896, but never completed it. He began contributing articles and poetry to the Bulletin from 1904 and to the Socialist from 1906 after he became a founding member of the Victorian Socialist Party.

In 1911, Esson completed his first play, The Time is Not Yet Ripe. It was staged in Melbourne in 1912.

Esson’s cynical attitude toward Australian politicians and his understanding that “literature is a mirror held up to nature” (Ikin, 300) is revealed in The Is Not Yet Ripe. Set around the time of a federal election, Doris Quiverton, daughter of the current conservative Prime Minister, accepts a nomination to run for parliament despite a frank admission that she “does not understand politics” (Ikin, 298). Ultimately, she gives up her potential career to preserve her relationship with idealist, Sydney Barrett.

Esson travelled overseas on several occasions, for example, to Paris, Dublin, Japan, New York, and London. He is said to have been encouraged by Irish playwrights to set up a national theatre when he returned to Australia. Some sources name John Millington Synge (1871-1909) and others refer to William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).

In 1921, Esson and his second wife, Hilda, established the Pioneer Players with the help and encouragement of Nettie and Vance Palmer. It was “an organization dedicated to performing Australian plays” (Walker). Esson’s play, The Drovers, was staged by the Pioneer Players in 1923 and the final production of the group was Esson’s The Bride of Gospel Place in June 1926.

The movement was not the success for which Louis and Hilda Esson had hoped, but their expectations had been high. They had exposed Melbourne audiences to local drama and given local dramatists a chance to have their work staged (Walker).

Between 1924 and 1927, Louis Esson was the Melbourne drama critic for the New Triad, a magazine founded in 1892 in New Zealand with its first Australian appearing in 1915.

The Essons moved to Sydney in 1930, where Louis died in 1943.

Louis Esson is widely considered the ‘father of Australian drama’; the prestigious Louis Esson Prize for Drama was awarded between 1985 and 2010 as part of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.


“Esson, Louis (1878-08-10-1943-11-27).” Australian Poetry Library.

Fitzpatrick, Peter. Pioneer Players. The lives of Louis and Hilda Esson. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Fitzpatrick, Peter. “Louis Esson (10 August 1878-27 November 1943).” Australian Writers, 1915-1950, edited by Selina Samuels. Detroit: Thomson Gales, 2002.

Ikin, Van. “The Time Is Not Yet Ripe and Contemporary Attitudes to Politics.” Australian Literary Studies, vol. 8, no. 3 (1978): 296-306.

Kelly, Veronica. “Review of Sumner Locke Elliott: Writing Life. A Biography, by Sharon Clarke, and Pioneer Players: The Lives of Louis and Hilda Esson by Peter Fitzpatrick.” Australian Literary Studies, vol. 17, no. 4 (1996): 411-415.

Walker, D.R. “Esson, Thomas Louis Buvelot (1878-1943).” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.

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