new zealand electronic poetry centre


The First Life: A Chronology of Lola Ridge’s Australasian Years

Michele Leggott


Documentation for a talk presented at BLUFF 06, Te Rau Aroha Marae, Southland, 22 April 2006

Anarcho-feminist immigrant poet Lola Ridge (1873-1941) took New York critics by storm in 1918 with ‘The Ghetto,’ an imagist sequence about the Hester St Jewish community of the Lower East Side. She followed it in 1919 with a groundbreaking lecture ‘Woman and the Creative Will,’ written 10 years ahead of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. ‘Sun-Up,a sequence of imagist poems invoking an Irish and antipodean childhood appeared in 1920. Together the book publications of The Ghetto and Sun-Up secured Ridge’s reputation in the postwar American scene as a socially engaged and lyrically acute practitioner of free verse.

Lola Ridge came to San Francisco from Sydney in 1907, subtracting a decade from her age and telling the Americans she was Australian. In doing so she elided 23 formative years on the West Coast of New Zealand in the era of Dick Seddon and the campaigns for universal suffrage and the old age pension that were the high-watermark of the Liberal government’s social legislation. We know about the work and careers of her contemporaries, painter Frances Hodgkins, poets Blanche Baughan and Ursula Bethell, and novelist Jane Mander, all of whom made journeys between the centres and margins of their cultural milieu and counted themselves, to a greater or lesser extent, as transnational citizens of the new century. What, though, can we learn about the occluded transformation of Lola Ridge from goldfields poet (she published over 30 poems in the Sydney Bulletin and in local magazines and newspapers) to politically-charged New York modernist?

The documentary record presented here is provisional and attempts to bring Ridge’s Australasian years (c1877-1907) into focus. Though fragmentary it maps a series of migratory flights that form the basis of a lifelong nomadism and the refusal to be pinned down by social conventions. When she reached the Lower East Side in 1908 Ridge encountered the radical labour politics of Emma Goldman and the education reforms of the New York Ferrer Association. Poems she had written and published in New Zealand and Australia were seeded into American little magazines, and some were rewritten many years later. But it was Harriet Monroe’s Poetry and Alfred Kreymborg’s Others that brought her into contact with poets who shared her sharp eye for social injustice and had uncoupled themselves from Victorian dictions. Lola Ridge began recasting what she had seen and heard as a cultural nomad and sympathetic witness of the American immigrant community, and then she turned to the liberation of her own childhood memories in the extraordinary work that is ‘Sun-Up.’

The sequence is lensed through the composite experience of Ridge’s sojourn in Sydney as a very young child brought by her mother from Ireland, and her return to the same city in 1903 with her mother and three year old son. When her mother died in 1907, Ridge’s departure with her son for San Francisco duplicated Emma Ridge’s flight from Ireland in the 1870s as a solo mother in search of security for herself and her daughter. That hope lay for each woman in a series of epic eastward journeys is perhaps coinciderntal but certainly why ‘Sun-Up’ eulogises the difficult, delicate coming to consciousness in the world of its child protagonist. The poem is Irish, Australian, New Zealand and American, and it is the product of Lola Ridge’s first and subsequent lives in a series of new worlds that mirror and illuminate each other.



1838, 1839, 1842   Joseph H Ridge, esq., attorney, 12 Frederick Street North, Dublin, and Loughrea. (Thom's Almanac and Official Directory)

1842   Joseph O’Reilly, literary teacher, 2 Dolphin’s Barn Terrace. Joseph H Ridge, solicitor, 12 Frederick Street North. (Pettigrew and Oulton's Dublin)

27 Jun 1866   SS Gothenburg departs Melbourne for Hokitika and Nelson with passengers H Russell, 33, single, English, miner; James Duffy, 31, single, Irish, miner; Andrew McFarlane, 31, single, Scottish, miner. (NZ passenger records) Gothenburg off Hokitika 3 Jul. (West Coast Times 4 Jul 1866)

1868   Mrs O’Reilly at 1 St James Terrace, Dolphin's Barn, Dublin. (Thom's Almanac and Official Directory)

13 Sep 1870   Birth of Peter Webster at Hau Hau, Westland, NZ. Father James Webster, miner, b. 16 Jul 1838, Aberdeen, Scotland. Mother Margaret Webster nee Sanderson, b. 10 Jul 1844, Dalkeith, Scotland. JW arrived in Port Chalmers, Otago, 26 Apr 1860 by SS Storm Cloud. Enrolled with 3rd Regiment Waikato Militia 16 Nov 1863, occupation stockman; discharged as sergeant 6 Jul 1865. Settled on West Coast by 1866. Married MS, storekeeper, Hokitika Registrar’s Office 1 Feb 1869. PW is second of 13 children. (BDM, Clarke)

19 Dec 1873   Birth of Rose Emily Ridge at 1 St James Terrace, Dolphin’s Barn, Dublin, Ireland. Father Joseph Henry Ridge, medical student. Mother Emma Ridge nee Reilly. Registered 19 Jan 1874; informant Sarah Kinsella (‘her X mark’), 28 Cole Alley, present at birth. (BDM) DOB given as 12 Dec 1873 by LR.

1877   Mr John Reilly at 1 St James Tce, Dolphin’s Barn. (Thom's Almanac and Official Directory)

16 Sep 1880   Marriage of Donald McFarlane, miner, and Emma Ridge, widow, All Saints Church, Hokitika, NZ. Witnesses H Russell, Kaniere, miner; James Duffy, Kaniere, miner; Laura Henderson. Minister [Augustus] Hamilton. (BDM)

6 Dec 1895   Marriage of Peter Webster, 25, miner, and Rosalie Ridge, 22, painter, in the house of Mrs D McFarlane, Hokitika. Witnesses Mary Owens, Hokitika; Evelyn McFarlane, Hokitka. Minister William Douglas. (BDM)

9 Dec 1896   Birth of Paul Webster at Kaniere, Hokitika. Father Peter Webster, 26, miner. Mother Rose Webster nee Ridge, 22. Registered 22 Dec 1896; informant Peter Webster. Child not present. (BDM)

21 Dec 1896   Death of Paul Webster from bronchitis at Kaniere, Hokitika. Registered 7 Jan 1897 as ‘Infant’ Webster; informant [RH McMillan], undertaker. Buried Hoiktika Cemetery 22 Dec 1896, 399 / 18. (BDM, Cemetery Records)

1899   Cyclopedia of NZ (Westland) entry for Peter Webster, shareholder in Lemain and Party sluicing claim at Kaniere Forks, established 1891. Married to ‘a daughter of Mr Daniel Macfarlane, one of the earliest settlers at Hokitika.’ (p26) Photographs of PW, mining claim. Entry for James Webster in full Cyclopedia. (p426)

1900   NZ Electoral Roll for Westland: Rosalie Webster, Kaniere Forks. 1902, 1903, 1905, 1906   Rosalie Webster, Kaniere Tram, household duties.

21 Jan 1900   Birth of Keith Webster at  Kaniere. Father Peter Webster, 29, miner. Mother Rosalie Webster nee Ridge, 26. Registered  [17] Mar 1900; informant Peter Webster. Child not present. (BDM)

5 Oct 1901   First LR contribution to Bulletin (Sydney), poem ‘A Deserted Diggings, Maoriland,’ signed ‘Lola.’

12 Mar 1902   First LR contribution to Otago Witness (Dunedin), poem ‘Driving the Cattle Home,’ signed ‘Lola. Hokitika, February, 1902.’

Nov 1902   First LR contribution to NZ Illustrated Magazine (Auckland), poem ‘Lake Kanieri,’ signed ‘Lola.’

Mar 1903   Contributor’s note and photograph in NZ Illustrated Magazine for ‘Lola’ or ‘Lola Ridge.’ Has published in Canterbury Times, Otago Witness and Bulletin; ‘is now preparing some short stories and also a volume of verses for publication in book form.’

Apr 1903   First LR publication signed ‘Lola Ridge’; poem ‘The Legend of the Cross’ in NZ Illustrated Magazine.

Aug 1903   Author-illustrated story ‘The Trial of Ruth’ in NZ Illustrated Magazine. Frontispiece, 2 illustrations, [endpiece].

11 Nov 1903   Rose Webster, Emma McFarlane and Keith Webster arrive in Sydney from Wellington and ports by SS Mokoia. Mesdames McFarlane, Webster and infant in saloon class. (NSW passenger record) Advertised sailing 7 Nov Wellington-Sydney direct. (West Coast Times 2 Nov 1903)

27 Jan 1904   Receipt of letter from Rose Webster to AG Stephens answering biographical questionnaire for Bulletin, RW living in North Sydney with mother and ‘little son,’ studying art and working at Julian Ashton Academy. AGS postscript notes request for omission of married name. (AG Stephens Papers, SLNSW)

April 1905   Handwritten date on titlepage of ‘Verses by Lola Ridge,’ typescript carbon in AG Stephens Papers, SLNSW. Poems submitted (1903-04?) and typed by Stephens or employee; annotations and corrections in AGS hand.

17 May 1905   First LR contribution to Australian Town and Country Journal, poem ‘The Seed.’

14 Jan 1906   Death of Donald McFarlane, 73, from bronchial pneumonia in Hokitika Mental Hospital. Born Scotland, 42 years in NZ. Coroner’s Jury verdict; informant R. Acheson, coroner. Buried Hokitika Cemetery 17 Jan 1906, 5243 / 232. Inmate of Seaview Mental Hospital for 10 years. (BDM, West Coast Times 16 Jan 1906, Cemetery Records)

2 Aug 1907   Death of Emma McFarlane, 74, from acute gastroenteritis and cardiac failure, Ellis’ Coffee Palace, [King] St, Sydney. No inquest necessary. Informant A. Penfold, nephew, Albany St, North Sydney. 24 years in NZ, 3 years in NSW. Born Ireland. Father John Kelly, tutor. Marriages to Ridge (Ireland) and McFarlane (NZ). One living child Rosa (Webster), [30]; none dead. Buried Presbyterian Cemetery, Rookwood 3 Aug 1907. (BDM)

5 Dec 1907   Death of Margaret Webster, 63, at Rimu, Westland; wife of James Webster. Born Dalkeith, Scotland. Buried Hokitika Cemetery 5883 / 267. (Cemetery Records) Native of Edinburgh; leaves husband, 5 sons and 7 daughters. (West Coast Times 7 Dec 1907)

Mar 1908   First LR contribution to Overland Monthly (San Francisco), poem ‘The “Te Katipo Extended.” From the Chronicles of Sandy Gully as Kept by Skiting Bill.’

1 Dec 1908   First LR contribution to The Lone Hand (Sydney), prose ‘The Bush.’

Apr 1909   First (?) LR contribution to Ainslee’s (New York), poem ‘The Dream Man.’ Rpt. from NZ Illustrated Magazine Dec 1903.

15 Apr 1909   First LR contribution to Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth (New York), poem ‘The Martyrs of Hell.’

Aug 1910   First (?) LR contribution to Gunter’s Magazine, poem ‘A Street Song.’

Sep 1911   First (?) LR contribution to New Magazine, poem ‘Driving the Cattle Home.’ Rpt. from Otago Witness Mar 1902.

Feb 1912   LR edits first issue of The Modern School, journal of the Francisco Ferrer Association, 104 East 12th St, NYC. President Leonard D Abbott.

13 Apr 1918   First LR contribution to New Republic, poem ‘The Ghetto.’

1918   Publication of The Ghetto and Other Poems by Lola Ridge (New York: Huebsch).

Oct 1918   First LR contribution to Harriet Monroe’s Poetry (Chicago), poem ‘Chromatics.’

Dec 1918   First LR contribution to Alfred Kreymborg’s Others 5.1, poem ‘The Woman with Jewels.’

1919   LR lecture tour of midwest; speaks on ‘Individualism and American Poetry’ and ‘Woman and the Creative Will.’

Feb-[Jul] 1919   LR associate editor of Others.

Apr-May 1919   First LR contribution to The Modern School 6.4-5 (New York), poem ‘To Alexander Berkman.’

22 Oct 1919   Marriage of David Lawson and Lola Ridge, NYC.

1920   Publication of Sun-Up and Other Poems by Lola Ridge (New York: Huebsch).

20 Feb 1920   LR reads from her poems at Friends of the Ferrer School Dinner, Hotel Gonfarone, NYC. Editorial, Modern School 7.1-3 (Jan-Mar 1920): 78.

Mar 1921   First (?) LR contribution to The Bookman 55 (New York), poem ‘Child and Wind.’

Nov 1921   First LR contribution to Broom 1.1 (Rome), poem ‘Hospital Nights.’

Jun 1922-[Mar 1923]   LR American editor of Broom.

16 Sep 1922   First LR contribution to New York Post Literary Review 3.2, poem ‘Bolsheviki.’

13 Mar 1923   Death of James Garden Webster, 85, native of Aberdeen. Buried Hokitika Cemetery with wife Margaret, 5883 / 267. (Cemetery Records) Funeral at late residence in Seddon Terrace, Rimu. (Hokitika Guardian 13 Mar 1923)

9 Aug 1924   First LR contribtution to Saturday Review 1.2, poem ‘Manhattan Morning.’

Jul 1926   First LR contribution to New Masses 1.3, poem ‘Histrionics.’ Listed as contributing editor 1.1 (May 1926).

1927   Publication of Red Flag by Lola Ridge (New York: Viking).

10 Aug 1927   LR arrested with Edna St Vincent Millay and others in Boston protesting execution of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti.

1929   Publication of Firehead by Lola Ridge (New York: Payson & Clarke).

May 1931-Mar 1932   LR travels solo to London, Corsica, Nice, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, Babylon, Ur. Returns via Trieste, Paris and London to NYC.

1935   Publication of Dance of Fire by Lola Ridge (New York: Smith & Haas).

1935-37   Guggenheim grant: travels to Santa Fe, Taos. Mid-Oct 1935 Mexico City. Returns via California, overland to NYC.

19 May 1941   Death of Lola Ridge, 67, from pulmonary tuberculosis at 111 Montague St, Brooklyn, NYC.

9 Jun 1946   Death of Peter Webster, 76, of Rimu in Hokitika Hospital, from myocardial degeneration. Buried 11 Jun 1946, Hokitika Cemetery 7308 / 326. Wife Rose McFarlane; no widow. One living son, 45. (BDM, Cemetery Records)


Information collected by Martin Edmond, Annie Irving, Michele Leggott, Christine O’Brien and Ricci Van Elburg. Thanks also to archivists and librarians Martin Beckett (State Library of NSW), Natalie Mahony (University of Auckland Special Collections), Mary Rooney (Hokitika Historical Museum); to Alison Clarke for information about the Webster family, and to Theresia Liemlienio Marshall, Roger Collins and Peter Quartermain for references to some of Lola Ridge’s New Zealand, Australian and early American publications.






Last updated 25 September, 2006