Precursor to the profile: the character sketch in colonial Australia

Willa McDonald*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Profile feature articles are a staple of the modern media, but their origins can be traced to the character sketch. In line with literary trends in the USA and Europe, several models of non-fiction character sketches emerged in Australia in the nineteenth century, with writers and journalists experimenting with different forms, and the boundaries between the styles often blurred. The most evident versions of the Australian character sketch, included:
- The satirical sketch, of the unnamed local identity, for example, as done anonymously in the 1820s by Australia’s first essayist and novelist, the convict forger Henry Savery, and later by a range of journalists including Theodore Emile Argles (Harold Grey) and Caroline Dexter.
- The sketch of character ‘type’. This form of character sketch was linked to the task of nation building in colonial Australia and took the form of both fictional typological sketches and those that ‘profiled’ known people. William Baker’s early journal Heads of the People (1847/8) is an example of the latter; it ran sketches of a range of Sydneysiders from the prominent to the humble in its search for representative Australian characters.
- The sketch as exemplar—this was common in the Australian colonial literary culture as elsewhere at the time, but the missionary Christina Smith’s sketches of individual Booandik tribespeople (1880) are an unusual and moving elegiac and ethnographic application of this form; and
- The style closest to the modern profile, the ‘illustrated interview’ as sketch of a local or visiting celebrity. Cosmos magazine under Annie Bright’s editorship prioritized character sketches of dignitaries and entertainment celebrities that included interviews and accompanying illustrations.
The publications explored here have been chosen because they help to demonstrate the varieties of non-fiction character sketch that led to the development of the modern profile. Far from being definitive, these are representative examples of some of the forms of non-fiction character sketch practiced in the rich and varied journalistic culture of nineteenth century Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProfile pieces
Subtitle of host publicationjournalism and the 'Human Interest' bias
EditorsSue Joseph, Richard Lance Keeble
Place of PublicationNew York; London
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781317383536, 9781315675893
ISBN (Print)9781138938052
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

Publication series

NameRoutledge Research in Journalism


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