Will H Ogilvie: How a Borders boy became a leading bush poet

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

image copyrightWill H Ogilvie Memorial Trust
image captionWill Ogilvie enjoyed greater recognition in Australia than in Scotland during his lifetime

William Henry Ogilvie hailed from the Scottish Borders - but it was his evocation of the Australian outback that made his name as a poet. As the 150th anniversary of his birth approaches, enthusiasts want him to receive the recognition they believe he deserves in his homeland.

Ogilvie - known to most as Will - was born near Kelso on 21 August 1869. He attended Kelso High School and Fettes College in Edinburgh before returning to the family farm near Kelso in 1888.

A year later he made a decision that would deeply affect both his life and his verse.

He set off for Australia and spent the subsequent 12 years roaming the outback from Queensland to South Australia.

The poetry and ballads he produced would eventually see him regarded as one of the country's finest "bush poets".

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe landscape of the Australian outback inspired much of Ogilvie's work

His work appeared in a variety of publications and gained him a reputation for mixing elements of the two places he knew best.

"Ogilvie's writing derived from the Scottish Border ballads and from them he infused a glow of romanticism into the Australian bush," says his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

"His contemporaries saw the harsher colours, he the softer and mellower ones."

Ogilvie came back to his native Scotland in 1901 and continued to write, with much of his work being sent to Australia for publication.

He also wrote widely about the Borders but, according to the local trust set up in his honour, "didn't get the plaudits he deserved from his own countrymen in his lifetime".

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionOgilivie was born near Kelso and returned to the Borders and wrote widely about the area

Fans say his work stands comparisons with the best poets the region has ever known - quite a claim in the land of James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott.

Ogilvie died at Ashkirk, near Selkirk, in 1963 but a series of events in his honour will attempt to ensure his memory is kept alive.

'Galloping hooves'

They include an exhibition at the Heritage Hub in Hawick, the unveiling of a new memorial cairn and a service of thanksgiving at Ashkirk Church.

A trail has already been launched, some of his Border poems have been republished and the trust has also improved its website.

Ian Landles, who chairs the Will H Ogilvie Memorial Trust, believes the poet deserves the recognition that he failed to achieve in Scotland while he was alive.

image copyrightWill H Ogilvie Memorial Trust
image captionThe poet's name remains celebrated in his native land 150 years on

"He had a great way with words, a great rhythm of his poetry," he said.

"He was a great horseman and a lot of the poetry has the rhythm of galloping hooves.

"He just captures the beautiful landscape of the Borders.

"That is why we want to plug him and get him into the ken of a new generation so that they can come to know and love this great border poet."

Extract from The Hoofs of the Horses by Will H Ogilvie

The hoofs of the horses!—Oh! witching and sweet

Is the music earth steals from the iron-shod feet;

No whisper of lover, no trilling of bird

Can stir me as hoofs of the horses have stirred.

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