cartoonist, illustrator, poet, author and editor, was born at Anchorfield, Hawthorn, Melbourne, on 4 October 1876, second son of writer and artist George Gordon McCrae [ ADB 5] and his Tasmanian-born wife, Augusta Helen née Brown, and a grandson of artist Georgiana McCrae . His early life is portrayed in My father and my father’s friends (1935). He was articled to an architect in youth but abandoned architecture for writing and illustrating, his first poem being published in the Bulletin in 1896.
Although best known as a poet and writer Hugh McCrae was also an actor, writer of articles, editor of magazines and illustrator and cartoonist. He sent cartoons from Moir Street [or possibly Muir Street], Hawthorn to the Rambler in 1899, and he is also represented in the Norman Lilley collection (ML PXD 771, f.166-171). He was a regular contributor of cartoons to the Bulletin at least from 1898 (see ’100 years ago’, Bulletin column, December 1998, cartoon signed 'Splash’), e.g. Different Symptons 1899, signed 'Hugh McCrae’ (ill. Lindesay WWW , 32); An Ovation 1900 [couple in evening dress]: 'He: “Well, what did you think of that last song?”/ She: “Oh, it was very good. But I think they might have handed up the eggs more carefully to him” (a stylish drawing signed 'Splash’, ill. Lindesay 1979, 119); 'Splash’ Boer War cartoon in art nouveau style of a little girl wanting the autograph of 'Heart-breaker Davey’ 1900, sent from Muir Street [or Moir Street?], Hawthorn, Victoria, captioned: “Please sir, are you Mister Private Davey? – 'cos if you are, I’d like your photograph [sic]’ (original ML Px*D514/112); High Art as at present in Melbourne (tiny figures painting visiting Royals, signed 'Splash’, 27 April 1901; Shortly to be Erected, “Statue to commemorate NSW Lands Administration” (man with hand out for bribe), signed “McCrae”, 20 July 1905.
The ML Bulletin collection has 36 original drawings 1903-54, plus one caricature. An untitled set of coloured postcards after 'Splash’ cartoons, published by the Bulletin in January 1907, includes She begged him to keep her grave plot green . Later cartoons and caricatures for the Bulletin include George Reid , published 20 January 1910 (NLA neg. NL 3043); Women’s Fashions 1921 (ill. Lindesay 1979, 164); The Cat and the Mouse 1930 [husband joke made by society woman with her young man] signed 'McCrae’ (ill. Rolfe, 278).
In 1907 McCrae won 'The Bookfellow’s Decorative Drawing Competition – Headpieces and Tailpieces’ with an ink drawing of a satyr and Pan flanking three kangaroos in the verdant bush (ill. Bookfellow 18 April 1907, 9). He drew illustrations and wrote articles, stories and verse for the Lone Hand and drew lots of cartoons for the Comic Australian (1911-13), e.g. the comic strip, Jim and Jam , of 1911 about a kangaroo that Lindesay claims was the first Australian comic strip to be printed in colour. Others are: a cover cartoon on compulsory military training, March 1912 (ill. Lindesay, WWW , 84, 82), Kill that Fly! Kill that Mosquito! and The Mawson Antarctic Expedition , both 7 October 1911.
He was a staff artist on Arena (Melbourne) and later on Melbourne Punch . A member of the Yorick Club in Melbourne (of which his father was a founding member), he drew a cartoon of members using bundles of newspapers as chairs (ill. Johnson, 21) and another of Adam Lindsay Gordon pretending to throw Marcus Clarke out of a window (Johnson, 33).
Hugh McCrae spent 1914-c.1915 in the USA working as an actor in New York, where he also drew for Puck magazine. In 1916 he was the Australian lead in a film on the life of Adam Lindsay Gordon. During WWI he was a decoder in the Censor’s Office. He returned to Sydney in 1922 and lived there for the rest of his life, except for some years in Camden in the 1930s. In the 1920s he wrote and illustrated a story 'The House of Pain’ for Home (1 December 1922, 19) and edited a literary magazine, the New Triad . Mitchell Library has his cute, coloured original book-cover and illustrations for The Mimshi Maiden (Sydney: A&R, 1938), ML Z SSV*ART 44.
For some years Hugh McCrae and his wife, Annie Geraldine (Nancy) née Adams, who had married at Christ Church, Hawthorn on 4 May 1901, shared a house at Lavender Bay, Sydney, with Hugh’s lifelong friend, Norman Lindsay , and Norman’s first wife. Later the McCrae’s lived up the North Shore where Hugh produced most of his Satyrs and Sunlight poems (1909). Some were first published in the Lone Hand in 1907 with Norman Lindsay illustrations; an edition de luxe of 100 copies, also illustrated by NL, was sold at a guinea. McCrae rarely illustrated his own writings, e.g. his verse 'The New Year’, published in the Lone Hand of 1 February 1908, 454, was illustrated by Alice Muskett , although Norman Lindsay was his lifelong collaborator. McCrae’s Idyllia poems were illustrated by Norman and printed by Rose Lindsay at Springwood.
Norman Lindsay drew a fairly straight portrait of Hugh McCrae surrounded by nymphs and satyrs (reproduced in NL’s Bohemians , 117). McCrae reciprocated with caricatures of Norman (one DL). A collection of his illustrated letters to Norman was edited by Robert D. FitzGerald and published by Angus & Robertson in 1970. From 1926 he received a Commonwealth Literary Fund pension of 52 pounds p.a., apart from 1928 when he earned 7 pounds a week as joint editor of the New Triad with Ernest Watt (see ADB 10). In 1941 his pension was increased to two pounds a week. Nancy died in 1943 and on 4 July 1946, at Mosman, Hugh McCrae married Janet Le Brun, née Brown, widow of the composer Horan Keats ( ADB 9). The marriage was dissolved on 22 July 1948. Awarded the OBE in 1953, Hugh died on 17 February 1958. There were three daughters of his first marriage: Dorothea Huntley Cowper (Honey), Marjorie Francesca McWilliam ( Mahdi McCrae) and Georgiana Rose Morris (’ Smee’ McCrae) .