The Library recently acquired an original draft of a poem by Mark Twain in the form of a letter to his acquaintance Dr Jack Harrington, written on the way to Australia on board the SS Warrimoo.

Explore the 1895 Mark Twain letter in Trove

The poem, titled Invocation, describes some of the unique features of Australian wildlife. This letter provides great insight and research value into the significant author’s visit and gives detail into how curious botanists were willing to travel far and wide to examine Australia’s incredible wildlife for themselves.

Page two of a handwritten letter dated from 1895
Mark Twain, Letter of Mark Twain 1895 August 28, nla.obj-3263739514

This poem is said to have thrown a Melbourne crowd into a fit of laughter during Twain's Australian speaking tour in 1895. In the letter, Twain also writes that he plans to add further animals to the poem, but, as can be seen in his 1897 book, he never did. While not much is known of Dr Harrington, the letter portrays him as a curious botanist on his way to study Australia’s unique fauna.

A black and white photograph of a man wearing a white suit. He is sitting down and also has a moustache.
A.F. Bradley, Portrait of Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain, ca.1908, nla.obj-148775329

Thanks to Trove, we can see that parts of this poem were published in the Mercury, The Age and other Australian papers in 1895, before the poem was officially published by Twain in 1897 in his book Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World.      

The National Library has begun testing Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) for handwritten and unpublished materials, like this letter. Search results on Trove are fuelled by keywords and this new technology will greatly enhance Trove’s searchability by providing results from many of our handwritten digitised collections. Over the next few months, the Library will be testing this on over 5,000 pages.