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Lesbia Venner Harford (Lesbia Keogh) 1891 – 1927, Poet

Lesbia Venner Harford (Lesbia Keogh) 1891 – 1927, Poet

Lesbia Keogh was born on 9th April 1891 in Brighton.  Her mother, Helen Beatrice was related to the Earl of Drogheda and her father, Edmund Joseph Keogh was a financial agent.  Financial difficulties befell the family in 1900 and her father left the family for Western Australia.

Lesbia was born with a congenital heart defect which restricted her physical activity.  She was educated at Clifton Brigidine Convent in Glen Iris and at Loreto Mary’s Mount in 1908 and 1909.

In 1912 she studied law at the University of Melbourne graduating in 1916, becoming one of the first women to graduate LL.B. She paid her way through university by coaching and taking art classes.  During her time at university she was involved in anti-war and ant-conscription agitation, becoming friends with socialist Kate Lush and Italian-Australian communist Guido Barrachi.

On graduating she sort to contribute to the welfare of workers by working in a clothing factory and being active in the Clothing and Allied Trades Union as well as the local Socialist Party. She was also involved in the Australian branch of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) and defended imprisoned activists.

Keogh often wrote poems about revolution, social justice and the working class life and sang many of her poems to her own compositions.

In 1920 she married artist Patrick John O’Flaghartie Fingal Harford, a fellow IWW member and founder of the Post-Impressionist movement in Melbourne.

Her poems were first published in 1921 in the Melbourne Literary Club Journal, ‘Birth’. Some of her poems were also included in ‘An Australasian Anthology (Sydney 1927)’.  In 1941 an edited edition was published.  No complete collection exists and her notebooks were burnt in a fire.

Keogh, suffering from tuberculosis, died at the age of thirty-six in Melbourne on 5 July 1927.

(References:   Australian Dictionary of Biography)