Melbourne and Mars : the Australian All Electric Communist Utopia

Melbourne and Mars, a neglected work of utopian socialist fiction published in Australia in 1889, is indebted more to Edward Bellamy (author of the famous Looking Backward: 2000–1887) than to Karl Marx. It is more concerned with the future effects of technology, specifically electrical technology, than with the inherent contradictions of capital, yet it nonetheless presents the reader with an alternate reality made possible by advances in technology and socio-economic organisation. This is not to question the distinction between scientific and utopian socialist writing in the late nineteenth century, but rather to challenge the stretching of that distinction. In Melbourne and Mars there are only a few vague references to the labour theory of value and the alienation of surplus product. Conversely, ‘scientific’ texts fail to provide a detailed program for the realisation of those class ideals upon which they are based. Both types of socialist literature could be, and were, used for propaganda purposes and they are by no means mutually exclusive.


As I write these words the Red Planet is at the nearest point it has been to Earth for 60 millennia and the question arises — just how Red is it? According to a neglected work of utopian fiction published in Australia in 1889, the Martians are greatly in advance of we Earthlings in their social and economic arrangements, having abolished capitalism and private property and having also found a way to live together in peace and harmony, without wars or nationalism. But the theoretical inspiration for this perfect planet is obscure and in many ways insubstantial. This remarkable text appears to be indebted more to Edward Bellamy than to Karl Marx, and it is more concerned with the future effects of technology, specifically electrical technology, than with the inherent contradictions of capital. Yet for all its shortcomings in the area of socialist theory it nonetheless presents the reader with an alternate reality made possible by advances in technology and socio-economic organisation. In order to demonstrate the use of fiction as a form of theory in Australia in the late 1880s, I will attempt a detailed summary of the plot, with a focus on the theoretical component. But first I look briefly at the artefact itself and at its amazing obscurity.

The Author and his Work

Very little is known about Joseph Fraser, the author of Melbourne and Mars: My Mysterious Life on Two Planets, except that he was a professional phrenologist whose practice flourished in Melbourne from 1885 to 1890, at which point he seems to have either died or left Melbourne. Successive entries in the Sands & McDougall’s Directory list him, and occasionally also his wife Annie, in both the alphabetical section and the trade section under ‘Phrenologists’, of which there were up to five listed at this time. More information may be inferred from the notices and advertisements in the book itself, and from the fact that it was co-published by the author and by E.W. Cole, of the Book Arcade. Fraser had written a number of books at about the same time, judging from the advertisements, and all of them, except for Melbourne and Mars, dealt with physiognomy, phrenology, hydropathy and related topics. One of these is called Husbands, How to Select Them, How to Manage Them, How to Keep Them, and another, How to Read Men as Open Books, is a small illustrated octavo of 101 pages published by the author and printed by A.H. Massina. A ‘new edition’ later appeared above the imprint of E.W. Cole, and this was printed by Pater & Knapton, the same printers who produced Melbourne and Mars. These are not dated but the earlier edition contains the same advertisements which appear in the utopia, and so could tentatively be dated to 1889. The fifth volume of J.A. Ferguson’s Bibliography of Australia lists only two books by Fraser: the utopia and How to Read Men. Both versions of How to Read Men are listed as Cole/Pater & Knapton, while the utopia is recorded in a self-published form and in the E.W. Cole version, again both printed by Pater & Knapton. The self-published variant is dated 1889 in roman numerals on the title page. Little though this reveals, it does at least point to a link between Joseph Fraser and Cole.[1]

The utopia itself is only 104 pages long, although like many books of the period it is set in small type. The plot of Melbourne and Mars has to be developed sequentially, and for this reason the details of the political and social arrangements of the utopia do not appear in the earlier parts of the text. This probably explains why the very few scholars who have looked at the book have not drawn attention to its political character, in particular its socialism. The only really significant treatment of the utopia is in Van Ikin’s 1982 anthology of early Australian science fiction. Ikin reprints a few pages from the early part of the utopia (pp. 18, 23–25 and 32–33) and also provides a page and a half of prefatory material in the general introduction to the anthology. In this introduction Ikin correctly identifies the work as a utopia but is unable to shed any light on the author except to note the advertisements at the back of the book concerning the phrenology business, and the rest of the introduction is a synopsis of the plot which overlooks the extensive use of socialist political ideas in the second half of the book.[2] The 1985 Oxford Companion to Australian Literature similarly relegates Melbourne and Mars to the Sci Fi genre. In a section only four sentences long the Companion has little to say, except that there are flying machines and that the ‘Utopian civilisation’ on Mars has a ‘vastly superior social system’.[3] It is listed in A Checklist of Australian Fantasy by S.L. Lanarch, but here it is not even noticed as a utopian work, whereas other items on the same list are so identified.[4] In L.T. Sargent’s important annotated bibliographies of utopian literature it is recognised as a utopia ‘based on abundance’ and the role of electricity is noted, but no mention is made of socialism.[5] The 1940 bibliography of E. Morris Miller says only that it is a ‘romance of occultism’, and finally, there are decidedly oblique references to it in Bruce Scates’ A New Australia and Peter Beilharz’s Labour’s Utopias.[6]

The Plot

The utopia is set up as a report on a personal diary belonging to an early settler who has recently passed away, and we can assume that this is the familiar literary device to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. The alleged diary is paraphrased by Fraser, and in the subtitle he passes the book off as ‘Extracts from the Diary of a Melbourne Merchant’. The early part of the diary is the autobiography of a man named Jacobs who migrates to the colonies young and full of energy, who goes to the gold rushes to make a fortune and comes back to Melbourne destitute, and who ends as an ageing battler eking out a subsistence as an insurance salesman, looked after all the while by a faithful and long suffering wife.[7] The diary conceit is useful for it allows Fraser to portray a typical colonial life, stripped of gilded sentimentality, in a place which is no paradise for workers. It counterpoints the utopia to be developed as the narrative proceeds, just as Bellamy does in Looking Backward with his nightmare vision of the coach of capitalism, and his reports of social unrest in Boston in 1887.[8]

At the age of 45, worn out with cares and overwork, Jacobs becomes ill and although he slowly recovers he is never quite the same, and it is at this point that he begins having the visions in his sleep which he records in the diary. The visions provide a record of a life within a life, revealing that Jacobs is in touch telepathically with his other self, an infant growing up on the Red Planet. The unreality of this literary device is, however, deflected by the increasing detail of the utopia itself as the reader is allowed to learn more about it via the growing child, adolescent, and young adult. We see glimpses of a comfortable home through the eyes of a small child and learn that a ‘year’ is more like two of our years, before the narrator butts in to announce: ‘Evidently our diarist has got into some Utopia’.[9] From this point onwards the story of the Mars life takes over completely and we only return to the unfortunate Jacobs fleetingly, although he again becomes central to the plot at the very end. It ought to be noted that the late nineteenth century witnessed a surge of spiritualism and the concept of telepathy would not have seemed ridiculous to many.

Life on Mars

The Martian education system is described in reasonable detail and it is, as expected, progressive. As a child our protagonist, Charlie Frankston, begins school at the equivalent age of four Earth years and is educated at first in a kindergarten school which closely resembles our contemporary Montessori schools. Here is an unmistakeable echo of Catherine Helen Spence’s 1889 utopia, A Week in the Future, in which the proposals of the influential Kindergarten Movement of the 1880s are developed in a utopian setting.[10] Fraser inserts a parable into this part of the story, where the young Charlie is non-violently punished by his teacher and classmates for an outburst of greed, and the narrator observes that Mars is ‘a land where a number of ideas have got worked into practical shape. Real estate is only held by those who use it. There is no property except in personal belongings’.[11] A few pages later, in one of the numerous passages about flying machines, the diary describes the view of leafy suburbs, of ‘houses nestled amongst their trees’, and this idea of garden suburbs is to become a strong theme of this work.[12] Arguably the world’s first garden suburb, Bedford Park in London, was begun in 1876 and achieved fame in a major article in the March 1881 issue of Harper’s New Atlantic Monthly by Moncure Conway. This suburb, populated with followers of the arts and crafts (but not necessarily the politics) of William Morris, prefigured another better known utopia, Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of Tomorrow, published in 1892.[13]

The utopian society depicted by Fraser is highly technological and the key to all of the elaborate machinery is electricity, which is available for free. This gives the book a breathless quality, as invention after invention is paraded to delight and astonish the reader. Light at the touch of a button, heat without smoke, and ‘[l]abour-saving appliances of all kinds [which] are freely used in household work’ are the first to appear, along with the notorious flying machines. When Charlie Frankston becomes older he goes to the ‘School of Mechanics’ so that he can become an electrical engineer, although before this he is obliged to spend an Earth year at home being taught domestic skills as the culmination of his basic schooling.[14] Charlie has discovered that apart from the electricity, all consumables come from depots run by the state and that what is ‘consumed by an individual or family is practically paid for by the labor or production of the individual or family’, such that the state ‘is the only middleman’.[15] At the School of Mechanics, which is, of course, free, we learn via Charlie of the industrial history of Mars, and how the electric age initially gave rise to a time of scarcity called the ‘Black Century’, when competition led to misery, depopulation, and the reckless overuse of fossil fuels. A group of altruistic and cooperative radicals took refuge in a huge network of caverns where they discovered that the Martian magnetic field could be tapped to yield unlimited electrical energy, and thus began the rise of Martian socialism.[16] By now Fraser is starting to accelerate the plot, as we enter the middle part of the story. The hero graduates at the age of 8 — about 17 Earth years — and takes a half Mars year off, partly to travel and spend time with his father before starting work at a state electric motor factory (motors ‘are made by the government, and do not belong to private individuals’). While he is at home he and his father invent an exciting new way to use electricity in agriculture and Charlie is rewarded by the government, not with cash, but with a special badge giving him extra travel rights and free entry to all workshops.[17] He also uses the time at home to learn to fly and to plan a sightseeing journey by land and sea to visit Sidonia, the Martian metropolis. Fraser is now near the halfway mark and he uses Charlie’s big trip to the capital to introduce new ideas, new characters, and a bit of adventure.

Social progress on the Red Planet, and an unlimited supply of electricity, has enabled an elaborate infrastructure to be established, as public works are used to ensure full employment. Thus, ‘magnificent railways are carried under ground on wide, well ventilated, brilliantly lighted roads’, and free ‘gymnasiums are very abundant’. On the other hand, almost all the forests have been cleared for agriculture, and electric guns have been used to eliminate all non-useful species except singing birds and pets, reflecting a view of nature which is not atypical for the period. One reason for the ‘vast railway system’ is that ‘we have no cities in the ordinary sense’ with their ‘dense masses of population’, but rather the leafy suburban arrangement noted above. To underline this point, Fraser has Charlie meet an old man on his travels, who discovers that Charlie has another persona on Earth and hypnotises him. Charlie suddenly finds himself on the corner of Swanston St and Collins St at 5.00pm on a weekday, in a scene of limitless noise and bustle. The hypnotist sees it as well. He ‘saw the heart of Melbourne, and gleaned from that many sociological facts. Australia has advanced materially since I last learned anything’. He explains to Charlie that ‘the civilisation you found in Melbourne is considered high, and its people are reckoned very progressive’, and here the irony is obvious.[18]

The older gentleman turns out to be Andrew Grayson, a famous mathematician who is also in possession of a badge, and who also has had an Earth double, now deceased. Grayson and Charlie are both bound for Sidonia and decide to travel together. Grayson introduces Charlie to Dr Edith Somers, a Martian social scientist, and between them Grayson and Somers further elucidate utopia, especially when they arrive at the end of their first rail journey at Port Howard and need to wait at a government hostel for two days for an electric ship. We learn that Mars was once a federation of nations, and that disbanded armies worked side by side to reclaim wetlands, upon which they subsequently lived in harmony. Malthusian theorists called ‘the Croakers’ said the population would be unsustainable, but ‘[g]iven a sphere of labor each worker will provide more than he consumes’. Martians are vegetarians. Pigs and cattle are wasteful food sources, so they have been phased out, horses are almost extinct, and soon birds and pets will be the only animals left. As Somers says: ‘after all a human life is more valuable than an animal one’. When they view an enormous water pumping machine Grayson reinforces the point that great projects ‘are only possible to a peaceful federation of nations’.[19]Advocacy of vegetarianism is as characteristic of the period as the spiritualism already noted, while the character of Dr Somers provides an accent on the equal status of women.

Their arrival at Granby after an uneventful and rapid electric powered voyage sets the scene for one of the two adventure episodes in the novel. Grayson arranges with his friend Harry Brand, the local ‘Electrical Engineer-in-Chief’, to take them underground to look at a newly discovered deep copper mine. They descend, decked out in more technology, including helmets and compressed air in a ‘little knapsack’. Things do not go according to plan and they only barely escape a dreadful fate seven miles below the planet’s surface, showing that even in utopia things go wrong, and that a perfect society need not be a boring one. The point of including the copper mine in the story is that it turns out that the copper is alloyed with gold. In a scene which might come directly from Thomas More’s Utopia, Brand explains that the copper is used without bothering to extract the gold, because there is not much use for the yellow metal, jewellery not being in fashion. Copper by contrast is important for electric motor windings and wiring, and is in short supply, and the miners who take risks to extract it are given special status by the government.[20]

Altruistic Socialism

After a couple more days of train travel the party arrive at Sidonia, disembarking at the terminus where ‘Metropolitan Central’ is ‘written in light’ above them. Fraser uses the opportunity to lay out the plan of this unusual city for his readers. Because the ‘metropolis’ is ‘a huge garden’, it covers an area of 500 miles by 1,000 miles, noting that 1,000 Martian miles equals only 340 Earth miles, and although it is planned on a broad grid of ten mile squares, all of the streets within this grid are curvilinear. This is because it ‘was found that a constant succession of straight streets produced in some people a kind of insanity’. No vehicular traffic is allowed on these spacious avenues, which connect via escalators with the underground rail network. Following the rail network is a grid of ‘lighting wires, speaking wires, water piping and drainage’ and there is a very strong emphasis on sanitation. Buildings are limited to three stories to eliminate overshadowing, and the whole conurbation supports a billion inhabitants.[21] At this point we are witnessing typical utopian writing, with the emphasis on urban planning and design, and political theory is nowhere in sight.

It is only when Charlie and company need to decide where they will stay that the reader returns to matters of social theory, in this case the difficult question of social equality. They are to stay at a government hostel, but which sort of hostel?
The rank of hostel used has to correspond with the rank of worker. There is no attempt made to draw caste lines; indeed, the object of social life is to abolish them, but in spite of all that can be done the workers of certain ranks prefer to associate with their companions in labor. They are not at home with the workers of other ranks, who of necessity know more, and are more polite in demeanor. We are all altruistic socialists, all democrats; all either as individuals or as classes willing to waive our own rights in favour of others, and yet we cannot be equal.[22]They decide to stay at the best hostel in town, and Charlie changes his plans. He will now study for a Mars year at the ‘College of Engineers’ in Sidonia.

A few days after taking up residence at the palatial ‘Equatorial’ hostel, and after being introduced by Grayson to the members of a club for ‘Earthborns’, to which he is subsequently elected, Charlie converses with two new characters who, like previous characters, perform the function of intellectual protagonists. Martha Newsome is a spiritual type with an interest in history, both Terrestrial and Martian, and who believes in a ‘Divine plan’ for humanity. She contrasts Earth and Mars, pointing out that ‘our death rate is much lower’ and that
we … have twice as many workers in proportion, profitable people as they have … Again, we have not a vast population who spend their time in buying, selling, and carrying about all kinds of provisions and goods. What we make goes direct to the consumer.
She also reminds Charlie that ‘time is not spent in making guns, building forts and ships of war, and standing, millions of us, waiting to kill each other at the word of command’. The utopian theme is further underlined in her statement that ‘Earth-dwellers are not yet ready for an altruistic socialism’.

The conversation with Martha concludes with a concise summary of the political institutions of the Red Planet. After explaining that citizens ‘cannot fall into poverty’, and that excess wealth must ‘go into the coffers of the State’, she then outlines the functional characteristics of Martian social democracy.
[T]he State is the people, we have a perfect democracy and a perfect socialism. No class can prey upon any other class in social life; all are free and have equal rights … Politically we are self-governed and all laws are made for the benefit of all … The Central Executive of one hundred of the best and most capable men and women on our planet meets twice a week … for the purpose of directing the affairs of the world and for the good of all of its dwellers; but that body cannot make a law it can only put laws into operation. When some new law is wanted men and women selected by the people form a temporary parliament … The Central itself when it wants a new member elects one from those selected in each district to manage local affairs.[23]Martha finishes by emphasising that political power is ‘held by those who cannot be interested in abusing it’, and that there are no political parties. Tenure on the ‘Central’ is for life and the lack of vested interests means that Mars is ruled neither by ‘a mob’ nor ‘a despot’.

London Dock Strike

We know from the title page of the self-published variant of this rare book that it was published in 1889, but from internal evidence we also know that at least part of the text was written no earlier than September 1889. The second character who Charlie converses with at the club is an intense young man called George Foster, who is aware of current trends on Earth through those members of the Earthborns who have a two-way telepathic link. George tells Charlie how ‘Bismarck … [is] trying to ameliorate the condition of the working classes [and] is devising a plan to prevent the artisans from falling into poverty’. He then makes a specific reference to the London dockers’ strike of 1889. He says that
now, for the last ten days, we have been receiving accounts … of a great revolt of labourers in London, and of the sympathy their revolt has excited in all parts of the British Empire. One of our recorders, writing of your city of Melbourne, says that the little colony … has sent twenty-two thousands of pounds to the relief of the sufferers by the strike.
He claims that all of this is evidence for a certain ‘growth of altruism’ on planet Earth.[24]

Here the plot takes a twist, a romantic interest being introduced, which prepares the reader for a typically sentimental late-Victorian conclusion to the story. Charlie agrees to a Central Executive request to supervise another field trial of his electric agriculture, has another adventure, and meets Helen Vance. As the romance between Helen and Charlie develops we return to the diary to learn that, back in Melbourne, Jacobs’ wife has died, leaving him disconsolate. The story ends when Helen, also an Earthborn, turns out to be the Mars persona of the deceased wife. Helen and Charlie decide to marry, at which point Jacobs dies and the diary comes to a conclusion.

In this final phase the utopia contains two passages worthy of note, the first being about ten pages from the end. Helen is talking to Charlie about a mutual friend who has recently been promoted. She says how ‘pleasant it is to live under a government that recognises services and gives rewards’. On Earth ‘all they have learned to give is a pension or a title. More frequently the latter than the former. The highest of these is a new name and a seat in an obsolete parliament [ie the House of Lords]’. The narrator takes the opportunity to elaborate on the utopian ideal including themes of gender equality which are a feature of this text:
Sidonian life is evidently a pleasant thing going by the peeps of it that we get from these diaries. No need to lock a door; all amusements free to all. No class distinction in evening or afternoon gatherings or in public worship. No dust, no heat, no noise or jar. No grinding toil, no anxiety regarding business, no money, no poverty, no burdensome riches; plenty for all and all nearly as free as water or air … Women and men are free and equal; a woman does not resign her name or any social right. She has her voice in selecting a representative for either District or Central Executives.[25]A page and a half later the narrator interrupts for the last time, to again stress the importance of socialism and of world federation:
The world grew sick of war, and the men of various nations entered into bonds of labor; they would not reduce the wages rate by underworking each other; they would not join military organisations to fight each other; they would work shorter hours, and have some share of what they produced and made.
He then mentions the ‘Federation’ of the planet, and the ‘Black Century’, adding that ‘when this term was past all private fortunes were melted away’.[26]

Mars in Context

What I have provided so far is a summary of the plot, noting the many topical passages in this utopian work of fiction, and seeking to encompass its underpinnings in political and social theory in order to make good the claim that it is a specifically socialist Australian utopia of 1889. It is now time to attempt, briefly, to situate the work and its shadowy author within Australian socialism.

Although there is no systematic development of socialist theory or of a project of socialism, the work embraces to a certain extent both a critique of contemporary Australian capitalism and a project, and it does so in an explicitly socialist context. It is a work ‘whose ontology coincides with its representation’, such that excluding the physical differences between the two planets, every little detail of Martian life implies a criticism of Australian life and a proposal for change.[27] Beyond the implausible idea that it is entirely original, there are at least three specific models or influences worth examining: Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Spence’s A Week in the Future, and E.W. Cole’s Federation of the World. Other works from the period, such as Henry George’s Progress and Poverty, Laurence Gronlund’s Co-operative Commonwealth and Frank Fairman’s Principles of Socialism Made Plain may also be relevant, but this is more difficult to establish.

Although there are undoubtedly similarities, the likelihood that Melbourne and Mars is an attempt to cash in on the success of Looking Backward is diminished by the facts of timing. As Colin Hughes has pointed out, Bellamy’s utopia, though published originally in January 1888 in the USA, sold ‘perhaps 10,000’ copies in that year and did not sell in large amounts until 1889.[28] It was during 1889 that the London socialist and Single Tax publisher, William Reeves began to produce cheap copies of Looking Backward and other Bellamy titles, and also commenced ‘The Bellamy Library’.[29] Hughes lists no fewer than 13 ‘copies’ of Looking Backward by various authors, some of whom were indeed trying to cash in, but all of these were published in 1890 or later. Similarities like the form of state socialism, ranking of workers, and the badge system, could conceivably be due to another text, Gronlund’s Co-operative Commonwealth of 1886, but the narration of the utopia and use of interlocutors points to Bellamy. In the final analysis it looks as though Melbourne and Mars was inspired by an early copy of Looking Backward to find its way to Australia, without meaning to jump on a band wagon which was yet to arrive. Fraser’s early access to Bellamy may have been encouraged by the links which developed between spiritualism and socialism at about this time, and this is a very promising area of research.[30] Ironically, the very success of Bellamy’s utopia in 1889–90 may have contributed more than anything else to the obviously poor sales of Melbourne and Mars.[31]

Fraser’s book is not a clone of Looking Backward as it differs in several important respects. Workers are not compelled as they are in Bellamy’s industrial army, the vote is not limited to those over 45, nations are abolished, and women are more equal and less restricted to a domestic sphere.[32] This encourages the view that there were other influences on the utopian vision of Melbourne and Mars, including as we have seen, the 1889 utopia by Spence, A Week in the Future. This was published in parts in the popular Australian monthly, The Centennial Magazine, beginning in the January 1889 issue (vol. 1, no. 6), and the second part, in February 1889, bears some resemblances to Melbourne and Mars. It anticipates the widespread use of electricity and extensive leafy suburbs, and also praises utopian socialists such as Fourier and Robert Owen, and the previous part is filled with references to spiritualism.[33] Spence also employs a literary device similar to the hypnosis used by Bellamy in Looking Backward and one has to wonder whether, being a journalist with American connections, she had some knowledge of that book when she commenced writing her own utopia, especially given Bellamy’s comment that in 1888 his utopia ‘made a stir among the critics’.[34] Spence is a plausible source, too, for some of the ideas in Fraser’s utopia which connect with first wave feminism.

The likely influence of Bellamy, both directly and indirectly through Spence, is important for an adequate understanding of Fraser’s Australian utopia, but another influence worth noting is that of his co-publisher, E.W. Cole. In the mid-1880s Cole wrote a 31-page pamphlet entitled Federation of the World, but few copies sold. He had the remaining copies bound-in at the rear of the first edition (1886) of his very successful Cole’s Fun Doctor, one of the first of his family amusement books.[35] There are reasons for supposing that this pamphlet influenced Melbourne and Mars apart from the references to world federation noted above and the business link which clearly existed between the two authors. In the Federation of the World, Cole strikes an optimistic tone, predicting that by the year 2000 armies and nationalism will be abolished, the world united, and scientific progress triumphant. Citing recent examples such as ‘electric lighting’ and ‘thousands of labour-saving machines’, he goes on to ‘prophesy’ that ‘[f]lying machines will be in general use’ and that a ‘network of railways, telegraphs, telephones … will cover the entire earth’.[36] Fraser uses the same ideas in the utopia, though Cole is very much a devotee of liberalism in the pamphlet and advocates neither the abolition of private property nor votes for women. Cole also lacks Fraser’s obsession with electricity, but this can be explained by the tremendous developments in that area in the years between circa 1885 and 1889, during which time Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla registered all of the main patents for modern electrical generation and use.[37] Fraser’s knowledge of generators and motors (but not transformers, apparently) shows him to have been well informed, not clairvoyant.

None of these considerations of influence should ignore the possibility that the utopia was entirely original, or that other utopias were inspirational. Possible links between the ideas of Bellamy, Cole, Spence and Fraser can also be accounted for by a less conscious process of ideological diffusion, and this notion is supported by the fact that Cole had a hand in the popularising of utopian socialism in Australia. According to his grandson, he became a devotee of both Henry George and Bellamy[38] and in the 1890s, he circulated a great deal of utopian socialist literature under licence to British socialist publishers. One example of this is The Real History of Money Island, 1897, by Michael Flurscheim, which was printed for The Labour Press, Manchester, but bound in Melbourne with a Cole title page. It contains advertisements for many other Labour Press titles, and works by Bellamy include an abridged version of Looking Backward. I have seen a later edition of Bellamy’s book, circa 1920, published by Cole and printed in Melbourne. In the popular Bellamy Library series of cheap editions of socialist works published by William Reeves, we find Looking Backward, Gronlund’s Co-operative Commonwealth, works by Kropotkin, Proudhon, Flurscheim, and Francis Adams, and last but not least, the first nine chapters of the 1887 English translation of Capital, under the title The Theory of Value.[39]

In Melbourne and Mars there are only a few vague references to the labour theory of value and the alienation of surplus product and it is fair to say that, like other utopias, it is theoretically insubstantial even though it is explicitly socialist. Conversely, highly theoretical ‘scientific’ texts fail to provide a detailed program for the realisation of those class ideals upon which they are based. Both types of socialist literature could be, and were, used for propaganda purposes and they are by no means mutually exclusive. It is simply bad intellectual history to assert, as P.J. O’Farrell once did, that to be a ‘true socialist’ at that time was to be immersed in economic texts and to reject the ‘dangerous narcotic’ of utopianism.[40] The existence of such Australian texts as Melbourne and Mars is a reminder that, as Bruce Scates says, to socialist intellectuals of that period ‘the most fantastic utopian was as credible as the most conventional economic text’.[41] This work is not nearly as strange and bizarre as its title would lead us to suppose, but is simply a utopia which is set on another planet, in which a vision of state oriented socialism is articulated by a well informed author. It confirms both the existence of thoughtful bourgeois socialists in Australian society in the 1880s, and the early influence in this country of the utopian writings of Edward Bellamy. The fact that so much which is envisioned in Melbourne and Mars is a part of our present suburban reality is not so much a tribute to Fraser’s clairvoyance as it is a vindication of his faith in reason, technology, and the intervention of the state, to achieve a better life for ordinary Australians.


* A number of people who provided valuable assistance in conversations and discussions of earlier drafts include Jim Walter, John Arnold, Richard Overell, Terry O’Neill, Chris Wood, and Brian Jardine, and I am also very grateful for the suggestions of the anonymous reviewers from Labour History, although responsibility for errors and omissions is mine alone. The research was part of work on an ARC funded project supervised by Jim Walter, investigating Australian political writings.

1. Joseph Fraser, Melbourne and Mars: My Mysterious Life on Two Planets, E.W. Cole, Melbourne, n.d. [1889], pp. 104 ff; Sands & McDougall’s Commercial and General Melbourne Directory, Sands & McDougall, Melbourne, 1884–91; Joseph Fraser, How to Read Men as Open Books, published by the author, Melbourne, n.d. [1889], p.104; John Alexander Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia, vol. 5, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1941–69.

2. Van Ikin (ed.), Australian Science Fiction, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1982, pp. xvii–xix, 45–51.

3. W.H. Wildeet al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985, p. 612.

4. S.L. Lanarch, A Checklist of Australian Fantasy, Futurian Press, Sydney, 1950, p. 12.

5. L.T. Sargent, British and American Utopian Literature, 1516–1985: an Annotated, Chronological Bibliography, Garland Publishing, New York, 1988, p. 81. This entry is replicated in Sargent’s checklist of Australian utopias in Utopian Studies, 22 March 1999. Only two copies are known in the USA.

6. E. Morris Miller, Australian Literature from its Beginnings to 1935, Vol. 2, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1940, p. 639. Bruce Scates, A New Australia: Citizenship, Radicalism and the First Republic, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997, p. 68. Peter Beilharz, Labour’s Utopias: Bolshevism, Fabianism, Social Democracy, Routledge, London, 1992, p. 19.

7. Fraser, Melbourne and Mars, pp. 1–18.

8. Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000–1887, Random House, New York, 1951.

9. Ibid., p. 23.

10. Catherine Helen Spence, A Week in the Future, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1987 [1889], pp. 74–75. This reference was kindly supplied to me by John Arnold.

11. Fraser, Melbourne and Mars, pp. 24–25. Note the influence of Henry George’s theory of land nationalisation (Single Tax). A page later we learn that money has been out of use for 10,000 years.

12. Ibid., p. 27.

13. Margaret Jones Bolsterli, The Early Community at Bedford Park: ‘Corporate Happiness’ in the First Garden Suburb, Ohio University Press, n.p., 1977, pp. 9, 15–17, 58, 76–78. Writing in 1922, Lewis Mumford describes Howard’s book as the only utopia that ‘has been partly realized’. Lewis Mumford, The Story of Utopias, Viking Press, New York, 1969, p. 315.

14. Fraser, Melbourne and Mars, pp. 31–37.

15. Ibid., p. 32.

16. Ibid., pp. 38–41.

17. Ibid., pp. 42–44. The idea of a badge is possibly derived from the badge system outlined at the beginning of ch. 12 of Bellamy, Looking Backward, pp. 99 ff.

18. Fraser, Melbourne and Mars, pp. 45–54.

19. Ibid., pp. 58–64. The increasing use of such interlocutors to flesh out the utopia is highly reminiscent of Looking Backward, and also foreshadows the same technique in William Lane’s Workingman’s Paradise:an Australian Labour Novel, Edwards, Dunlop & Co., Sydney, 1892.

20. Fraser, Melbourne and Mars, pp. 66–72.

21. Ibid., pp. 73–76. See also p. 80.

22. Ibid., pp. 76–77.

23. Ibid., pp. 81–82.

24. Ibid., pp. 82–83.

25. Ibid., pp. 94–95.

26. Ibid., p. 97.

27. Frederic Jameson, ‘The Politics of Utopia’, New Left Review, vol. 25, January–February 2004, p. 35.

28. O’Farrell claims that Looking Backward only ‘became known in Australia at the end of 1889’, but this view now appears to require some minor revision. P.J. O’Farrell, ‘The Australian Socialist League and the Labour Movement, 1887–1891’, Historical Studies, vol. 8, no.29, 1957, p. 157.

29. Edward Bellamy, Doctor Heidenhoff’s Process, William Reeves, London, n.d. [1890]. See advertisements containing dated reviews, and advertisements for the first four volumes in The Bellamy Library. For the pre-Bellamy offerings of this publisher see the catalogue bound with: Frank Fairman, The Principles of Socialism Made Plain, William Reeves, London, 1888.

30. Jill Roe, Beyond Belief: Theosophy in Australia 1879–1939, New South Wales University Press, Sydney, 1986, pp. 96–97. H.P. Blavatsky gave Looking Backward a very good report in her Key to Theosophy, Theosophical Publishing Co, London, 1889. Colin Hughes ‘Looking Backward Revisited: the Ideas and Influence of Edward Bellamy’ in Geoffrey Stokes (ed.), Australian Political Ideas, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 1994, p. 82. Finally, according to Roe (p. 14) one of the early members of the Theosophical Society in England was George Scammel Manns, Secretary of the Democratic Association of Victoria, itself a hotbed of a spiritualism in which the ‘link with utopian socialism is obvious’. See Henry Mayer, Marx, Engels and Australia, F.W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1964, pp. 40, 53–54, 57.

31. Hughes ‘Looking Backward Revisited’, pp. 81–82. For the popularity of Bellamy in 1890 see L.G. Churchward, ‘The American Influence on the Australian Labour Movement’, Historical Studies, vol. 5, no.19, 1952, pp. 258–259.

32. John Docker, The Nervous Nineties: Australian Cultural Life in the 1890s, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1991, p. 78. Hughes ‘Looking Backward Revisited’, pp. 98–99.

33. Centennial Magazine, vol. 1, no. 6, January 1889, pp. 391, 393; vol. 1, no. 7, February 1889, pp. 468, 470. See also Spence, A Week in the Future. This reprint incorrectly states that the serial began in the December 1888 issue of the journal.

34. Arthur E. Morgan, Edward Bellamy, Porcupine Press, Philadelphia, 1974, p. 230.

35. Cole Turnley, Cole of the Book Arcade: a Pictorial Biography of E.W. Cole, Cole Publications, Melbourne, 1974, pp. 83–85. A reprint of the pamphlet was bound into subsequent editions.

36. E.W. Cole, ‘Federation of the World’, pp. 1, 3–4, 5, 6, in E.W. Cole (ed.), Cole’s Fun Doctor: the Funniest Book in the World, George Routledge & Sons, London, n.d. [1886].

37. See for example, Robert Lomas, The Man Who Invented the Twentieth Century, Headline, London, 1999, pp. 109 ff.

38. Turnley, Cole of the Book Arcade, p. 102.

39. Karl Marx, The Theory of Value Complete, William Reeves, London, n.d. [4thedn, circa 1893, Bellamy Library], and see advertisements. A number of other socialist and Single Tax titles published by Cole are listed in Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia, vols 5–7.

40. O’Farrell, ‘The Australian Socialist League’, p. 158. See also Beilharz, Labour’s Utopias.

41. Scates, A New Australia, p. 69.