‘Most nations cultivate a symbol. England has its John Bull. France has its Marianne, the United States its Uncle Sam’ (Daily Mercury 1948). And Australia had the ‘Little Boy from Manly’.
Ernest Laurence (1876-1963), Alderman of Strathfield Council (1915-1920) and Mayor of Strathfield (1917-1918) found early fame as ‘the little boy from Manly’ when he wrote to the NSW Premier William Bede Daley in April 1885 offering contents of his moneybox as patriotic funds for Sudan Contingent. His donation was published under the name ‘Little Boy from Manly”.
It is unlikely this incident would have any lasting impact, except that the image of the young boy became a ongoing cartoon series called ‘The Little from Manly” in The Bulletin, illustrated by cartoonist Livingston Hopkins (1846-1927).
Using this incident as inspiration, Hopkins developed this cartoon to symbolise Australia in the period before Federation. The ‘Little Boy’ typified the the well-meant impetuosity of a young colony and the figure expressed the Australian public attitude on various issues of a domestic and external nature.
An article published in The Argus in 1948 discussing national symbols, referred to the enduring appeal of the ‘Little Boy from Manly’, Hopkins stated:
“In the early days, whenever we had occasion for a goddess or other personification of Australia, we found Minerva rather difficult to acclimatise. There was, therefore, a vacancy in the Bulletin office for some mythological figure to make itself generally useful. When the Soudan Contingent was under marching orders, a generous and patriotic public showered money and gifts on the enterprise. In the published list of contributors was a donation of a penny from ‘A Little Boy at Manly.’ He typified the well-meant impetuosity of a young colony, and eventually represented the State of New South Wales, and then Australia, in many Bulletin cartoons.” The original of the “Little Boy” was the son of the senior partner, now deceased, in a well-known Sydney legal firm, of which he, himself, is a leading member today.”
Laurence was the son of solicitor Charles Laurence, who served as Mayor of Manly Council and as an Alderman of Ashfield Council. Charles Laurence was acquainted with Dalley and Hopkins. In an interview in 1927, Laurence states the Hopkins made a sketch of Laurence dressed as the Little Boy for the cartoon and ‘that is how the ‘Little Boy from Manly’ was born, who for so many years thorough Hop’s genius expressed the view of Australia on matters of public interest’.
Ernest Laurence followed his father into the legal profession as a solicitor. He lived at ‘Bellevue’ in Victoria Street Strathfield until 1935. He died in 1963.
Origin Of A Symbol (1948, October 5). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved June 13, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article171444383
Sandes, J (1927, September 3), ‘A Little Boy from Manly’, Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW: 1919-1950), page 17
‘The Little Boy at Manly’ (1912, September 9), Barrier Miner (Broken Hill: 1888-1954), page 3