Life Writing & Death: Dialogues of the Dead

‘Grave-Paved Stars’: Comparing the Death of Two Artists in Nineteenth-Century Rome


  • Kiera Lindsey University of Technology, Sydney



tuberculosis, Adelaide Ironside, John Keats, nineteenth-century Rome


Adelaide Ironside (1831–1867) is best known as the first Australian-born artist to train overseas. While her life offers a portal into Republican Sydney, Pre-Raphaelite London and Risorgimento Rome, the nature of her archive also highlights the limits of historical method and the need to employ what Virginia Woolf called ‘the biographer’s licence’ when researching and writing about subjects with problematic sources. In this article, I employ biographical license to contrast the better-known and better-documented death of the English poet John Keats (1795–1821), with the few records associated with Ironside’s death some forty years later, to speculate about the silences in her sources. There are several factors encouraging this approach. Both artists died in Rome of pulmonary tuberculosis. Both were patients of the famous doctor, Sir James Clark (1788–1870), and both died during winter in the care of the person with whom they are now buried. By situating Ironside within these broader nineteenth-century contexts, my biographical subject evolves from a shadowy historical representative of demographic and an era into a figure who is more flesh and blood than an account focused upon her accomplishments and acquaintances might otherwise allow.

Author Biography

Kiera Lindsey, University of Technology, Sydney

Kiera Lindsey is an award-winning historian and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, where she is conducting an Australian Research Council grant on speculative biography and historical craft. Lindsey has published national and international academic book chapters and journal articles on nineteenth-century history, historical craft and biography. In 2016 she published her first speculative biography, The Convict’s Daughter, and will publish her second on the colonial artist, Adelaide Ironside in 2021, along with a new co-edited collection on Speculative Biography with Routledge. Kiera has over twenty years of university curriculum development and delivery across in-class, online and blended platforms, been a consultant and on-camera historian on television and national radio and is currently an executive member of the History Council of New South Wales. E-mail: Kiera.lindsey@





Life Writing & Death: Dialogues of the Dead