Charles Harpurv was born in Windsor, New South Wales, a town on the Hawkesbury River. His father, an Irish transported ex-convict, was the master of the Windsor district school and the parish clerk. Charles was educated at school in Windsor and partly privately, taking a great interest from an early age in literature, particularly Shakespeare. His first jobs were in Sydney in a bank and then as a postal clerk.
He published his first poem The Wreck in 1833 at the age of 20 and over the next 35 years published over 700 more in six major collections, the last three between 1862 and 1865. His themes included the wild beauty of the Australian bush (Songs of Australia 1851), political diatribes against oppression, injustice and officialdom and love poetry in the form of sonnets. Many were addressed to “Rosa”, Mary Doyle, whom he married after a long courtship in 1850 contrary to her father’s wishes who thought she could do better.
Harpur worked as a schoolteacher in 1950 and later for several years in sheep farming. In 1858 was appointed an assistant gold commissioner at Araluen during the Australian gold rush, a position he held until 1866, discharging his duties with justice and integrity. The following year he contracted tuberculosis and died in 1868, survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. A third son had been killed in a shooting accident some years earlier, a tragedy from which Harpur never completely recovered.
A collected edition of his poetry was published in 1883 by his widow. His fellow Australian poet Henry Kendall wrote an eponymous poem in his honour after his death, mourning his loss and praising the esteem in which he was held.