William Ogilvie was born at Holefield, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders and was one of eight children. His father was a tenant farmer on the lands of the Earl of Dalkeith. He was educated briefly at Kelso High School as a weekly boarder and then at Fettes College in Edinburgh, where he excelled as an athlete and scholar.
At the age of twenty, rather than attend university he took himself off to Australia, where he worked on livestock stations in Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia, becoming an excellent horseman. He captures this period of his life in his biographical work My Life in the Open, written in 1910. In 1901, after eleven years in Australia, he returned to Edinburgh where he worked as a freelance journalist.
He had a spell in the United States between 1905 and 1908 as professor of agricultural journalism at Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa. He then returned to Scotland where he married Margaret Scott Anderson. They lived in Bowden in the Scottish Borders and had two children. When World War I broke out, he was considered too old at 45 for active service but, because of his knowledge of horses, was given responsibility for remount depots. He died in Selkirk in 1963, aged 93.
William Ogilvie is considered as one of Australia’s best bush poets along with Banjo Paterson, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and Henry Lawson. His poetry, published in The Bulletin and various other media, vividly reflects his love of horses, the outback, and the silent beauty of the bush. These appear in the collections Hearts of Gold and Other Verses (1903) and The Australian and Other Verses (1916). He also wrote eighteen books of Scottish verse and prose, including The Border Poems (1959), The Collected Sporting Verse of W H Ogilvie (1932), and some war poetry. His best poems include The Death of Ben Hall, Fair Girls and Gray Horses, The Barefoot Maid, The Land We Love, The Unawakened Hills, and On Morant, a close friend he made in Australia who was controversially executed by firing squad for his part in the death of some South African prisoners during the Boer War.