Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Robinson, John Richard

ROBINSON, SIR JOHN RICHARD (1828–1903), journalist, born on 2 Nov. 1828 at Witham, Essex, was second son of eight children of Richard Robinson, congregational minister, by his wife Sarah, daughter of John Dennant, also a congregational minister, of Halesworth, Suffolk. At eleven he entered the school for the sons of congregational ministers, then at Lewisham, but now at Caterham. Withdrawn from school on 26 June, 1843, he was apprenticed to a firm of booksellers at Shepton Mallet. His ambitions, however, were directed towards journalism, and his first effort was a descriptive account (in the ’Daily News,' 14 Feb. 1846) of a meeting of Wiltshire labourers to protest against the corn laws. After reporting for the 'Bedford Mercury,' he obtained a post on the 'Wiltshire Independent' at Devizes, and soon sent regular reports of the local markets to the 'Daily News.' In 1848 Robinson went to London. Having become a unitarian, he was made sub-editor of a unitarian journal, the 'Inquirer,' and did most of the work for John Lalor [q. v.], the editor. His next post was on the 'Weekly News and Chronicle,' under John Sheehan [q. v.], and in 1855 he became editor of the 'Express,' an evening paper in the same hands as the 'Daily News.' At the same time he was a prolific contributor elsewhere. He cherished a deep interest in movements for freedom throughout Europe. He had a profound reverence for Mazzini, who asked to make his acquaintance after reading an appreciation of himself from Robinson's pen. He also knew Kossuth, Garibaldi, and other revolutionary leaders.

In 1868, when the price of the 'Daily News' was reduced to one penny, Robinson was appointed manager. Under his direction the fortunes of the paper, which had been falling, quickly rose. He saw that the public demanded news not only quickly but in an attractive form. At the opening of the Franco-German-war he instructed his correspondents to telegraph descriptive details and not merely bare facts, and after the war was well in progress he secured with exemplary promptitude the services of Archibald Forbes [q. v. Suppl. I], who long remained a valuable contributor. At the prompting of another correspondent, John Edwin Hilary Skinner [q. v.], he started the 'French Peasants Relief Fund,' which reached a total of 20,000l.

On 22 June 1876 Mr. (afterwards Sir) Edwin Pears of Constantinople contributed to the 'Daily News' the first of a series of letters describing Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria. Public indignation was roused, and Robinson sent out an American journalist, Januarius Aloysius MacGahan, who was accompanied by Mr. Eugene Schuyler, the American consul-general in Turkey, to make inquiries. Pears's charges were corroborated, and Robinson's services were warmly acknowledged by Bulgarians. In 1887 Robinson became titular editor, the actual night editing being carried on chiefly by Peter William Clayden [q. v. Suppl. II]. In 1893 he was knighted on the recommendation of Gladstone. Through various causes the fortunes of the paper meanwhile declined. During the Boer war in South Africa (1899–1902), Robinson's sympathies were with the Boers. The proprietors changed the policy of the paper to a support of the war without restoring its prosperity. Then the policy was again reversed by new proprietors, but Robinson resigned in February 1901. At a dinner given him by the former proprietors he was presented with a service of plate and his portrait was painted by E. A. Ward (now in the possession of his son, Mr. O. R. Robinson).

Robinson was an habitué of the Reform Club, and formed one of the circle in which James Payn, William Black, Sir Wemyss Reid, and George Augustus Sala were conspicuous. He was an excellent raconteur and mimic, a great reader, especially of modern French literature, and a regular 'first night' visitor to the leading theatres.

In 1854 Robinson became a professional member of the Guild of Literature and Art, a society which was founded by Charles Dickens and his friends for the benefit of authors and artists. The guild failed to fulfil the aims of its founders, and Robinson with Frederick Clifford [q. v. Suppl. II], as the last surviving trustees, arranged for its dissolution in 1897. In 1897 he was chairman of the Newspaper Press Fund dinner, and in 1898 of the Newspaper Society dinner; the former body represents journalists, and the latter proprietors. No other active journalist has filled the double office.

Robinson died in London on 30 Nov. 1903, and was buried in Highgate cemetery. He married on 14 July 1859 Jane Mapes (d. 1876), youngest daughter of William Granger of the Grange, Wickham Bishops, Essex; by her he had one son and one daughter.

[The Times, and Daily News, 2 Dec. 1903; F. Moy Thomas, Recollections of Sir J. R. Robinson, or Fifty Years of Fleet Street, 1904; Memoirs of Sir Wemyss Reid, 1905, pp. 253–5; G. W. Smalley's Anglo-American Memories, 1911; private information; personal recollections.]

W. B. D.