Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Leng, John

LENG, Sir JOHN (1828–1906), newspaper proprietor, born at Hull on 10 April 1828, was younger brother of Sir William Christopher Leng [q . v. Supp. II]. Educated at Hull grammar school, he acted there as joint-editor with Charles Cooper (afterwards editor of the 'Scotsman') of a manuscript school magazine. Becoming assistant teacher at a private school, he sent letters to the 'Hull Advertiser' which attracted the notice of Edward Francis Collins, then editor, and led to his appointment in 1847, at nineteen, as sub-editor and reporter. This post, which embraced dramatic and musical criticism, he held for four years. In July 1851 Leng was selected from among seventy candidates as editor of the then bi-weekly 'Dundee Advertiser.'

The paper was founded in 1801, but had fallen into a backward state. Leng soon raised the 'Advertiser' to high rank, both in local and imperial affairs. His wide practical knowledge of newspaper work enabled him to reorganise both the literary staff and machinery. The old premises were quickly found too small; and in 1859 he built the first portion of new premises in Bank Street, which, before his death, attained gigantic proportions. As early as 1852 Leng was made a partner by the proprietors of the 'Advertiser,' and the imprint thenceforth bore the name of John Leng & Co.

After the abolition of the 'taxes on knowledge' in 1861, the 'Advertiser' was issued daily. In June 1870 Leng was one of the first Scottish newspaper proprietors to establish an office in Fleet Street, London, with direct telegraphic communication with Dundee. When stereotyping was adopted, after printing from rolls of paper instead of sheets was introduced, he caused a stereotype-foundry to be erected as a portion of the plant. In 1851 the single machine in use could only produce 350 copies per hour; fifty years afterwards Leng had four elaborate machines in operation, each capable of throwing off 20,000 copies per hour. He was the first to attempt illustrations in a daily paper; and when the primitive pantographic method was superseded by zincography, he founded a zincographic and photographic studio as part of the office equipment. The difficulty of obtaining an adequate paper supply was overcome in 1893, when the Donside paper-mills were acquired by a private limited liabihty company, of which Leng was chairman.

Leng proved to be a notable pioneer in other departments of journalistic enterprise. In May 1859 he founded the first half-penny daily newspaper in Scotland, under the title of the 'Daily Advertiser,' but the limited machinery then available compelled him to suspend this venture. In January 1858 he established the 'People's Journal,' a weekly newspaper which soon reached the largest circulation of any similar paper in Scotland. A literary weekly paper, the 'People's Friend,' was founded by him in 1869; and he lived to see it reach a circulation which rivalled that of London periodicals of its kind. The 'Evening Telegraph,' a halfpenny daily newspaper, was started in 1877, and had a successful career, being amalgamated in 1900 with the 'Evening Post,' another local paper. In 1860 he suggested the introduction of sixpenny telegrams, printing specimen forms similar to those afterwards adopted.

In September 1889, on the death of J. B. Firth, one of two members of parliament for Dundee, Leng was returned without opposition in the liberal interest. He was re-elected by large majorities in 1892, 1896, and 1900. retiring from the House of Commons at the dissolution in 1905. An advanced radical and a supporter of home rule all round, he made his maiden speech, on 26 March 1890, in support of the parliamentary elections (Scotland) bill, which proposed that the expenses of returning officers at such elections should be paid out of the rates. Among the topics which he brought before the House of Commons were the excessive hours of railway guards, engine-drivers, and firemen; appointment of female inspectors of factories and workshops; boarding-out of pauper children by parochial boards. He was prominent in 1893 in support of the home rule bill of Mr. Gladstone, and of the employers' liability bill. In the same year he was knighted and was made deputy-lieutenant for tho county of the city of Dundee. He was made an honorary burgess of Dundee in 1902; and in 1904 hon. LL.D. of St. Andrews. Despite his journalistic and parliamentary activity he found time for extensive travel. He visited the United States and Canada in 1876, and frequently toured in France, Germany, and Holland. His first Western journey was recorded in a volume entitled 'America in 1876' (Dundee, 1877); and a visit to India in 1896 was detailed in his book 'Letters from India and Ceylon' (1897), a work translated and widely circulated in Germany. Two journeys in the Near East produced 'Some European Rivers and Cities' (1897) and 'Glimpses of Egypt and Sicily' (1902). A second American tour in 1905 was commemorated in 'Letters from the United States and Canada' (1905). In October 1906 he set out on a third tour in America, but fell ill atDelmonte, California, and died there on 12 Dec. 1906. His body was cremated and the ashes brought home and interred at Vicarsford cemetery, near Newport, Fife.

Leng married twice: (1) in 1851, Emily, elder daughter of Alderman Cook of Beverley; she died at Kinbrae, Newport, Fifeshire, in 1894, leaving two sons and four daughters; (2) in 1897, Mary, daughter of William Low, of Kirriemuir, who survived him.

A portrait by James Archer, R.S.A., was presented to him in 1889 by the staff of the 'Dundee Advertiser' when he entered parliament. In 1901 a portrait by Sir William Quiller Orohardson, R.A., presented to him by the people of Dundee, was given by him to Dundee Permanent Art Gallery. The unspent balance of the subsoriptions was increased by Leng so as to form the Leng Trust, designed to encourage the study of Scottish literature and music.

Besides the volumes mentioned, Leng published numerous pamphlets on socialism, free trade, and economic subjects. A posthumous work, edited by Lady Leng, is entitled 'Through Canada to California' (1911).

[Dundee Year Book, 1901 and 1906; Dundee Advertiser, 1851-1906; Centenary of Dundee Advertiser, 1901; private information.]

A. H. M.