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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Fairfax, Hon. John

< The Dictionary of Australasian Biography

Fairfax, Hon. John, M.L.C., whose reputation is inseparably identified with the pioneer days of Australian journalism, was born at Warwick in 1804. Trained as a compositor, he obtained employment on the Morning Chronicle of London at the completion of his apprenticeship; but, after a time, returned to his native county and commenced business as a printer and bookseller at Leamington, where he started the Leamington Spa Chronicle. The venture was successful; but an outspoken criticism upon the conduct of public officials resulted in a prosecution for libel. Mr. Fairfax successfully defended his position; but was overwhelmed with the heavy costs of litigation, and this circumstance caused him to emigrate to Sydney in 1838. He obtained employment on the Sydney Herald, which had begun its career in 1831, and was then issued bi-weekly by Mr. F. M. Stokes, and as a daily in 1840. Mr. Fairfax also obtained the position of librarian to the Australian Subscription Library in Sydney, Sept. 13th, 1838. His energy, prudence, and enterprise secured him powerful friends. The proprietor of the Herald wishing to retire from business, the paper was purchased in 1841 by Mr. Fairfax and Mr. C. Kemp, a reporter, for the sum of £10,000, which was partly advanced by friends of the new proprietors. The partnership prospered, and the foundation of the great future success of the Herald was securely laid. The paper has always jealously asserted its independence, and has never been considered a party journal. It has been conducted with rare moderation and unusual literary ability, and has secured an amount of commercial support which is unprecedented even in the colonies. In 1851 Mr. Fairfax revisited Leamington, and honourably defrayed all the liabilities which he had left when he emigrated thirteen years before. His old townsmen recognised his sterling qualities, and gave him a most cordial reception. Returning to Sydney in 1853, Mr. Fairfax purchased the share of his partner, Mr. Kemp, and became the sole owner of his paper, which since August 1st, 1842, had assumed the name of the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1867 Mr. Charles Fairfax was taken into partnership, and on the accidental death of his eldest son, Mr. John Fairfax admitted his younger sons—Mr. James Reading Fairfax and Mr. Edward Ross Fairfax. Under their management the paper acquired an undisputed precedence in New South Wales. Mr. John Fairfax again visited England in 1863, and utilised his leisure to familiarise himself with all the latest phases of newspaper management, with the result that his own journals were always in possession of the most modern machinery and equipments. In the political struggles of his day Mr. Fairfax took little personal part. He once sought election to the Legislative Assembly, and was defeated; but in 1874 he was nominated to a seat in the Legislative Council. He was a devoutly religious man, and throughout his career was a prominent member and a most generous supporter of the Congregational body. In 1840 he was chosen as a deacon of the Pitt Street Congregational Church, in Sydney, and took a deep interest in its welfare until his death, which took place at his residence, Ginahgulla, Bose Bay, Port Jackson, June 16th, 1877. His two sons conducted the Herald, and its powerful adjuncts, the Mail and Echo, until 1888, when Mr. E. R. Fairfax withdrew from the partnership. Mr. J. R. Fairfax then admitted his sons—Messrs. Charles Geoffrey and James Fairfax, jun.—into the partnership, and as he only exercises a supervising influence himself, the control of the journals is virtually vested in them.