John Fairfax (1805 – 1877) newspaper proprietor, philanthropist
Renowned for his religious tolerance, John Fairfax was active in such interdenominational Christian efforts as the YMCA and the Ragged Schools Committee, and such movements for moral renewal as the anti-transportation campaigns. In church life he remained senior deacon of Pitt Street until his death, assisted in the foundation of Camden Theological College, and was open-handed both with hospitality and money.
Son of William Fairfax and Elizabeth Jesson of a long-settled middle-class family in Warwickshire, John was strongly influenced by his mother’s independent (ie ‘Congregational’) Christian faith.
Fairfax migrated to Sydney with his family in 1838. He took up positions as a typesetter, then librarian with the Australian Subscription Library while freelance typesetting. He also established a journal for the NSW Temperance Society.
He joined the diaconate of the Pitt St Congregational Church, whose pastor Robert Ross and another deacon, Ambrose Foss were on the committee for the Subscription Library with the Rev Ralph Mansfield. Also deacons at Pitt St were David Jones, the prospering Welsh merchant, and Joseph Thompson, the stock and share broker. This close network of energetic nonconformist businessmen, associated through chapel and business, grew together in wealth and influence. Their opponents called this ‘a Venetian oligarchy’, though their influence was more economic than political. With Charles Kemp (the Sydney Herald’s parliamentary and court reporter) Fairfax bought the Herald for the huge sum of £10,000 in February 1841. By 1856, the (now Sydney Morning) Herald had the third largest circulation in the Empire. In 1853, he bought Kemp out, and in 1856 brought his son James into partnership, changing the name of the company to ‘John Fairfax and Sons’, a dynasty which was to last for the next 134 years.
Conservative, magisterial, and hugely successful, the Herald became the benchmark for Australian newspapers. Fairfax branched out into all forms of business, among others as a foundation director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, and the Australian Gaslight Company, which were to become huge conglomerates in their own right. His appointment to the NSW Legislative Council and the Council of Education was recognition of commercial success and moral character.
Renowned for his religious tolerance, Fairfax was active in such interdenominational Christian efforts as the YMCA and the Ragged Schools Committee, and such movements for moral renewal as the anti-transportation campaigns. In church life he remained senior deacon of Pitt Street until his death, assisted in the foundation of Camden Theological College, and was open-handed both with hospitality and money. Serious, energetic, moral, gentlemanly, moderate, conservative, by second nature religious, yet non-sectarian, Fairfax represented that class of Christian businessmen who sought to spread moral enlightenment by creating those institutions of a civil society which educated, assisted and restrained. Bourgeois, oligarchic and wealthy, with ‘his leanings and prejudices’, Fairfax was the self-made man who put his fortune down to hard work and faith in God: his favourite motto being ‘Pray without ceasing’. Ambition there was, but as often for the good of others as for the prospering of the self. His wife Sarah died on 12 August 1875, at the family home of Ginahgulla. Fairfax followed her two years later quite firm in his destination. As he said to his pastor, James Jefferis, a few days before his death, ‘I am looking up. I am going home’.
Fairfax was a sincerely religious man, much interested in the Congregational Church. But his paper was kept free from religious bias, and was in no way responsible for the strong sectarian feelings which then existed in Sydney. His household was typically Victorian in its outlook, but in the newspaper due importance was given to music and the theatre, literature and art. To Fairfax the conduct of the press was a sacred trust and he never betrayed this. Of his children, his second son, Sir James Reading Fairfax (1834–1919), entered his father’s office in 1852 and was admitted as a partner in 1856. When his father died he was in control of the paper, and in his hands it went from strength to strength. Fairfax was intimately associated with it for 67 years. In 1851 Faifax was a foundation director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, and in the 1860s a director of the Sydney Insurance Co., the New South Wales Marine Insurance Co., the Australian Joint Stock Bank and the Australian Gaslight Co. and a trustee of the Savings Bank of New South Wales. Like his father, Fairfax was a religious man, and for a long period was president of the YMCA, and he did much for other social services of the community.
Also, regarding the AMP Society
Sermons in Australian newspapers
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