Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ashton, Havelock Race (1895–1971)

by Stuart Inder

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Havelock Race Ashton (1895-1971), newspaper editor, was born on 19 December 1895 at South Yarra, Melbourne, son of Havelock McBlann Ashton, an artist from England, and his Tasmanian-born wife Hariette Race, née Allison, late Fletcher. Young Ashton was educated at private schools in Melbourne and, after the family moved to Sydney, at St John's Parochial School, Darlinghurst. Early in 1915 he gained a cadetship on the Sun, an afternoon broadsheet, and was to work for Sun Newspapers Ltd and its successor, Associated Newspapers Ltd, until 1953.

As 'Frank Harry' Ashton, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 13 October 1915 and embarked for Egypt in November. By March 1916 he was in France, fighting with the 1st Australian Field Artillery Brigade; he was gassed at Ypres, and promoted corporal in October 1918. Known as 'Frank' in the army and throughout his newspaper career, he rejoined the Sun after being discharged on 26 August 1919.

In 1920 Ashton was in London, working with the Sun-Herald Cable Service. He returned to Sydney in 1923 with an English wife, Phyllis Florence, née Clark, whom he had married on 10 June 1922 at the Bexleyheath parish church, Kent; they were to remain childless. From 1928 he was successively cable-editor, chief sub-editor and news-editor of the Sun until he succeeded T. C. Dunbabin in 1934 as editor of the barely profitable and rabidly anti-Labor Telegraph, a morning paper. Under the steadier, more placid Ashton, the Telegraph gave a balanced view of politics, choosing to play down the 1935 State election campaign in preference to stories on the jubilee celebrations for King George V. Ashton won back many Labor readers. On the paper's sale to Consolidated Press Ltd in 1936, he returned to the Sun as associate editor; he became editor in 1942.

His reputation as 'the last of the gentleman editors' had been established while he was with the Telegraph. Through Ashton's direction, the Sun projected a sense of sober responsibility and public duty in contrast to its tabloid competitor, Ezra Norton's brash Daily Mirror, launched in 1941. Although sales of the Mirror overtook the Sun, Ashton maintained his views that the Sun should be a family newspaper, a vehicle of record as well as of entertainment, and that accuracy was as important as meeting a deadline. At staff farewells or presentations, he usually took the opportunity to reinforce this philosophy with a courtesy and integrity that were widely respected. Practising what he preached, he was involved in community affairs, notably as a member of the war orphans' appeal committee of the Legacy Club of Sydney. Such causes could depend on useful paragraphs in the Sun, alongside the tearful appeals from small boys whose puppies had strayed. Ashton never failed to raise his hat when he passed the Cenotaph in Martin Place.

Ill health, aggravated by his war service, forced him to take several months leave in 1950 and early retirement late in 1953. In August that year Associated Newspapers had been bought by John Fairfax & Sons Ltd, but, to the distress of many journalists and readers, Ashton's type of afternoon newspaper had gone for ever. A member of the Australasian Pioneers' and Journalists' clubs, he lived quietly with his wife at Leura in the Blue Mountains. At Phyllis's prompting, they returned to England in 1958. Frank corresponded with former colleagues and clearly missed old friends. Survived by his wife, he died on 6 June 1971 in his home at Newmarket, Suffolk, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. B. Walker, The Newspaper Press in New South Wales, 1803-1920 (Syd, 1976)
  • R. B. Walker, Yesterday's News (Syd, 1980)
  • G. Souter, Company of Heralds (Melb, 1981)
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Nov 1933
  • Sun (Sydney), 1 Aug 1942, 10 Oct, 22 Dec 1953, 9 June 1971
  • Newspaper News, 2 Oct 1950
  • Legacy Sydney, records
  • private information.

Citation details

Stuart Inder, 'Ashton, Havelock Race (1895–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ashton-havelock-race-9393/text16507, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Ashton, Frank Harry
Birth

19 December 1895
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

6 June 1971
Newmarket, Suffolk, England

Cultural Heritage
Occupation