Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bennett, Samuel (1815–1878)

by Merilyn J. Bryce

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Samuel Bennett (1815-1878), newspaper proprietor, journalist and historian, was born on 28 March 1815 in Camborne, Cornwall, England, son of Rev. Christopher Bennett and his wife Anne. As a printer, he went to Sydney in 1841 under engagement to Alfred Stephens and Stokes, proprietors of the Sydney Herald. When Charles Kemp and John Fairfax took over the paper, Bennett became head of the printing department until he resigned in 1859 to join William Hanson in publishing the Empire, which they had bought from (Sir) Henry Parkes. The Empire first appeared under new management on 23 May with the promise that 'The Empire … will continue under the new management to advocate the same great principles by which it has hitherto been distinguished'. It was published daily until 1875.

Bennett had other interests beyond journalism. He planned to write a history of Australia from the earliest times to his own day, and from 1865 parts of it appeared weekly in the Empire. Business pressures, however, forced him to suspend work on the history which was published incomplete in 1867 as The History of Australian Discovery and Colonization. In that year he also began Sydney's first evening paper, the Evening News, which soon won a leading place in the local press.

Undaunted by his publishing load, he added in 1870 the weekly Australian Town and Country Journal. In keeping with his avowed aim of making it 'valuable to everybody for its great amount of useful and reliable information', it dealt very thoroughly with diverse subjects: in addition to the customary domestic and foreign news, it included weekly essays on literature, science and invention. The 'country' aspect of the journal was strongly emphasized in parliamentary reports and commercial news, with essays on all phases of agriculture, articles on rural towns for the edification of city dwellers, and weekly reports from correspondents scattered throughout the colony.

The journal was Bennett's last publishing venture. His three papers were produced successfully until 1875 when labour difficulties forced him to amalgamate the Empire and the Evening News. Though Bennett hoped that this would only be temporary, the Empire never reappeared as a separate publication.

The turbulence which lent such a challenging air to Edward Hall's Monitor and Robert Wardell's Australian has tended to overshadow the achievements of Bennett. He never fought crusades through the columns of the Empire and the Evening News, but he was not lacking in principle and his papers were not colourless. Although tart editorials were not common, he concentrated his energies on publishing accurate foreign and domestic news as quickly and as cheaply as possible. The Australian Town and Country Journal, probably his best known publication, developed breadth and thoroughness which made it well respected in his time and later a valuable source for the study of Australian social history. His founding of two flourishing newspapers and the successful renaissance of a third, all widely read, is not only a measure of his ability as a journalist but a tribute to his sound business sense and thoroughly professional management. He was the 'compleat newspaperman' and had a deep and lively interest in both history and literature, subjects on which he wrote many essays and reviews in his early years. Later he came to regret the increasing business responsibilities which prevented him from writing for his papers and from completing his history of Australia.

After a slight accident at his home, Mundarrah Towers, Little Coogee, Sydney, he developed tetanus and died on 2 June 1878. He was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. In England about 1840 he had married Eliza, daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Sellers of Bristol. Of their seven children, he was survived by three sons and a daughter: Frank and Christopher joined their father and continued his newspaper business; Rose married (Sir) John Henniker Heaton.

Select Bibliography

  • The Evening News 1867-1926: A Record of Progress (Syd, 1926)
  • Empire (Sydney), 1859-75
  • Evening News (Sydney), 1867-78
  • Town and Country Journal, 1870-78.

Citation details

Merilyn J. Bryce, 'Bennett, Samuel (1815–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bennett-samuel-2975/text4337, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 20 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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