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Bonython, Sir John Lavington (1875–1960)

by W. B. Pitcher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Sir John Lavington Bonython (1875-1960), newspaper editor and company director was born in Adelaide on 10 September 1875, eldest son of (Sir) John Langdon Bonython and his wife Mary Louise Fredericka, née Balthasar. Educated at Prince Alfred College, he entered the Advertiser office after a world tour in 1896. He was associated with his father in the management of the Advertiser, the Chronicle and the Express, and edited the Saturday Express in 1912-30; he was proud of his accuracy as a journalist.

Much of Bonython's energy was devoted to civic affairs. He was elected to the Adelaide City Council in 1901; this association spanned over fifty years. In 1907 he became an alderman and in 1912-13 was the youngest man to have become mayor of Adelaide; in 1928-30 he was lord mayor. The affairs of the city that he loved, and which he seldom left, absorbed much of his public life and he became concerned with preserving the heritage, particularly the Park Lands, bequeathed to its citizens by Colonel William Light. In 1935 he presented a clock for the town hall tower. He was a member, sometime chairman, of the boards of the abattoirs, Municipal Tramways Trust, Royal Adelaide Hospital, Metropolitan Infectious Diseases Hospital, fire brigade and other public utilities. He also held high office in the Adelaide School Board, the Botanic Garden, the South Australian Institution for the Blind and Deaf and Dumb, the Taxpayers' Association, the Royal Society of St George, and the Royal Commonwealth Society. Bonython served on the board of Minda Home for retarded children from its inception in 1898 for sixty-two years, for twenty-six of which he was president; in 1956 he provided a large sum for a building there which was named for him. He was knighted in 1935.

Temperamentally, Bonython was not suited to succeed his father as sole proprietor of the Advertiser, but when it was sold in 1929 and converted into a public company he became a director; for a time he was vice-chairman and retained the association until his death. His business interests extended to other fields: he was chairman of directors of the Executor Trustee & Agency Co. and served on the boards of several other companies. He also had close associations with the South Australian Housing Trust, the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce and the Liberal and Country League of South Australia. He was a member of the Adelaide Club.

Bonython was twice married: first on 16 April 1904 to Blanche Ada Bray, who died in childbirth in 1908 leaving two daughters and a son; second on 11 December 1912 to Constance Jean Warren; they had two sons and a daughter. Lady Bonython (1891-1977) was educated at Dryburgh House School and the Geelong Church of England Girls' Grammar School. Shortly after her marriage, when she was 21, she became mayoress and carried out her duties with great assurance. She was prominent in the Mothers' and Babies' Health Association, the Kindergarten Union of South Australia, the Pre-School Association and other welfare organizations. In 1936 she was one of two women on the Adelaide Centenary Committee. For many years she encouraged contemporary painters and was involved in the affairs of the South Australian Symphony Orchestra from its inception. In 1954 she was appointed O.B.E.

Bonython was a regular churchgoer and a trustee of the Pirie Street Methodist Church for over thirty years. Of slightly more than average height and of slim build, he was a careful man of abstemious and frugal habits: he used public transport to go to his office. He was possibly rather inhibited by close and lengthy association with his forceful father, to whom he was devoted. He died on 6 November 1960 and was buried in the family grave. His estate was sworn for probate at £276,412. A large portrait hangs in the council chamber of the Adelaide City Council and a smaller one is held by the family.

Bonython's son by his first marriage, John Langdon (1905-1992) was a prominent businessman; Charles Warren (1916-2012), conservationist and chemical engineer, and Hugh Reskymer (Kym), D.F.C., A.F.C. (1920-2011), art dealer and jazz and speedway entrepreneur, were sons of the second marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1908)
  • E. G. Bonython, History of the Families of Bonython … (Adel, 1966)
  • South Australian Methodist (Adelaide), 11 Nov 1960
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 7 Nov 1960, 13 June 1977
  • private information.

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Citation details

W. B. Pitcher, 'Bonython, Sir John Lavington (1875–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bonython-sir-john-lavington-5287/text8917, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 19 December 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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