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Brodzky, Maurice (1847–1919)

by Michael Cannon

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

Maurice Brodzky (1847-1919), journalist, was born on 25 November 1847 at Marggrabowa, East Prussia (Poland), son of Israel Brodzky and his wife Bella, née Czerwynkowsky. A student in Paris when the Franco-Prussian War broke out, Brodzky served as a volunteer in the French Army from August 1870 to July 1871. After discharge he migrated to Australia in the Sussex, was shipwrecked off Barwon Heads, and arrived in Melbourne almost penniless. He found employment teaching European languages at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. For some years he shared lodgings with Richard Birnie and J. F. Archibald, who later recalled that he 'wrote brightly, was indefatigable, and had a marvellously useful memory'. Brodzky became a journalist first on the Sydney Evening News, then the Melbourne Age, then the Melbourne Herald, also acting as Australian correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph. He published two short books in Melbourne, Genius, Lunacy, & Knavery (1876), the story of an unscrupulous colonial surgeon, and Historical Sketch of the Two Melbourne Synagogues (1877). A defamation case arising from the latter bankrupted him for eight years.

In 1885 Brodzky resigned from the Herald and, apparently using borrowed capital, started his own journal Table Talk, a weekly miscellany of politics, finance, literature, arts and social notes, which was highly successful during the boom of the 1880s. In 1890 Brodzky began investigating certain speculative land companies and new banks which had shown large paper profits during the land boom. His articles claimed that suspicious and sometimes fraudulent practices had occurred in the Federal and Mercantile banks, and in many other institutions operated by leading politicians and businessmen. As hundreds of such companies failed and were liquidated, Table Talk alone exposed the technique of so-called 'secret compositions' by which many directors and shareholders made private arrangements with creditors in order to avoid public exposure in the courts. Even Brodzky's own relations were attacked in the journal.

Table Talk also continued to print fresh revelations on the matter of the stolen parliamentary mace, allegedly discovered in a Melbourne brothel. Dr William Maloney claimed in the Legislative Assembly that Brodzky had 'levied blackmail' on the subject. He retorted in print that Maloney was 'a malicious liar … a silly, abusive and foul-mouthed scoundrel … an ignorant political quack … cowardly … a black-guard'. This was contrary to Maloney's general reputation as a noted humanitarian, but he did not sue.

During the severe depression which followed the bank closures of 1893, Table Talk's profitability suffered, and Brodzky was unable to meet debts. In 1902, an article in it claimed that F. H. Bromley, State Labor leader, had been accessory to a criminal act. Bromley sued for libel, winning substantial damages and forcing Brodzky into the Insolvency Court. He lost building, plant and journal. The goodwill of Table Talk was sold for £15, and it was finally taken over by the Melbourne Herald, which continued its publication as a society journal until 1939. Brodzky drifted into casual newspaper work, then took his family to San Francisco, where he became editor of a weekly, the Wasp. He survived the great earthquake of 1906, working thereafter as a journalist in London and New York, where he died in 1919. On 3 August 1882 at Fitzroy registry office, he had married Florence Leon (d.1958), through whose family connexions he met Theodore Fink. They had five sons and two daughters, all of whom assisted their father in the writing and production of Table Talk.

The eldest son, Leon Herbert Spencer Brodzky (1883-1973), better known as Spencer Brodney, was born at South Yarra on 29 August 1883. He was influential as a journalist for many years, particularly when his friend Alfred Deakin was prime minister. He contributed articles on the theatre to Table Talk and Lone Hand, attempting to encourage indigenous drama. In 1904 he organized the Australian Theatre Society, which was active for some years in Melbourne. He wrote and produced two plays: one of them, Rebel Smith, with its theme of 'One Big Union' and its main character a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, was published in New York in 1925. In 1914 Lord Northcliffe appointed him editor of the Weekly Despatch in London on condition that he change his name from Brodzky to the less-Jewish sounding Brodney. Spencer Brodney married Esther Siebel in New York in 1918, returned to Australian journalism for four years, and was then appointed editor of the New York Times' monthly, Current History. When this ceased, he founded his own journal entitled Events. He died in New Jersey on 7 May 1973.

Horace Ascher Brodzky (1885-1969) was born at Kew on 30 January 1885. He studied at the National Gallery School in Melbourne and the City and Guilds South London Technical Art School, but finally rebelled against academic techniques. During World War I Horace Brodzky worked as a poster artist for the American Red Cross, and edited art journals in New York. He later became prominent in modern art movements. Early in the 1930s he began to concentrate on single-line pen-drawings using plain steel nibs, his linear style pre-dating by several years similar techniques used by Picasso and Matisse. He wrote biographies of Jules Pascin (1946) and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1933), whose bust of Horace (1913) is in the Tate Gallery, London. He died in London on 11 February 1969.

Julius Brodsky (b.1888) was for many years an instructor in electrical engineering in the United States of America. Vivian Brodzky (1892-1968) became a journalist in London, and Alfred Tennyson (Bob) Brodney (b.1896) a lawyer in Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • O. Comettant, Au Pays des Kangourous et des Mines D'or (Paris, 1890)
  • B. Elliott, Marcus Clarke (Oxford, 1958)
  • M. Cannon, The Land Boomers (Melb, 1966)
  • L. Rees, The Making of Australian Drama (Syd, 1973)
  • Lone Hand (Sydney), June 1907, June 1908
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2 Jan 1872
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 20 Jan 1893, 30 Oct 1902
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 Apr, 15 July 1893
  • Truth (Melbourne), 20 Dec 1902
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 17 Feb 1969, p 10
  • Brodzky manuscripts (State Library of Victoria)
  • Enregistrée no 12746-3 (Ministère de la Guerre Archives, Paris)
  • insolvency files 3757, 90/4124 (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • file CP 407, S1, B1, Weekly Intelligence Summary no 1, May 1917 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael Cannon, 'Brodzky, Maurice (1847–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brodzky-maurice-5365/text9075, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 October 2017.

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

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