Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Corbett, William Francis (1857–1923)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

This is a shared entry with Claude Gordon Corbett

William Francis Corbett (1857-1923), and Claude Gordon Corbett (1885-1944), sporting journalists, were father and son. William was born on 5 February 1857 at Woolloomooloo, Sydney, son of Francis Corbett, coachman, and his wife Mary Agnes, née McCarthy. On 1 June 1874 he became a junior operator in the electric telegraphy section of the Postmaster General's Department at a salary of £52. On 10 July 1878, with Presbyterian forms (although he had been baptized a Catholic) he married Amelia Kate Bragg (d.1917) in Sydney. A fine amateur swimmer, sculler and boxer and a champion bowler, he reported these sports to newspapers, including the Referee, whose full-time staff he joined in 1896. For the next seventeen years he helped make it the best sporting newspaper in Australia, becoming 'as well known among sporting people as the Post Office clock is to the general public'. He worked also for the Sunday Times and the Arrow, writing as 'The Amateur' and 'Right Cross' on boxing, as 'Natator' and 'The Diver' on swimming, and as 'Toucher' and 'Blackwood' on bowls.

Closely associated with boxing, Corbett was a founder of the Sydney Amateur Gymnastic Club, the venue for many championship fights; he was a friend and supporter of Peter Jackson. In July 1910 he travelled to the United States of America to report the Johnson-Jeffries fight for the Referee and for two American syndicates. He became sporting editor of the pioneer of modern popular journalism in Australia, the Sun, in January 1913, and brought his special knowledge and experience to the treatment of sport in Sydney daily papers, a development which was to lead to the decline of quality sporting publications such as the Referee. But he returned to the latter as boxing editor in 1916, after its purchase by Hugh McIntosh.

Survived by six daughters and four sons, Corbett died of heart disease and diabetes at Bondi on 29 October 1923 and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. His son Harold William, an able sportsman, was killed in World War I; another, William Francis (1900-1970), was a boxing and football reporter.

His eldest son Claude was born on 25 April 1885 at Botany. Educated at Cleveland Street Public School, at 14 he joined the Evening News as a copy-boy. He excelled at swimming and boxing and played first-grade Rugby for St George, Newtown and Eastern Suburbs. In 1911 he accompanied the Rugby League tour of Britain as Daily Telegraph correspondent. He was an informed reporter of the code and one of its most loyal supporters, making two more Kangaroo tours of England. In 1913 he was, with his father, on the Sun's staff. On 27 January 1914 at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, he married Lily May Fowles, McIntosh's adopted daughter. Corbett was managing director of the Sunday Times, the Referee and the Arrow from 1916, and visited America to buy new machinery for the Sunday Times.

In 1923 Corbett returned to the Sun as sporting editor. The development of Saturday afternoon papers meant he was responsible for reports of sporting events rushed for inclusion in successive editions; for two seasons it was a family affair as he, his brothers Bill and Jack and son Harold McIntosh ('Mac') covered the four first-grade Rugby League games. His weekly column, entitled for a time 'Claude Corbett says', was a popular feature of the Sunday Sun. He died of cancer on 12 December 1944 and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery after a requiem mass celebrated by Fr Jimmy Carlton. He was survived by his son and two daughters. Corbett was a notable sporting reporter with, as Kenneth Slessor wrote, 'not only a specialist's knowledge … but also a crisp, and magnetic style which fascinated readers'. A shield presented at Sydney Rugby League Tests between England and Australia commemorates him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. B. Walker, The Newspaper Press in New South Wales, 1803-1920 (Syd, 1976)
  • Sydney Mail, 12 Sept 1906
  • Sun (Sydney), 5 Jan 1913, 13 Dec 1944
  • Referee (Sydney), 19 July 1916, 31 Oct 1923
  • Sunday Times (Sydney), 4 Nov 1923
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 July 1970
  • bankruptcy files, 3183/3, 4987/4 (State Records of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Corbett, William Francis (1857–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/corbett-william-francis-5778/text9797, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Amateur, The
  • Right Cross
  • Natator
  • Diver, The
  • Toucher
  • Blackwood
Birth

5 February 1857
Woolloomooloo, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

29 October 1923
Bondi, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence
Occupation