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Davies, John (1813–1872)

by F. C. Green

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

John Davies (1813-1872), convict, hotel-keeper, journalist and newspaper proprietor, was born in London, son of Michael John Davies and his wife Hannah, née Benjamin. On 15 July 1830 at Maidstone his father, managing clerk in a London attorney's office, was tried for obtaining goods by false pretences and sentenced to transportation for seven years; in December he arrived at Sydney in the Florentia with his wife, two sons and three daughters. He was assigned to the Australian Agricultural Co. at Port Stephens, moved to Port Macquarie in 1834 and, after his discharge, became a publican in Sydney. About 1871 he started the weekly, Australian, at Windsor, where he died on 27 December 1873.

John Davies was convicted of fraud at the Middlesex Court on 6 December 1830 and sentenced to transportation for seven years. In August 1831 he arrived at Hobart Town in the Argyle, aged 18, single, a clerk and a Jew. On the voyage he had been employed as a barber for his fellow prisoners. According to his gaol report, he was 'a bad character, audacious and impudent'. He was sent to government service in New South Wales and by 1834 he had joined his father at Port Macquarie. He was discharged in October 1837, worked in various jobs and then moved to Sydney where he joined the police force. In November 1840 he was appointed chief constable at Penrith and on 16 December married Elizabeth Ellis. He resigned his post next March when his foster-brother Edward was hanged as a bushranger. With great self-confidence he became a reporter for the Port Phillip Gazette by February 1842 and in May was appointed chief constable at Portland. By October he was back in Melbourne writing aggressively for the Gazette and attempting to organize support for Judge John Willis. As an amateur actor he played the part of a ghoulish comedian in a performance at the Pavilion, Melbourne's wooden theatre. Though never popular he was bustling and energetic, and when engaged on any undertaking his impudence and persistence brought success. In 1845 he organized the opening performance at a new theatre as a benefit to himself. Soon afterwards he left for New South Wales, where in Sydney he worked as a government clerk, and in 1847 at Wellington became chief constable. On a visit to Melbourne in 1848 he made a vicious attack in John Fawkner's Port Phillip Patriot on the wife of William Kerr. Fawkner made a public apology but Davies was charged with criminal libel; found guilty, he pleaded for a mitigated sentence and was fined £15.

In 1850 Davies left New South Wales and took his wife and two sons to Van Diemen's Land, where he acquired a hotel at Brighton. In 1852 he took over the Waterloo Hotel in Hobart and in partnership with Auber George Jones published the Hobarton Guardian. It was incorporated on 5 July 1854 with the first issue of the Hobarton Mercury. With Davies as sole proprietor it became a daily in 1858 and by 1860 had absorbed four other papers, the Colonial Times, Tasmanian Daily News, Daily Courier and Hobart Town Courier. In 1859 and 1864 he published Tasmanian almanacs. In October 1871 two of his sons, John George and Charles Ellis, took over the Mercury, then Hobart's only newspaper. In 1854 Davies had also become part-proprietor of the Theatre Royal, Hobart, and under his guidance it was extensively reconstructed.

In Tasmania Davies became notorious for settling disputes by physical violence. In 1852 he was in hospital recovering from injuries received in a brawl, for which he demanded compensation from A. T. C. Yates, editor of the Daily News. In 1855 he was defendant in a Supreme Court action by Washington McMinn, solicitor, who claimed £1000 damages from an assault by Davies; the verdict was for the plaintiff with damages assessed at £5. In 1860 he was sentenced to one month's imprisonment for an assault on Samuel Prout Hill. In that year he had another fracas with Yates in a public street, and soon afterwards Davies charged J. C. Hall of the Hobart Town Advertiser with assault.

In 1861 Davies was elected to the House of Assembly as a member for Hobart, but because of a petition claiming that he was ineligible for election since he had printing contracts with the government he resigned and in 1862 was elected member for Devon, a northern electorate. He was defeated in September 1871 but won the Franklin seat. After a heart attack he died at his home, Windemere, Macquarie Street, Hobart, on 11 June 1872 and was buried with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • L. M. Goldman, The Jews in Victoria in the Nineteenth Century (Melbourne, 1954)
  • M. Roe, A History of the Theatre Royal, Hobart, from 1834 (Hobart, 1965)
  • M. Weidenhofer (ed), Garryowen's Melbourne: A Selection from the Chronicles of Early Melbourne, 1835 to 1852 (Melbourne, 1967)
  • Port Phillip Gazette, 17 Oct 1840, 5 May 1841, 11 May, 11 Sept, 15 Oct 1842
  • correspondence file under John Davies (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Additional Resources

Citation details

F. C. Green, 'Davies, John (1813–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davies-john-3374/text5101, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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