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Day, John Medway (1838–1905)

by Margaret Allen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

John Medway Day (1838-1905), by unknown photographer, c1890

John Medway Day (1838-1905), by unknown photographer, c1890

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 16248

John Medway Day (1838-1905), journalist and minister of religion, was born on 24 February 1838 at Bedford, England, son of Samuel Day, carver and gilder, and his wife Elizabeth, née Stamford. After schooling at Bedford, John worked in a local solicitor's office, was secretary of the young men's improvement class at Bunyan Baptist Church and studied for the ministry in 1861-65 at Regent's Park College, London.

Day (often referred to as Medway Day) migrated to South Australia in the Octavia in 1866 and served at Mount Gambier Baptist Church; from 1869 he was at Kapunda. Active in community life, he was a popular lecturer and a member of local institute committees. From 1868 he regularly contributed to the Baptist publication Truth and Progress, of which he became editor in 1874. He chaired the South Australian Baptist Association in 1870-71.

Feeling constrained by his position as a clergyman, in 1875 Day left his ministry and became leader writer for the Register in Adelaide. When acting editor in 1883-84, he was criticized for using his position to advance his 'extreme' views on land nationalization. He so strongly championed the co-operative village settlements on the Murray that the Bulletin could say they were 'largely of his making'. Representing country institutes on the board of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery from 1886, he was chairman in 1889-90. On 12 August 1886 at Southwark he married with Anglican rites Ellen Sandland.

Day left the Register in March 1892 and became editor of the Single Tax League's paper, the Pioneer. In December 1892 he launched a weekly, the Voice, styled as 'In the Cause of Humanity'. He wrote much of the copy, seeking to 'stimulate enquiry, to consolidate and give voice to the public feeling on [current] social and political questions'. Day spoke frequently on land reform, effective voting, political economy, women's suffrage, unionism and other reform topics: between May and December 1893 he delivered fifty-six lectures in Adelaide and country areas. Some of his lectures were published, including Political Economy in a Nutshell for Young Men and Women (Adelaide, 1893) and Idlers in the Marketplace (Sydney, 1896). In 1893 he failed to win the House of Assembly seat of Gumeracha. He organized a reform convention in September 1893 and was acknowledged as 'leader of the Forward Movement', a loose coalition of trade unionists, democrats, single taxers, feminists, Christian sociologists and socialists.

In 1894 Day went to Sydney as the first professional editor of the Australian Worker, the paper of the bush unions that were to amalgamate to form the Australian Workers' Union in 1895. Following a brief, financially disastrous move from a weekly to a daily paper in 1894, he was closely questioned at the initial A.W.U. conference in February 1895 and again in 1896, but gained overwhelming support from the rank and file. When also manager of the Worker in 1896, he used his own savings to advance wages, but the paper ceased publication in February 1897. He became manager of the Trades' Council Co-operative Store in Sydney and promoted the co-operative movement. In May 1895 he had contested Labor preselection for Grenfell but was defeated by W. A. Holman. Preselected for Gundagai instead, Day lost.

When his wife died in April 1894 he described her as having been an 'earnest co-worker in the cause of humanity'. Day married Marcella Mary Carr, née Blake, a widow, on 8 September 1897 in St Patrick's Catholic Church vestry, Sydney. He continued to lecture on social questions and strongly advocated unification rather than Federation. Appointed editor of the Tasmanian Mail, in 1904 he moved to Hobart. Day died of an intestinal obstruction on 8 July 1905 at Hobart. Childless, he was survived by his wife.

With commanding presence and a large leonine head, opinionated and egotistical, he was referred to by fellow journalists as 'Judgement Day'. A man of integrity and marked ability, while favouring land reform and Henry George's ideas, he refused to be known as a single taxer. He reputedly belonged to the Social Democratic Federation but, curiously, a conservative Hobart obituarist asserted: 'With socialists he had no affinity'. According to the Worker, however, a 'kindly thought' was due to his memory, as 'one who steered the ship for a while when many of the rocks in the course were uncharted'.

Select Bibliography

  • H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader (Syd, 1942)
  • L. F. Crisp, ‘John Medway Day: A South Australian who in 1893 Went East, Not West’, Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, no 9, 1981, p 111
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 15 Jan 1897, p 6
  • Mercury (Hobart), 10 July 1905, p 5
  • Clipper (Hobart), 15 July 1905, p 8
  • Observer (Adelaide), 15 July 1905, p 24
  • Worker (Sydney), 15 July 1905, p 4
  • Bulletin, 9 April 1892, p 10, 17 Aug 1905, p 15
  • W. J. Sowden, Our Pioneer Press (typescript, 1926, State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

Margaret Allen, 'Day, John Medway (1838–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/day-john-medway-12880/text23265, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

John Medway Day (1838-1905), by unknown photographer, c1890

John Medway Day (1838-1905), by unknown photographer, c1890

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 16248