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Derrington, Edwin Henry (1830–1899)

by Neville Hicks

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

Edwin Henry Derrington (1830-1899), by unknown photographer, 1872

Edwin Henry Derrington (1830-1899), by unknown photographer, 1872

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 16733

Edwin Henry Derrington (1830-1899), journalist and publicist, was born on 1 July 1830 at Birmingham, England, the first son and fourth child of Edwin Derrington, a Dissenting minister, and his wife Susannah, née Buggins. He became a compositor but was a reporter in Birmingham by 28 September 1852 when he married Elizabeth (b.1831), daughter of William Shread. Their son was born in June 1853 but within ten months she and the child had died. Soon afterwards Derrington migrated to Australia. According to an obituary, he landed in Melbourne, but he was working for the South Australian Register by 1 September 1855 when he married Elizabeth Rosa Ekers at St Andrew's Church, Walkerville; of their nine children, eight survived childhood.

Derrington worked for the Register until he was appointed telegraph stationmaster at Mount Gambier on 1 January 1859. In September 1866 he became a partner in Blackwell, Derrington & Co., wholesale and retail store-keepers. When the partnership dissolved in 1869 he was owner-editor of the Mount Gambier Standard until 1872 when he moved to Moonta. There he founded and ran the Yorke's Peninsula Advertiser and Miners' News for eleven years. In 1878 he acquired the Port Adelaide News and was its owner-editor until 1883 and publisher until January 1885. He bought the Adelaide Punch in April 1882 but sold it in January 1884. His press speculations probably ended for financial reasons: in 1882 the colony had forty-seven newspapers for less than 300,000 people.

Attention to parochial problems was a necessity for editors but Derrington also pursued a vigorous liberal line on wider questions. He preferred property tax to the tariff as a source of revenue; he supported payment of parliamentarians, opposed selection of land before survey and sought universal education as a corollary to universal suffrage. He believed that female suffrage and a permanent executive would raise the quality of political life. In the conflict between Darwinian science and religion he saw the merits of the former; he also advocated more teaching hospitals to improve the standard of medicine, argued against the abolition of capital punishment, supported the exclusion of Chinese labour, and ridiculed the defence of Adelaide against Russian naval attack as 'A Lunatic Scare'. At Moonta he supported the miners who struck in 1874 when the mine directors attempted to reduce wages, and attributed the men's victory to orderly conduct and 'the power of moral suasion'.

Derrington's advocacy of local developments such as improved transport, proper drainage of the south-east and the establishment of a beet sugar industry must have pleased the residents of Mount Gambier. He represented them in the House of Assembly in 1872-73 and was commissioner of crown lands under Henry Ayers in 1872. He was not a skilful politician and his selection for the ministry 'after one afternoon of parliamentary experience' was a matter of expediency: the Ayers government wanted to shelve a proposed railway in the south-east and Derrington supported Mount Gambier commercial interests who wanted the line to be routed through their own area. In his undistinguished parliamentary career he began to quarrel with Ebenezer Ward who, he publicly asserted, was 'ignoring nearly all the qualities that make up private and public worth' and drowning his natural gifts 'in unnatural sensuousness, idleness, and unprincipledness'. Ward sued for damages of £2000. The chief justice, Samuel Way, seemed to think the defendant guilty but the six-day trial ended without agreement by the jury. A 'Derrington Defence Fund' was raised in excess of his legal costs.

In 1883 Derrington failed to win the Gumeracha seat. In succession he became the paid secretary of the Temperance Alliance, secretary of the Chamber of Manufactures and for two years a travelling lecturer for the Australian Mutual Provident Society. He was also active in the Bible Society, the Social Purity League and in Bible Christian, Primitive and Wesleyan Methodist affairs. He debated, sang, played the violin and painted with modest ability. The 'moral' tone of his utterances and his indifferent success in business suggest that he followed the Protestant ethic rather than the spirit of capitalism. When he died on 14 October 1899 the obituaries were sincere, for his energy and enthusiasm had helped his colony's cause.

Select Bibliography

  • Ward v. Derrington, South Australian Law Reports, vol 14, 1880, pp 35-61
  • Libel Case: Ward v. Derrington (Adel, nd)
  • Port Adelaide News, 14 Feb 1880, Register (Adelaide), 16 Oct 1899
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Neville Hicks, 'Derrington, Edwin Henry (1830–1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/derrington-edwin-henry-3399/text5073, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 25 November 2017.

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

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