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Fox, Sir Frank Ignatius (1874–1960)

by Martha Rutledge

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

Frank Ignatius Fox (1874-1960), by Lionel Lindsay, c1905

Frank Ignatius Fox (1874-1960), by Lionel Lindsay, c1905

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B40315

Sir Frank Ignatius Fox (1874-1960), journalist and Imperialist, was born on 12 August 1874 at Kensington, Adelaide, second son of Charles James Fox, journalist, and his wife Mary Ann, née Toole. He moved to Hobart in 1883, when his father became editor of the Tasmanian Mail, and was educated at Christ's College. At an early age he wrote paragraphs for his father's paper.

Stranded in Sydney about 1891, Fox abandoned the idea of reading for the Bar, and became an office-boy on the Australian Workman. He became a shareholder in the staff co-operative that took over ownership from the Trades and Labor Council; as its editor in 1893-95 Fox opposed the efforts of the 'outside' Labor men to impose on the parliamentary party 'an impossible & silly pledge'. On 13 June 1894 he married, with Congregational forms, Helen Clint (d.1958); they had a son and two daughters.

Next year Fox became editor of the Bathurst National Advocate and supported Federation. In 1898 he could not pay debts incurred by the illness of his wife and himself; he was released from bankruptcy in July 1900. Meanwhile he had returned to Sydney and worked for the Daily Telegraph and Truth. Fox joined the staff of the Bulletin in 1901. Next year, as 'Frank Renar', he published Bushman and Buccaneer, a memoir of Harry 'the Breaker' Morant.

A 'Radical-Protectionist' and Deakinite liberal, Fox cautioned Alfred Deakin against (Sir) George Reid, urged him to reach an understanding with John Christian Watson, warned him against 'fusion' in 1909, and above all advocated a citizen army and an Australian navy. Fox was commissioned in the Australian Field Artillery on 1 September 1905 and was an early member of the Australian National Defence League; with Gerald Campbell he edited its quarterly journal, the Call. He was influenced by Imperialist writings of Richard Jebb, whom he met in Sydney about 1906.

While still working for the Bulletin, Fox was appointed in 1907 first editor and manager of the Lone Hand. Deakin told him of his surprise at the 'variety and general excellence' of the first two numbers. Fox published a volume of political essays, From the Old Dog (Melbourne), in 1908. He was a keen horseman; but Norman Lindsay found him an 'equine exhibitionist'.

Fox dreamed of editing an independent daily newspaper. In 1909, after visiting Canada, he went to London where he sought financial backing. Meanwhile he wrote for the Morning Post, The Times, the Daily Mail and 'a swarm of other papers', and spoke on behalf of the National Defence League from Plymouth to Middlesbrough, warning of the menace of war. 'A man of strikingly handsome appearance and great enthusiasms', he was accepted in London as a 'wild young Australian'. He visited All Souls College, Oxford, and found it 'very charming to get into the inner political circle'. He discovered that 'one must be a Unionist [Conservative] even if it involves keeping political company with Dukes & other disgraceful people'.

Appointed assistant editor on the Morning Post in December, Fox late in 1910 was promoted news editor. His wife and family had joined him, but he confessed to Deakin: 'I still look on life here as an exile: but must stick it out until my big plan is achieved'. A prolific writer, he published Ramparts of Empire (1910) about the navy, Australia (1910), illustrated by Percy Spence, Problems of the Pacific (1912), The British Empire (1914) and many travel books.

In 1912 the Morning Post sent Fox to the Balkans; he accompanied the Bulgarian Army through Turkey and covered the Balkan peace conference. He was with the Belgian Army during the first stage of World War I. On 13 December 1914 he was commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery and served in France and was twice wounded in the battle of the Somme. In 1917-18 he was at the War Office, then served as staff captain at the quartermaster general's branch, General Headquarters, in France and in October returned to the War Office as a general staff officer with the temporary rank of major. Demobilized in January 1919, he had been mentioned in dispatches, and appointed O.B.E. (1919) and to the Belgian Order of the Crown. During the war he still managed to write: his books included The Agony of Belgium (1915), The British Army at War (1917) and G.H.Q., Montreuil-sur-Mer (1920) under the pseudonym 'G.S.O.'.

After the war Fox returned to the Morning Post and writing. In 1923 he published a novel, Beneath an Ardent Sun, with an Australian background, and in 1928 The Mastery of the Pacific. He also wrote the histories of The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (1928 and 1951) in the two World Wars. He continued to advocate Imperialist causes including Empire trade preferences. In 1923 he was secretary of the Fellowship of the British Empire Exhibition and was knighted in 1926. He organized the British Empire Cancer Campaign in northern England in 1927-29 and the Empire Rheumatism Council in 1936-46. Sir Frank visited Australia and New Zealand in 1935.

A member of the Savage and the Overseas clubs in London, Fox spent his last years in Sussex, at Broom Cottage, West Wittering, near Chichester. He died in hospital at Chichester on 4 March 1960.

Select Bibliography

  • L. W. Matters, Australasians Who Count in London and Who Counts in Western Australia (Lond, 1913)
  • N. Lindsay, Bohemians of the Bulletin (Syd, 1965)
  • Southern Sphere, Jan 1911
  • British Australasian, 26 Oct 1916
  • Biblionews, May 1960
  • Australian Worker, 6 Aug 1908, 11 Feb 1909
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 1926, 15 Apr 1935, 22 Apr 1936
  • World (Sydney), 10, 17 Sept 1932
  • Bulletin, 19 Apr 1935
  • 'Sir Frank Fox', Times (London), 9 Mar 1960, p 15
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Jebb papers (National Library of Australia)
  • bankruptcy file, 13094 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Fox, Sir Frank Ignatius (1874–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fox-sir-frank-ignatius-6229/text10717, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 30 July 2014.

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

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