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Harris, Leonard Burnie (Len) (1890–1964)

by R. A. Ferrall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Leonard Burnie (Len) Harris (1890-1964), newspaper publisher and printer, was born on 12 October 1890 at Burnie, Tasmania, second of three sons of Charles James Harris (1864-1913), journalist, and his wife Isabella, née Wilkinson. Leonard's grandfather Robert Harris (d.1903)—the family patriarch—began his journalistic career in 1845 with the Launceston Cornwall Chronicle (later the Examiner); in 1875 he moved to Victoria where he established the Colac Times (later Colac Reformer). After spending three years in Wellington, New Zealand, he joined the staff of the Melbourne Argus about 1881. He returned to Tasmania in 1890 to join his sons Charles and Robert (d.1896) in setting up, at Burnie, the Wellington (later Emu Bay) Times. Eight years later they also published the North-Western Advocate at Devonport. In 1904 the two newspapers were amalgamated and renamed the North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times and in 1918 the Advocate.

Educated at the local school, Leonard joined the Van Diemen's Land Co. in 1905, but worked for the newspaper in his spare time. In 1913 he was appointed a director of Harris & Co. Ltd. When Charles Harris died, Leonard's elder brother Russell succeeded their father as managing director of Harris & Co. Ltd. At Burnie on 23 March 1915 Leonard married with Methodist forms Sylvia Geehan O'Brien (d.1938), a milliner; they remained at Burnie and were to have five sons and a daughter. In that year Leonard's younger brother Selby took charge of the company's commercial printing establishment, located at Devonport.

In 1924 Len became manager of the Devonport branch. Under Russell and Len, the Advocate won national recognition as a leading provincial daily, and was one of the first in Australia to install an electric-powered printing plant. In 1935 Russell died, aged 43, and Len in turn became managing director. Although resourceful, he was fully tested during World War II, for newspapers were one of the hungriest consumers of raw materials. On 25 March 1941 at Wesley Church, Hobart, he married Nancy May King, née Ford, a 30-year-old divorcee. In the postwar era the newspaper flourished under his leadership.

A Freemason, Leonard Harris was foundation president of the Burnie Chamber of Commerce (1937) and of the local Rotary Club (1942); he gave freely of his time to organizations allied with newspapers and printing. In his youth he had been a sprinter and middle-distance runner; he won the Burnie Gift in 1912, and played A-grade tennis, cricket and football. He was president of the Burnie Athletic Club and a committee-member for forty years. An outstanding golfer and a member of the Tasmanian Golf Council, he regularly won the Seabrook and the Devonport club championships, and represented the State in competitions. Len retired from the executive-managership of Harris & Co. Ltd in 1963 and was succeeded by his second son Lloyd. At the same time Selby retired in favour of his son Geoffrey. Survived by his wife and by three sons of his first marriage, Len Harris died on 4 July 1964 at Wynyard and was buried with Anglican rites in Wivenhoe cemetery. In August 1992 his grandson Nigel Harris joined the board of directors of Harris & Co. Ltd..

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania (Hob, 1931)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 8 Apr 1935, 8 July 1964
  • Advocate (Hobart), 6 Apr 1935, 29 June 1963, 6 July 1964, 29 Mar 1973
  • private information.

Citation details

R. A. Ferrall, 'Harris, Leonard Burnie (Len) (1890–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/harris-leonard-burnie-len-10437/text18505, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 10 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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