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Heney, Thomas William (1862–1928)

by Ken Stewart

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Thomas William Heney (1862-1928), by Appleby

Thomas William Heney (1862-1928), by Appleby

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24213117

Thomas William Heney (1862-1928), journalist, poet and novelist, was born on 3 November 1862 in Sydney, son of Thomas William Heney, printer, and his wife Sarah Elizabeth, née Carruthers. He was educated at Cooma and intended for the Catholic priesthood. His father, a proprietor of the Manaro Mercury, was a heavy drinker, whose death in 1875 left Heney in sole support of his mother; his commitment to hard work, sobriety and his mother's Anglicanism, and his dislike of Catholicism, were to be lifelong.

In 1878 he became junior assistant reader with the Sydney Morning Herald, and in 1884 a reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Fearing incipient tuberculosis, he moved in 1886 to Wilcannia, edited the Western Grazier for three years and contributed to the Sydney Quarterly Magazine. The pastoral outback is the setting for his novels and some verse. After a stay in Melbourne, he worked for the Echo, Sydney. He rejoined the Herald in 1893 as literary reviewer, essayist and later parliamentary reporter and political leader-writer. On 10 August 1898 he married Amy Florence, eldest daughter of Henry Gullett, whom he succeeded as associate-editor next year. Dr Lucy Gullett was Amy's sister. In 1903 Heney was the first native-born Australian to become editor of the Herald.

He consolidated the paper's pragmatic conservative traditions and its reputation as a major journal, maintaining its non-sectarian approach and its support of free trade. During his editorship the paper eventually outsold its competitor, the Daily Telegraph. In World War I Heney believed that out of loyalty and self-interest Australia would follow Britain. Editorials urged an energetic home effort and direct income taxation for war finance. Although he agreed with press censorship, he argued that during the conscription referenda, in which the Herald supported the government, ignorant censors created suspicion of political censorship.

In June 1918 Heney was officially invited to join a press delegation to England and the war front. The management arranged for his replacement by (Sir) James Oswald Fairfax, a proprietor, but after protest Heney (foundation president of the Institute of Journalists of New South Wales in 1913-20) was also included. After a tense visit, and the proprietors' veto of publication elsewhere of his observations, Heney resigned in September. He then freelanced, mainly for the Melbourne Argus, edited the Brisbane Telegraph in 1920-23, and the Sydney Daily Telegraph in 1924-25.

Heney's descriptive and meditative verse (Fortunate Days, Sydney, 1886; In Middle Harbour, London, 1890) is carefully crafted, distinctive, at times Whitmanesque in form, but lacks sharp poetic edge. The novels, The Girl at Birrell's (London, 1896) and 'A Station Courtship', serialized in the Melbourne Leader in 1898-99, are authentically detailed romances. His criticism is precise, perceptive and antagonistic to the view that 'rubbish is to be consecrated, provided it be … Australian'. He denied that he was indifferent to needy writers and Australian writing; but he deprecated those Bohemian Bulletin poets who would 'haunt my office late on Friday night for aid'. Associated with several literary societies, he befriended such young artists as Florence Rodway and Ellis Rowan and sheltered Elioth Gruner, a victim of xenophobia, at his Moss Vale home. He cultivated native plants in his gardens and collected Australian semi-precious stones.

Heney died of heart disease at Springwood on 19 August 1928 and was buried in the Anglican cemetery. He was survived by his wife, two daughters, Helen (a novelist) and Lucy, and son John, who served with the Coldstream Guards in World War I. He left incomplete a volume on domestic policy for Charles Bean's official war history; it was rewritten by (Sir) Ernest Scott with acknowledgments.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Fairfax Ltd, Century of Journalism (Syd, 1931)
  • E. Scott, Australia During the War (Syd, 1936)
  • G. Souter, Company of Heralds (Melb, 1981)
  • T. Heney, drafts and notes for his proposed war history (Australian War Memorial)
  • H. Heney, notes on the Heney family (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Ken Stewart, 'Heney, Thomas William (1862–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/heney-thomas-william-6635/text11429, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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