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Massina, Alfred Henry (1834–1917)

by Frank Strahan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Alfred Henry Massina (1834-1917), printer, was born on 3 November 1834 at Stepney, London, son of Charles Edward Massina, artist, and his wife Susan. In April 1850 he was apprenticed to the London printing firm of Sydney Waterlow. In 1854 he married Frances Hemming, née Bridges, sailed with her for Victoria in the George Marshall and arrived at Port Phillip on 5 April 1855. Almost penniless he left his wife working in Melbourne to support herself and their baby son and made a luckless foray to the goldfields. He returned to Melbourne and was employed by W. H. Williams, printer. A fellow employee was Samuel V. Winter with whom Massina was later associated on the board of directors of the Herald, Melbourne.

In 1859 Massina joined with William Clarson, Joseph Shallard and Joseph T. Gibb to form the printing firm of Clarson, Shallard & Co. In 1866 Clarson and Gibb went to Sydney and the firm became Clarson, Massina & Co. Massina's son, Alfred Lionel, was admitted to partnership in 1868. After Shallard withdrew his financial interest in 1876 Richard John Foster and William Smith Mitchell were admitted as partners and the firm reconstructed as A. H. Massina & Co., which is still its name.

The firm engaged in publishing as well as printing. Its most famous publication was the Australian Journal, which gained overseas sales as well as finding its way to bush shanties and city homes throughout Australasia. The first issue, 2 September 1865, announced that 'the ablest COLONIAL pens of the day will be engaged on our staff. Historical Romances and Legendary Narratives of the old country will be mingled with tales of Venture and Daring in the new'. Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall and Marcus Clarke were 'able pens' who contributed to this magazine, which outlived Massina by many decades. His imprint on the firm was energetic application of sound business judgment rather than editorial work; he left the running of the Australian Journal to George Walstab and later to William Smith Wilson. However, Massina is credited with the decision to fund Marcus Clarke, then only 23, for visiting Tasmania in 1869 to gather material on the early convict days. In 1870 the Australian Journal commenced serialized publication of Clarke's powerful and brooding convict story, His Natural Life. Massina met deadlines and expected others to do so. He locked the brilliant and erratic author in an office, with sustaining drams of whisky, to force production of instalments for the magazine. Massina later gave this experience as his reason for disregarding business acumen and allowing a rival, George Robertson, to take the profitable opportunity to publish the work in book form.

Massina's financial management ensured the firm's steady growth. Along with job printing it was sustained by popular publications which had originated in the 1860s. These included the Australian Melodist, a series of booklets of words of popular songs, and Clarson, Massina & Co.'s Weather Almanac and General Guide and Handbook for Victoria, to which a medical section was added and led to publication of Dr. L. L. Smith's Medical Almanac. The Colonial Monthly was a notable short-lived magazine issued in 1867 as a revamped version of the newly-acquired Australian Monthly Magazine. Clarke was again a contributor, as were Kendall and R. H. Horne. The magazine was sold in 1868 but the firm continued to print it. A notable later success was the collected poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, published by A. H. Massina & Co. in 1877. It is known that Gordon owed the firm money for costs of printing his book Ashtaroth and Massina refused him a loan on the day of Gordon's suicide on 24 June 1870. Debate continues as to circumstances of Massina having rights to publish the poems.

In the early 1880s Massina's sons, William and Henry, joined the partnership. The decade saw a miscellany of new publications, ranging from The Australian Merino to Men and How to Manage Them. In addition the firm printed the Sportsman, then owned by Massina's friend S. V. Winter, and acquired by Massina in 1896. The light-weight Massina's Penny Weekly was issued from 1899 to 12 February 1901.

In 1891 Massina visited the United States and England. His observations led to A. H. Massina & Co. installing Victoria's first linotype machine in 1894. Its worth being proven, the machine was introduced to the Herald in 1895. By then he had released management of A. H. Massina & Co. to his son Alfred Lionel, and had given increasing attention to the Herald. Winter's Melbourne Newspaper Co. had obtained control of the Herald in the early 1870s and Massina is reputed to have given periodic financial support. He and William Baillieu were directors who saw the Herald through the financial crisis of the early 1890s, and Massina was chairman by 1902.

In 1909 Massina retired from business, styled as 'hale, energetic and hearty', of 'frank bonhomie', yet one who 'has not … mingled in public life'. In 1864 he had joined the Richmond Rifles Volunteer Corps, attaining the rank of captain, and later was a member of the Lillydale Shire Council. Overall he appears as a man who set wheels turning yet preferred to see that others ran them. His home was in Richmond, Melbourne: his retreat at Wandin.

Massina was an Anglican and a Mason. His first wife died in 1893. On 15 October 1898 he married Edith Elizabeth, née Hicks. He died on 4 February 1917 at Richmond. He had seven children, all by the first marriage. He was survived by his second wife, a son Henry and daughters, Fanny and Alice. He was buried in Boroondara cemetery. His estate was probated at £33,438.

Select Bibliography

  • R. G. Campbell, The First Ninety Years: The Printing House of Massina Melbourne 1859 to 1949 (Melb, 1949)
  • Cowans: the Australasian Printing and Stationery Magazine, Apr 1909
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Feb 1917
  • Affidavits and recognizances, newspaper registrations, Companies Branch (Registrar-General's Dept, Melbourne).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Frank Strahan, 'Massina, Alfred Henry (1834–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/massina-alfred-henry-4165/text6687, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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