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McKinley, Alexander (Alex) (1848–1927)

by J. Ann Hone

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

Alexander (Alex) McKinley (1848-1927), newspaper proprietor, was born in London, son of James McKinley, publisher, and his wife Mary, née Loughrey. The family migrated to Melbourne about 1857. In 1869 Alexander and his older brother James bought the Talbot Leader. In April 1871 they sold it, returned to Melbourne, bought the Melbourne Punch and with the help of F. T. D. Carrington's cartoons made it a formidable opponent of Berry's political party. Alexander also published Saturday Night, first for an American and then as owner, renaming it Once a Week and improving it with news covering Sydney and Melbourne. In 1881 he bought out James and Carrington from Punch and also acquired the Melbourne Bulletin which they had run from the Punch office. James later had a share in the Daily Telegraph and briefly controlled the Herald. In 1886 Alexander amalgamated Punch and the Bulletin and as publisher also of the Jewish Herald and the Australasian Schoolmaster acquired larger premises by 1889.

McKinley made money from his newspapers but more from his part in the land speculation of the 1880s, selling a Queen Street site, bought for £135 a foot, for £750 a foot. The 1893 collapse of the banks hit him severely. Once a Week ceased publication and McKinley concentrated on saving Punch. James sold the Herald, became editor of Punch and retained that post until he died in 1908. In 1892, determined to restore good government and prosperity, Alexander won the Toorak seat in the Legislative Assembly. He favoured Federation and retrenchment in the public service, opposed the principle of one man one vote and thought income tax an inquisitorial institution. He also advocated the opening of co-operative fruit canneries, the export of dried fruits and the building of irrigation works by experts. He was declared 'a very sensible and level-headed M.P. notwithstanding his intimate connection with comic journalism'. However, he did not seek re-election in September 1894 and his 1904 and 1913 bids for Legislative Council election were unsuccessful.

In 1885 McKinley was elected to the Malvern Council. He was president in 1890-93 and mayor in 1901, 1910-11 and 1918-19. He maintained that the mayor should make the Town Hall his home and 'exercise his hospitality exactly as he would in his own home'. He gave the tower clock in 1891. He was even more attentive to children's welfare, legislation for which he had fought in parliament. In 1907 he became a special magistrate for the Children's Court, serving as its chairman for twenty years. He was also president of the Children's Welfare Association. His addresses 'Crime and the Child' and 'The Child and its Pitfalls' expounded his views that every child was capable of good; environment and the collapse of family protection were the main offenders. He advocated a farm home for wayward boys and the 1917 Children's Court Amending Act was largely his work.

McKinley gave himself unsparingly to the project in hand. An active Presbyterian, he joined the Chalmers Church Bible class at 16, taught Sunday school in Talbot and was connected with the La Trobe Street Mission School for twelve years. He was on the St George's Church (East St Kilda) Committee and later on the Malvern Church Committee. A devoted father, McKinley took his family overseas in 1889 and 1904 and gave his daughter Ethel a university education. He steered Punch through the difficulties of World War I selling it in 1920 when he also retired from municipal life. His last years were spent at his home, Yallambie, Toorak Road, where he died on 18 April 1927, survived by his wife Emma, née Firman, and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Cooper, A History of Malvern (Melb, 1935)
  • Alexander McKinley, His Work and Service (Melb, nd)
  • Prahran Telegraph, 8 Sept 1888, 29 July 1893, 9 Sept 1911
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 Apr 1927
  • family scrapbooks (privately held).

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'McKinley, Alexander (Alex) (1848–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mckinley-alexander-alex-4114/text6579, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 October 2019.

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

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