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Mennell, Philip Dearman (1851–1905)

by Bill Trevena

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Philip Dearman Mennell (1851-1905), journalist and biographer, was born on 10 March 1851 at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, fourth son of George Mennell, cokemaker, and his wife Hannah, née Tuke. He was a grandson of the Yorkshire Quaker philanthropist Samuel Tuke. Educated privately, Philip showed early proficiency in writing when in 1872 he published Lord John Manners, a Political Biography. He studied for the law and was admitted as a solicitor in 1875. However, he soon abandoned his profession and migrated to Victoria. Mennell later wrote of the experiences of middle-class migrants who landed in Melbourne with meagre capital; the description by 'New Chum', published in A. Patchett Martin's Oak-Bough and Wattle-Blossom (London, 1888), may partly reflect Mennell's own experience.

From Melbourne he 'went bush' to Bairnsdale where he printed and published the Advertiser newspaper from May 1877 (and became part-owner in 1879) and where on 7 March 1879 with Anglican rites he married Ellen Elizabeth O'Meara; they had two sons and two daughters. He described Bairnsdale in general terms and with mixed feelings in 'Traits of the township', a sketch contributed to a book he edited in 1889, In Australian Wilds. Mennell ran the Bairnsdale Advertiser successfully until April 1882 when, apparently, the increased work-load of his job-printing business compelled him to admit J. W. Baker as his partner. Some doubt is cast on Mennell's success by the rival Bairnsdale and Bruthen News which implied that by April Mennell had already left for Melbourne to 'accept a subordinate billet on a paper of adverse politics'. Whatever reasons did prompt Mennell to leave Bairnsdale, he was for some months in 1882 acting sub-editor and leader-writer for the Melbourne Age. On 20 July he sold his share in the Advertiser to H. M. West and early next year returned to London to represent the cable syndicate controlled by the Age.

Mennell revisited Australia as special correspondent for the Daily Chronicle in 1891, penning enthusiastic articles (republished in 1892 as The Coming Colony) on the latent resources of Western Australia. In August 1892, after eighteen months assiduous work, he also published his Dictionary of Australasian Biography : with 542 pages containing nearly 2000 entries it was a substantial volume of collective biography relating to Australia as a whole, though it did not cover the pre-1855 period. Mennell had consulted journalists and publishers as well as government office-holders and historians and had achieved a fine balance between a particularity for local circulation and a condensed treatment for English readers.

From December 1892 until shortly before his death Mennell was editor-proprietor of the British Australasian and New Zealand Mail. He championed the cause of Federation and publicized Australian visitors to Britain. He returned to Australia briefly in 1895 for The Times, and again in 1900 for the Morning Post, each time visiting Western Australia where he appears to have had business interests; he was a member of the Coolgardie Club.

A Roman Catholic and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Mennell died of cancer on 19 October 1905 at Bayswater, London, and was buried at Kensal Green. Philip spelt his name Mennell, as did his brother Henry Tuke and sister Edith. Two brothers, including the author Wilfrid, used the name, Meynell.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Meudell, The Pleasant Career of a Spendthrift (Lond, 1929)
  • Bairnsdale and Bruthen News, 19 Apr 1882
  • Bairnsdale Advertiser, 2 May, 5 Sept 1882
  • British Australasian, 6 Oct 1904, 26 Oct 1905
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 Oct 1905
  • Leader (Melbourne), 28 Oct 1905
  • Bulletin, 2 Nov 1905.

Citation details

Bill Trevena, 'Mennell, Philip Dearman (1851–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mennell-philip-dearman-7557/text13187, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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