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Ross, John Howlett (1857–1953)

by Tony Marshall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

John Howlett Ross (1857-1953), by S. Milbourn, c1900

John Howlett Ross (1857-1953), by S. Milbourn, c1900

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B58902

John Howlett Ross (1857-1953), journalist and elocutionist, was born on 27 April 1857 at Collingwood, Melbourne, son of John Macintosh Ross, Scottish joiner, and his wife Elizabeth, née Howlett, from England. He spent his childhood in inner Melbourne, attending Fitzroy National School and later claiming to have been patted on the head by John Pascoe Fawkner. In 1872 he joined the newly formed Fitzroy Methodist Free Church Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society, where he developed his interests in writing and reciting.

Ross, who had been writing verse since the age of 10, experimented with handwritten 'newspapers' in 1872 and saw his verse in print in local newspapers by 1873. He began full-time journalism in 1876 with the Richmond Guardian, writing on a wide range of subjects. He had a particular interest in temperance, having joined the Independent Order of Rechabites in 1877.

In 1880 Ross moved to Adelaide, where he trained as a compositor with the printing firm Carey & Page, contributed verse and cartoons to Adelaide Punch and sent occasional pieces of journalism to his former Melbourne employers. On 24 February 1880 he married Elizabeth Jane Hawkins (d.1930), née Dewstow. They embarked in 1884 for Britain where Ross worked principally in the London offices of Gordon & Gotch. For his editing of their annual Australian Handbook he was made a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, London, in 1900. He also engaged in freelance journalism, placing articles in local newspapers and weeklies, printing-trade journals and the Australian press, and studied elocution with William Creswick. While in England, Ross met Douglas Sladen; he assisted with, and is represented in, Sladen's anthologies of Australian verse published in 1888. That year Ross published Laureate of the Centaurs, the first biography of Adam Lindsay Gordon, whom he had once seen 'strolling down Collins Street with [Henry] Kendall'. In 1892 he established what became a long tradition of pilgrimages to Gordon's grave at Brighton, Melbourne.

Returning to Melbourne in late 1890 or early 1891, Ross established himself as a journalist and teacher of elocution. In early 1892 he began contributing to a small monthly journal, the Australian Financial Gazette, which he took over as proprietor in March 1893 and published until 1950. He became a noted elocutionist, giving performances 'marked by manliness, sincerity and literary feeling'; teaching in schools, theological colleges and the University of Melbourne; adjudicating competitions for the Australian Natives' Association, the Rechabites and other bodies; examining for the London School of Music; and writing textbooks on elocution. He was also holder of various offices in the A.N.A. (chief president, 1930-32); historian, in 1911, of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows in Victoria; a member of the Bread and Cheese Club in Melbourne and a foundation member of, and lecturer to, the Australian Literature Society. He was renowned as a broadcaster for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, speaking on a wide range of literary and general subjects from 1924 until not long before his death.

A flamboyant figure, always wearing a waxed and pointed moustache and 'with his silver hair and beard, his black sombrero, monocle and black Inverness cape', he listed fencing among his hobbies. He maintained, almost until his death, an office in Albert Street, East Melbourne. He died at his home at Mentone, Victoria, on 28 April 1953, and was cremated. He had no children, but was survived by his wife Vivienne Elvira Moyle, née Sandy, whom he had married at Geelong on 28 July 1934.

Select Bibliography

  • E. A. Vidler (ed), Memorial Volume of Adam Lindsay Gordon (Melb, 1926)
  • H. W. Malloch, Fellows All (Melb, 1943)
  • Rechabite and Temperance News, 15 Dec 1908
  • Australasian Post, 1 Jan 1948, 19 Oct 1950
  • Age (Melbourne), 29 Apr 1953
  • J. H. Ross papers (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Tony Marshall, 'Ross, John Howlett (1857–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ross-john-howlett-8273/text14495, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 25 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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