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Taylor, Harry Samuel (1873–1932)

by Malcolm Saunders

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Harry Samuel Taylor (1873-1932), newspaper-owner, was born on 13 January 1873 in North Adelaide, eldest son of William Henry Taylor, warehouseman, and his wife Mary Jane, daughter of Samuel Smith. Having attended various primary schools, he won a scholarship to Prince Alfred College where from 1887 he spent four years as student and teacher. He enjoyed natural history, gymnastics and Australian Rules football; he also pursued social and political issues, partly through Rev. Hugh Gilmore's inspiration. Harry abandoned teaching and a university course, and at 18 made a lecture tour of South Australia to preach the theory of Henry George. He became secretary of the South Australian Single Tax League and edited its journal, the Pioneer.

He was perhaps most changed by William Lane and his plan for a 'New Australia' in South America where people could live in 'a communal paradise' free from capitalist evils. In July 1893 Taylor sailed with the first party of Christian-Socialists to Paraguay. Within months, back in Adelaide, he helped to organize the next group of migrants. By the time he returned to Paraguay bitter divisions had undermined 'New Australia'. In 1894 he followed Lane to form a neighbouring settlement, Cosme, where for two years the idealists endured hard labour, primitive conditions and hunger.

At Cosme (Dame) Mary Gilmore found that Taylor had 'the most forgiving nature of any man I ever knew'. On his second voyage across the Pacific he had produced a hand-written weekly, the Porpoise; in South America he wrote and read to the community each night his Cosme Evening Notes which were imbued with cheerful optimism and faith in the commune's leader. Taylor later reflected that the settlers failed because the only real bond between them was their worship of Lane.

Taylor's family asked him to come home after his father died in 1894. Reluctantly he complied, working his passage via England where he met H. G. Wells. In 1897 Taylor briefly worked at Murtho on the upper Murray River, but fell ill and went to Warrakoo sheep-station near Cal Lal. He was living at Angaston, South Australia, when he married Sarah Helen Smith on 28 July 1898; they were to have one son.

Finding their life lonely at Four Corners, on Warrakoo, Harry joined his brother in buying a fruit-growing property at Mildura, Victoria. His lemons and figs failed, so he bought a milk run. In time he became president of the local branch of the Australian Natives' Association and secretary of the Mildura Dried Fruit Trust; as 'the Rambler', he edited the farming page of the Mildura Cultivator. In 1905 he bought the weekly Renmark Pioneer; as managing editor, he transformed it into a major influence in the region from Wentworth, New South Wales, to Karoonda, north of Murray Bridge in South Australia. With his lucid and vigorous style, Taylor pushed the riverland's interest through his paper; he also led deputations to premiers and government ministers. The causes he espoused included irrigation, locks for the Murray, closer settlement, organized marketing for grapes and dried fruits, and co-operation among primary producers. Regarded as one of the best horticultural papers in Australia, the renamed Murray Pioneer drew wide praise.

While sympathetic to the underdog, Taylor managed to win the confidence and friendship of many conservative readers. He initially supported the Labor Party, but advocated conscription in World War I and believed that the party had ensured its 'moral destruction' by opposing the measure. Having sent free copies of his newspaper to volunteers from the riverland who served overseas, he agitated for post-war soldier settlement in the district, and his pamphlets and manuals about horticulture were regarded as the soldier settlers' 'fruitgrowing guide and bible'. The Murray Pioneer stood for freedom, equal rights and brotherhood, and Australia for White Australians.

After the Armistice he broke convention by arguing that Germany alone was not responsible for the war, and that Russia and Austria-Hungary were more to blame; furthermore, he condemned the Treaty of Versailles. Taylor was riverland representative on the advisory board of the Agricultural Bureau of South Australia and president of the Renmark Show Society. From 1919 he sat on the board of the Renmark District Hospital and was several times elected to the local council. A lay preacher at the Congregational church, he was a Freemason and a supporter of the Salvation Army. Among other projects, he championed the extension of the railway to Paringa and Renmark, the Paringa bridge and an agricultural high school for Renmark.

He had a wiry physique, wore a beard when it was no longer fashionable and dressed eccentrically: in summer his immaculate tussore suits clashed with his old sandshoes with the laces trailing. In no way materialistic, he was generous to a fault. Taylor read in several European languages and maintained an interest in foreign affairs, politics and religion. His vast collection of books, covering history, religion and English literature, was often culled to benefit the local institute and libraries. He enjoyed walking, cycling and gardening; on his block he cultivated rare plants and kept a pet koala. Apart from his geniality and intelligence, Taylor impressed his contemporaries by the courage with which he expressed his idealism. He died of cancer on 13 February 1932 at Renmark and was buried in the cemetery there.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Grahame, Where Socialism Failed (Lond, 1912)
  • G. Souter, A Peculiar People (Syd, 1968)
  • Pictorial Australian, Nov-Dec 1893
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 15 Feb 1932
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Feb 1932
  • Murray Pioneer, 19 Feb 1932
  • W. R. Crocker, ‘Harry Taylor of the “Murray Pioneer”’, (State Library of South Australia)
  • M. Howie, ‘Harry Taylor’, Personalities remembered (State Library of South Australia)
  • Taylor papers (privately held).

Citation details

Malcolm Saunders, 'Taylor, Harry Samuel (1873–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-harry-samuel-8757/text15345, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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