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Wynne, Watkin (1844–1921)

by Nicholas Brown

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

Watkin Wynne (1844-1921), newspaper manager, was born on 11 May 1844 at Black Notley, Essex, England, third child of William Wynne, yeoman, and his wife Sarah, née Davey. In 1852 Watkin migrated to Victoria with his widowed mother and three sisters. He attended the Free Church School at Geelong, was apprenticed to a printer with the Ballarat Times until 1861, worked as a journeyman on several regional papers and, after studying shorthand, joined the Ballarat Evening Post as a reporter. On 31 October 1866 at Ballarat he was married to Eleanor Sophie Picton (d.1919) by her father, the local pastor of the Disciples of Christ.

Having formed a company among fellow employees to take over the Post and to buy its rival in 1872, Wynne went to Melbourne in 1876 as sub-editor of the Daily Telegraph. In 1879 he joined a syndicate—with three Victorian politicians James Casey, James Francis and Angus Mackay and two Sydney investors John Carey and Robert Sands—to found a second morning daily in Sydney. Moving there, Wynne became sub-editor of the new paper, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, which appeared on 1 July.

The Telegraph was not an immediate success. Following several resignations and threatened closure in 1883, Wynne became general manager next year and fundamentally reorganized the paper. The syndicate became a limited liability company; Wynne recruited Frederick Ward as editor, Lachlan Brient as news editor and Henry Gullett as associate editor. Appearing as the Daily Telegraph from 1884, the paper was described as 'sensationalist', 'liberal' and 'modern'. Improved cable services meant that in December 1884 the Telegraph 'scooped' the German annexation of New Guinea.

Daring, 'original, courageous, swift to decide and to act, unshackled by a single convention', Wynne gave the Telegraph anchorage through several changes of editor. He was mechanically minded and pioneered new technical processes in Australia. Touring England and the United States of America in 1893 to survey advances in typesetting, he purchased twelve Mergenthaler linotype machines which made production more efficient and allowed greater flexibility in layout. He held patents for improvements to linotype printing, and also introduced zinc-etching to produce half-tone illustrations.

By 1887 the paper had increased circulation by 25 per cent and had begun to pay steady dividends. Wynne's management was characterized by shrewd business sense and strict discipline. Active in arbitration proceedings, he opposed closed-shop unionism, yet scrupulously observed prescribed conditions; he tried, as well, to modernize office design.

An avid sportsman and champion swimmer, Wynne was a founder of the Port Jackson Swimming, the Sydney Football and the Waverley Bowling and Recreation clubs. He imported one of the first motor cars to Australia. An alderman (1896-1901) on Waverley Municipal Council, he served as mayor in 1898-99; as a Freemason, he was a founder in 1888 (and later past grand warden) of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales.

Wynne had a talent for anecdotes, a 'silver tongue' and a streak of whimsical generosity. Of middle height, thickset but 'trained fine', he had very keen eyes which strongly contradicted any impression given by his whitening hair. He was consulted on the amalgamation of Melbourne evening papers in 1894 and on the reorganization of the London Daily Telegraph in 1906. Survived by six daughters and five sons, he died at Waverley on 8 July 1921 and was buried with Anglican rites in the local cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £265,113. Wynne's portrait by William Macleod is held by the Waverley club.

Select Bibliography

  • B. T. Dowd, The History of the Waverley Municipal District (Syd, 1959)
  • H. Mayer, The Press in Australia (Melb, 1964)
  • R. B. Walker, The Newspaper Press in New South Wales, 1803-1920 (Syd, 1976)
  • Cosmos Magazine, 30 Sept 1894, p 3
  • Australasian Art Review, 5 Oct 1899, p 20
  • Newspaper News (Sydney), 1 Aug 1928, p 12, 1 Sept 1928, p 8
  • Bulletin, 2 Aug 1884
  • Sun (Sydney), 8 July 1921
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 9 July 1921
  • P. Daly, Watkin Wynne (paper to the Waverley History Society, 1986, held by its author).

Citation details

Nicholas Brown, 'Wynne, Watkin (1844–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wynne-watkin-9209/text16269, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 November 2017.

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

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