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Jules François Archibald (1856–1919)

by Sylvia Lawson

This article was published:

Jules François Archibald, by Australian News and Information Bureau, c.1910

Jules François Archibald, by Australian News and Information Bureau, c.1910

National Library of Australia, 66953254

Jules François Archibald (1856-1919), journalist, was born on 14 January 1856 at Kildare, Geelong, Victoria, and baptized John Feltham, son of Joseph Archibald, sergeant of police, and his wife Charlotte Jane, née Madden. His father was enlightened, sober and sceptical, with a great love for classical literature. By contrast his mother was impulsive and sunny-natured; having lost her first baby, she loved her eldest living son with special intensity and must have vitally influenced his wit, mischief, and faith in human beings. When she died on 21 October 1860 the family was living at Warrnambool; an aunt and a grandmother cared for the children while Joseph Archibald served on the goldfields. Young Archibald went to both the local Roman Catholic and National schools; each left him a few but derisive memories of heavy-handed authority. For about a year he attended Henry Kemmis's Grammar School, where his horizons were widened generally and his literary ambition developed. At 14 he was apprenticed in the printery of Fairfax & Laurie, lessees of the Warrnambool Examiner; when they founded the Standard in 1872 he went with them. Cocky and over-confident at times, he could also be shy and diffident. When he decided to launch himself as a journalist, he was not brave enough to submit anything to his employers; instead he sent paragraphs of Warrnambool interest to the Hamilton Spectator and the Port Fairy Gazette. Thoroughly engrossed and excited by every aspect of press work, he spent little time at home, and less still after his father married Annie O'Mullane in 1873. Twice a week he delivered morning papers, worked all day at 'case', practised shorthand furiously in the evenings, and loitered late at night around the post office, waiting for the last press telegrams.

At 18 Archibald left for Melbourne, gaily confident that he would soon become editor of the Argus. Even with his double skill he could not get a job; after several weeks of disillusioning search he became, briefly and ignominiously, a stone-hand on Samuel Winter's Herald. He left it for a few weeks reporting on the lively weekly Echo, and then joined the Daily Telegraph as a court and parliamentary roundsman. It was a dreary, ill-paid job; but out of it he developed a deep and lasting concern for the talented and embattled journalist, struggling against under-employment and, more seriously, against the futility of what employment there was.

He very much wanted to get to the Argus, and submitted a long and careful article on the Melbourne Immigrants' Home, where he had reported committee meetings. A few days later, however, the Argus ran an article on the same subject by 'The Vagabond' ('Julian Thomas', Stanley James), a prolific freelance writer who, like many others Archibald knew in his Melbourne years, later contributed to the Bulletin. This particular disappointment combined with the meanness and righteousness of the Telegraph management, and the atmosphere of alcoholic defeat in its office, to make him feel at 20 that journalism was after all a dead end. In April 1876 he joined the Victorian Education Department as a clerk. For two years he led the free and solitary young man's life in the vivid, polyglot and swarming parts of Melbourne. He was especially responsive to all he collected informally on French life and culture. Rumour linked this enthusiasm with a young actress; it is more certain that he spent long hours talking with a Breton couple who ran the boarding-house where he lived at Emerald Hill. Whatever the special influence, John Feltham Archibald re-created himself as a Frenchman, Jules François, and revised his family history, making his mother, whose death had so gravely robbed him of an emotional world, both French and Jewish, and thus partly accounted for himself.

Soon after 'Black Wednesday', 8 January 1878, Archibald was dismissed. He found a clerkship with a Queensland engineering firm, John Walker & Co. of Maryborough, at £5 a week, went north happily, and wrote to friends and family that when he had raised the fare he would go to Edinburgh to study medicine. After some months he was sent on business to the Palmer goldfield, where a late rush had broken out in 1872. He travelled to Cooktown on a steamer crowded with diggers, and then up the Hodgkinson River to the now long-vanished settlement of Maytown. He worked hard, feeding quartz into Walker's crushing mill, and generally looking after its operations. He lived in a hut with miners and with them survived a food shortage, snakebite and an outbreak of fever. The adventure lasted probably only a few months, but it was vital in forming Archibald's main preoccupations. It was his one real experience of Australian frontier life, and his scattered recollections reveal an obvious delight with its human contacts: pub-keeper and pub-keeper's daughter, drunken bush parson, the vast variety of argumentative miners who spent their nights writing letters to newspapers, Aboriginals, Chinese, and civilized Frenchmen in the wilds. His time among them seems to have been more hilarious than heroic, but he carried away an enduring concern for the figure he called 'the lone hand': the solitary prospector in the bush, enduring, turning endurance into his own sort of comedy, surviving. This concept, later essential in the life of the Bulletin, could not have developed in Archibald if he had not been once, however briefly, 'the lone hand' himself.

Somewhere his plans for medicine got lost. After returning to Maryborough he left Walker's and drifted to Sydney, fetching up 'ill and tired', according to his own account, in the office of the Evening News. An older journalist, John Haynes, found him a clerk's job on the paper, where Archibald engineered his own elevation to the reporting staff.

The respective roles of Haynes and Archibald in the first beginnings of the Bulletin have been much debated. Haynes may have thought of it first or, more accurately, thought of a smart weekly paper linked to Roman Catholic interests; but Archibald was certainly involved closely with the project many weeks before the first publication. Increasingly excited by its possibilities, he spent a lot of time looking for support among journalists and artists, including William McLeod. It was therefore genuinely a joint venture, and Alfred George Stephens's version, that Archibald 'joined the paper as a sub-editor', is misleading. He and Haynes had about £140. They bought a small case of battered display type, put a deposit on a second-hand press, and rented the ramshackle Scandinavian Hall at 107 Castlereagh Street. Both men worked night and day, Haynes selling advertising, building up goodwill among newsboys and scattering advance publicity; Archibald gathering copy, writing and sub-editing with packing cases for desk and counter. They argued about their title: Haynes wanted 'The Tribune', Archibald 'The Lone Hand'; they settled for naming the paper after San Francisco's Bulletin.

The first issue was on the streets on 31 January 1880, and its three thousand copies soon sold out. It cost 4d.; its eight ill-printed pages were dominated by Archibald's detailed and impassioned account of the hanging of the Wantabadgery bushrangers, and by his cheerful editorial promise: 'with our first issue begins a new departure in journalism … The public eye rejects as uninteresting more than half of what is printed in the publications of the day. It is only the other half which will be found in the BULLETIN'. The main article and leaders showed intense concern for human as against legalistic justice, with vigorous lines of argument; the 'Dramatic and Musical Reviews' columns were full of impish wit; the multifarious 'Brief Mention' column began with an item which had all the young Archibald's mischief: 'JUDGE WINDEYER is studying the law'. The price came down to 3d.; the second issue of four thousand sold out. Progressive politicians, idealistic lawyers, reformist schoolteachers, unionists, anarchists, Marxists, down-at-heel freelance writers, dilettantes and drunken has-beens all rallied around: they contributed paragraphs, leaders and verse; they read proofs and some lent money, when they had it, to pay importunate paper merchants. Shipwreck threatened often in printing crises and libel suits. In January 1881 William Henry Traill contributed a leader on larrikinism at a public picnic ground; it was a minor matter, and the tone for the Bulletin was uncharacteristically Puritan. From this arose the Clontarf libel action. The plaintiffs won damages of a farthing, but in March 1882 Haynes and Archibald were gaoled for failure to pay the legal costs. Public subscription, organized by sympathetic politicians like George Dibbs and Daniel O'Connor, got them out in six weeks; they went back as employees of Traill, who had rescued the paper by taking over as proprietor and editor.

In the long run the Bulletin owed him much. As Archibald freely admitted, Traill was 'the first to mount a twelve-inch [30cm] gun on the Bulletin ramparts'. Traill hired the paper's most notable black and white artists, Livingstone Hopkins and Phil May. He developed its nationalist, anti-imperial and republican themes, and swung it from Haynes's free trade to a vigorous protectionism. Because of this, among other points of difference with Traill, Haynes left the enterprise for politics. The early Bulletin, however, was not simply a youthful lark which under Traill became abruptly conscious of its nationalist and democratic responsibilities. The seriousness was foreshadowed from the first; and into the early 1890s it grew not only more serious, but also funnier and funnier.

In 1883 Archibald, in one of his recurring fits of depression and ill health, left on his only trip to England. Soon after arrival his bank, the Oriental, failed; he lived precariously, sending the Bulletin mordant leaders on British poverty and class structure, with multitudinous pars about Australians in London and much derision for royalty, nobility and clergy. He longed unavailingly to become part of Fleet Street, and absorbed new sophistications from dissenting and humorous journals like Reynolds News and Edmund Yates's World. Always ready to fall in love, he found Rosa Frankenstein, daughter of a Jewish merchant; according to one story, she nursed him through an illness; and they became engaged. He made short trips to Paris and New York. All he saw intensified his anti-British feelings: his sense that Australia should cut her imperial ties; his urbanity and Francophilia. But the whole experience had evidently battered him; on the journey home he was, according to Tom Roberts, fellow-passenger in the Lusitania, fiercely incisive in his wit and cynical talk, concerned with essentials, utterly impatient of all he saw as cant.

Rosa followed him to Sydney. Their wholly unfortunate marriage began in a city Presbyterian church on 22 November 1885; the curious certificate gave his birthplace as France. She had sweetness and charm, but few inner resources, and over the years slipped downhill into complete alcoholism; some, probably too simply, thought the death of their infant son and only child was the main reason. Her life, which ended in 1911, went to waste. Archibald worried and grieved over her continually. He spent thousands on their house in Darling Point, but none of the clothes, presents, jewels and flowers he lavished on her could rescue her, or make more real a marriage in which he neither gave nor received companionship. In a sense, from 1886, Archibald had no personal life; the main stream of his energy and feeling ran into the Bulletin.

In April 1886 Traill sold out and followed Haynes into what Archibald called 'the clear and deadly limelight of politics'. Soon afterwards, in response to Archibald's pleas William McLeod came in again, no longer as an artist but as business manager; they ran the Bulletin in joint ownership with Archibald as editor. In the same year Archibald summoned James Edmond, an occasional contributor on financial and political matters. Archibald's work in the next sixteen years is not easy to define, for it merged seamlessly with that of others, particularly his two lieutenants, Edmond and A. G. Stephens. As chief leader and financial writer, and associate editor from 1890, Edmond took up Traill's protectionism and developed it through his growing 'Wild Cat' column and witty, erudite leaders, into a fiscal policy of great influence. The implication of the nationalist and republican themes, which to Archibald were matters of passionate emotion, were drawn by Edmond into what became his 'Policy for the Commonwealth'. He was the chief formulator of the Bulletin's response to unionism, strikes, depression and growth of the Labor Party. The hand of Archibald can be more clearly discerned in the Bulletin's long-sustained attack on the convict system and related boycott of the centennial celebrations of 1888, on capital punishment, on the law's abuses, on poverty, hypocrisy, un-Christian Christianity, inhuman piety and cant, all summarized in cartoon, paragraph and leader by 'the Fat Man', 'toadyism', 'grovel' and 'holy drivel'. For the Bulletin's rampant anti-Chinese campaign, and its whole White Australia policy, Archibald and Edmond must take joint responsibility. These were the aspects of an otherwise healthy nationalism which, through time, was to become destructively chauvinistic. The Bulletin is not exonerated when one notes that the attitudes were shared by virtually all Australian 'progressive' people of the time. There was, however, no confusion in the way the case was presented; it was set out in concrete economic terms, and racial discriminations were explicitly and energetically rejected (see especially Bulletin, 12 January 1889).

From 1890 Archibald had recognized the critical gifts of A. G. Stephens, whom he summoned in 1896 from London to be literary editor and deviser of the Red Page, the paper's chief outlet for creative writing and criticism. The achievements of Edmond and Stephens were their own, but also part of Archibald's; it was one aspect of his many-sided journalistic genius that he could see talent in obscure places. To Edmond and Stephens he gave the generous appreciation, freedom and, most important, the responsibility and control which far too many of Australia's gifted journalists have been denied. He drew people around him, not so much in informal social exchange as in to-the-point discussions at his office. It is fanciful to see him as the centre of a Bohemian group in those legendary nineties; when he did leave the office—and for years, they said, he practically slept there—it was to talk, wittily but briefly, with a few chosen friends in club or cafe. First in the Pitt Street office, where the Tank Stream regularly flooded the printing plant in the basement, and later in the paper's more permanent George Street home, they climbed the narrow stairs, passed many overcrowded boxes of rooms, and came to the cluttered box that was the editor's. It housed him, his overflowing desk, his resigned-looking secretary and several lock-up cabinets, their pigeon-holes bursting with stories, articles and poems. Some visitors had already been in print; others had been encouragingly rejected in 'Correspondence'. Some came with their first written work or drawings, often terrified of the actual encounter. The real Archibald was almost a national mystery; his avoidance of personal publicity was obsessional. He had determined, he later wrote romantically, to be 'the Shadow on the Blind'. The anxious visitor, however, did not find him terrible at all; though insatiably busy and impatient of interruption, with individuals he was gentle, open, and responsive. He cared that their pants were thinning and their boots leaked, that their wives and children had enough to eat and pay the rent. His personal kindness and tactful sub-editing helped Henry Lawson to find the easy, laconic and superbly succinct prose style of his best stories. In September 1892, when the writer was finding the 'struggle for a crust' especially rough, his editor gave him £5 in cash and a single ticket to Bourke. Lawson's responses to the outback included stories like 'The Union Buries Its Dead', 'Hungerford', and the Joe Wilson series; it was arguably Archibald's best cultural investment, not excepting the Archibald Prize.

Though much of the Bulletin's contribution to Australian literature came through Stephens, Lawson, Banjo Paterson, Louis Becke and many others who were really Archibald's writers, their transmission of outback life and of its battling-mateship ethos helped him to make the paper the unifying force it was. As New South Wales's population passed its first million, circulation reached eighty thousand, and it was read by many more. Not only local conservatives found it heretical and disloyal; The Times commented that it had 'educated bush Australia up to Federation' and was the most important, and most dangerous, influence on the bushman. By 1889 it was known as the Bushman's Bible. According to an old Kalgoorlie hand, its arrival on Wednesdays made 'Bully Day' more commonly observed as a day off than Sunday. One reason for this was the way the life of bush people was persistently rendered back to them, both in imaginative writing and in pars on incident in country town, mining settlement and shearing shed. These filled hundreds of column-inches under 'Aboriginalities', 'Pepper and Salt', 'Brief Mention', 'Political Points', and 'Society'. But much more space was given to city life, leading politicians and churchmen and many lesser figures, with yards of talk on public performers and entrepreneurs and flamboyant reformers; and with lifted eyebrow, indulgent glance or derisive grin, the Bulletin let its bush readers in on the interchange of Australian cities and also of London, Paris, New York and many points west and east. The item on the fracas between policeman and publican in Coolgardie was presented with the same ironic comedy, the same tolerant, unsurprisable worldliness which marked the pointed notes on the doings of dukes, archbishops and 'Her Gracious', of French and Russian revolutionaries. By abundant implication the Bulletin made it one world, and the bushman as free, and as significant, a citizen of that world as any city politician or dilettante 'doing the block' in Collins or George Streets. It both assured him of his own importance and broke down his isolation.

Archibald threw the paper open to all comers; he needed what they had to give, and their word-of-mouth publicity sent up circulation. Though it was often called the paper written by its readers, its special liveliness was imparted by his tireless sub-editing: 'I'm a soler and heeler of paragraphs', he said. It was a transforming process and in his hands a fine art. It gave the paper its scattering of urbane French phrases, but much more; above all the pervading vivacity, at once sophisticated and in close touch with life. Derision and dissent went side by side with compassion and positive humanist and democratic values. All this liveliness, and the purposeful urgency underlying leader, column and cartoon, carried the Bulletin further than any other Australian weekly in readership and influence. Other newspapers and journals of the time, though literate and vigorous in their fashions, made stilted reading by comparison.

The soling and heeling activity was Archibald's life, his obsession. He took only the briefest fishing holidays and on them he paced around restlessly, so it was said, looking for newspapers to blue-pencil. Then, so Henry Lawson recorded, 'he comes back looking ten years older, but completely recovers his old form after a week's work that would blind and turn the brain of another man'. But he wearied; his bouts of hypochondria and depression increased. The Bulletin's ferocious opposition to the Boer war, and to Australia's part in it, was almost his last stand. After 1900 his encouragement of young writers and artists seemed to them as great as ever, but neurotic ill health depleted his ability to work. He spent much time in private hospitals and on holidays, but nothing helped; he became pathologically restless and anxious. In 1902 he handed over the editorship to Edmond, then found himself desperately at a loss. With enthusiasm which seemed manic to his colleagues he began planning the off-shoot monthly magazine of which he had dreamt for years, inevitably to be named the Lone Hand. But not even the sifting of his hoarded gold-stories, articles and poems, long paid for and pigeon-holed-could save him. Vanity and exhibitionism, long channelized and absorbed into his own work, seemed to take revenge. Late in 1906 he went spectacularly and beautifully mad; he began ordering incredible quantities of wine for launching the Lone Hand, and writing three-figure cheques for contributing poets. McLeod knew something had to be done; but he did it cavalierly. Without first talking to his partner and associate of twenty years, he obtained Rosa's signature to the necessary papers and had him forcibly removed to Callan Park Asylum. Perhaps it was the best thing to do, but Archibald was profoundly hurt and humiliated, and never quite forgave McLeod. Others understood this; McLeod 'had to act', said A. G. Stephens, 'but he should have acted with heart and intelligence'. Archibald was discharged temporarily in February 1908, readmitted in November and finally discharged in 1910. In those years depression and mania alternated with periods of lucidity in which he filled several notebooks with reminiscent prose and occasional fiction. Some of these notes appeared when the Lone Hand, under Frank Fox's editorship, came out in May 1907.

Archibald made a complete recovery; and for over eight years he led the life of a civilized ageing gentleman: a trustee of the Art Gallery, dressing well, buying paintings, entertaining generously, happy to seem a benevolent bon viveur. In fact he ate and drank little, but kept a fine table and cellar and talked food and wine energetically.

In 1914, with some bitterness, he sold his interest in the Bulletin—now markedly more conservative. 'The Bulletin is a clever youth', he had said twenty years before. 'It will become a dull old man'. He made his will in 1916, apportioning an estate of nearly £90,000; he gave Sydney an impressive public fountain (which had to be executed by a French sculptor) and endowed an annual prize for portrait painting. He was not primarily concerned with encouraging young artists; what he wanted was an Australian pantheon, for he believed that portraiture captured character enduringly; and could not have known that portraiture per se was to occupy a very small place in the concerns of modern painting. More than half the estate, after the deaths of various particular beneficiaries, went to the Benevolent Fund of the Australian Journalists' Association 'for the relief of distressed Australian journalists'.

Archibald's life's end might easily have been an elegant fading-out; but he had his swan-song. In March 1919, hearing of the founding of Smith's Weekly by Joynton Smith, Claude McKay and Clyde Packer, he walked into their office and offered his help. For the next five months, frail and looking much older than 63, he advised the young, eagerly discussed the journalistic needs of post-war Sydney, and once more sought talent and sub-edited furiously with something like the old energy and elation. At intervals he entertained Smith's staff royally. He thus had a season of renewal, and could still think of himself as a journalist, when he became ill in mid-August. He died at St Vincent's Hospital on 10 September 1919 and was buried in the Catholic section of the Waverley cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. M. H. Clark (ed), Select Documents in Australian History, vol 2 (Syd, 1955)
  • H. Lawson, ‘A Sketch of Archibald’, in C. Mann (ed), The Stories of Henry Lawson, 3rd series (Syd, 1964), pp 410-14
  • ‘The Genesis of "The Bulletin" (Being the Memoirs of J. F. Archibald’, Lone Hand, May 1907, pp 53-55, June 1907, pp 163-66 and July 1907, pp 265-69
  • Archibald papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Archibald family papers (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sylvia Lawson, 'Archibald, Jules François (1856–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Jules François Archibald, by Australian News and Information Bureau, c.1910

Jules François Archibald, by Australian News and Information Bureau, c.1910

National Library of Australia, 66953254

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Archibald, Jules Francois
  • Archibald, John Feltham

14 January, 1856
Geelong, Victoria, Australia


10 September, 1919 (aged 63)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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