Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Ferres (1818–1898)

by Harley W. Forster

This article was published:

John Ferres (1818-1898), government printer, was born 1 October 1818 at Bath, England, the second son of Robert Ferres (d.1820), printer, and his wife Esther, née Chancellor. After elementary education, he was trained in the printing trade and ran a general office in Bath, distributing magazines, newspapers and other publications. He was married on 8 June 1846 to Julia Harriett Langdon of Bath; she died without issue on 17 April 1848. In August Ferres followed his mother, his sisters Hannah Wilton and Eliza Cooper, their husbands and two nephews to Victoria, arriving in Melbourne in December. He spent some time near Alberton, Gippsland, where his family had settled and where his mother died on 23 June 1865, before returning to his trade in Melbourne. There he joined the staff of the Melbourne Morning Herald and soon became manager. On his advice a steam-driven printing machine was imported and installed in the Herald office.

On 8 November 1851 Ferres was appointed government printer, succeeding Edward Khull and taking over a staff of six and limited plant and machinery. He issued the first Government Gazette in January 1852. Work increased with the rapid growth of the colony and by 1887 the staff numbered 278. In 1858, after several moves, the Printing Office was housed in a new building in Gisborne (now Macarthur) Street; as government printer, Ferres resided on the premises. At 60 he was superannuated on a pension of £333 but in 1881 was reinstated; his return, according to the Australasian, was 'a distinct gain to the state' for he was 'as competent now … as … at any time of his life'. Ferres was known for his equable temperament. Garryowen acknowledged his integrity, organizational ability, technical knowledge, capacity to withstand political pressures, cool head, and inexhaustible stock of patience.

Ferres had compiled and published in Melbourne William Caxton: A Contribution in Commemoration of The Festival Held in Melbourne, 1871, to Celebrate The Fourth Centenary of the First Printing in the English Language. The French government honoured him with a decoration for specimens of fine printing.

Ferres retired for a second time in 1887 and then lived at Hawthorn where he was a justice of the peace. He died on 21 August 1898 after an illness of two years, and was buried in the Melbourne cemetery. He was survived by his window Mary, née Davey, whom he had married on 23 January 1851 at the Independent Manse, Collins Street. They had four sons and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Garryowen (E. Finn), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, vols 1-2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Government Printer, 100 Years of Service (Melb, no date)
  • Australasian, 17 Sept 1881
  • Australasian Typographical Journal, Aug 1898
  • Roberts family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Harley W. Forster, 'Ferres, John (1818–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 October, 1818
Bath, Somerset, England


21 August, 1898 (aged 79)
Victoria, Australia

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