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Charles Brunsdon Fletcher (1859–1946)

by Clement Semmler

This article was published:

Charles Brunsdon Fletcher (1859-1946), surveyor and journalist, was born on 5 August 1859 at Taunton, Somerset, England, third of thirteen children of Charles Fletcher, silk throwster, and his wife Ruth, née Bloor. In 1864 his father followed his eldest brother, Joseph Horner Fletcher, to New Zealand aboard the Surat to assist in the Wesleyan world mission service; he moved on to Sydney in 1872. Charles junior attended Newington College, where Joseph Horner was then principal and another uncle, John, a teacher, and the Fort Street Model School. He became a cadet in the Survey Department of New South Wales, progressing to supernumerary draftsman in 1879 and field assistant in 1881, after which he worked on the Detail Survey of the City of Sydney. Moving to Brisbane to assist in his father's real estate business in 1884, he obtained his Queensland survey licence next year, began private practice, and served on the Board of Examiners of Licensed Surveyors in 1888-93.

In 1893, when the land boom in Brisbane was ended by floods and bank crashes, Fletcher chose journalism as an alternative profession, having previously written for William Lane's Boomerang and been secretary of the Brisbane Literary Circle. He joined the Brisbane Courier as leader-writer and was also appointed Queensland correspondent of the Melbourne Argus. A member of the Ithaca Shire Council in 1892-98 and president in 1894, he succeeded F. W. Ward, his lifelong friend and fellow Wesleyan, as editor of the Courier in 1898. On 13 November 1899 he and Florence Mary Macleay, daughter of (Sir) Arthur Rutledge were the first couple to be married in the Albert Street Wesleyan Church.

Fletcher's success in journalism was due to a vigorous and incisive style of writing and certain attitudes he hammered home in his articles—his unswerving beliefs in the qualities of the Anglo-Saxon people; in Imperialism; and in the prospect of a magnificent future for Australia. In 1903 he returned to Sydney as associate editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and capped his journalistic career with the editorship in 1918-37. He was a member of the Australian delegation to the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, and in 1930 represented his paper at the fourth Imperial Press Conference in London. President of the New South Wales Institute of Journalists in 1923-27, it was through his efforts that the course of diploma in journalism was introduced at the University of Sydney, on the senate of which he served in 1923-39.

Fletcher became recognized as an authority on Pacific affairs on which he wrote three books, The New Pacific: British Policy and German Aims (1917), The Problem of the Pacific (1919) and Stevenson's Germany: The Case Against Germany in the Pacific (1920), all inspired by World War I and Germany's expansionism. He urged a greater interest in the area by Australian legislators, and co-operation between businessmen and missionary bodies in its further development. This concern and, no doubt, his memory of the enterprise of his father, his uncles Joseph Horner and John, and his uncle William, who had been a missionary on the Island of Rotumah, inspired his writing of The Black Knight of the Pacific (1944) on the life and work of the famous Methodist missionary, Dr George Brown.

Fletcher also wrote books on the Coolah (1927) and Murray (1926) valleys, in New South Wales; the latter was followed up in Water Magic: Australia and the Future (1945), an examination of the need for water conservation. His autobiography, The Great Wheel: An Editor's Adventures (1940), contains journalistic reminiscences and memoirs of public figures and newspaper colleagues such as Ward, Charles Bean and F. M. Cutlack. His personality, by all accounts, was an attractive one; acquaintances recalled his 'charming old-world courtesy … keen powers of appreciation and a broad, kindly outlook'. He was made a lay member of Wesley College council in 1919. At his death, on 17 December 1946 at Kirribilli, the Sydney Bulletin described him, for his 'constant mind' and 'honesty of purpose', as one who 'would go down in history as the last Sydney editor able to carry on the old dignified tradition of the great dailies'. He was survived by two daughters and a son, his wife and another son having predeceased him; his estate was valued for probate at £6329.

Select Bibliography

  • A Century of Journalism. The Sydney Morning Herald (Syd, 1942)
  • Gavin Souter, Company of Heralds (Melbourne, 1981)
  • Newspaper News (Sydney), 1 Sept 1930, 2 July 1945
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Nov 1923, 11 Aug 1927, 19 Dec 1946.

Citation details

Clement Semmler, 'Fletcher, Charles Brunsdon (1859–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 August, 1859
Taunton, Somerset, England


17 December, 1946 (aged 87)
Kirribilli, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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