Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Frear Forster (1857–1932)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published:

William Frear Forster (1857-1932), newspaper editor, was born on 11 March 1857 at Parkend, Northumberland, England, son of John Forster, agricultural labourer, and his wife Mary, née Makepiece. William trained as a journalist on the Daily Chronicle, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At Christ Church, Gateshead, Durham, on 3 January 1884 he married Ann Handcock with Anglican rites. The couple migrated to Western Australia in 1886, the same year as Forster's future partner L. V. De Hamel. Forster was sporting editor for the West Australian until 1888 when he and De Hamel set up the Australian (later Albany) Advertiser. He was editor for the next twelve years and sole owner after De Hamel's departure in 1891.

Outspoken, inclined to bluntness, but loyal and considerate to young cadets, Forster developed a passionate interest in Albany and its affairs. He later said, 'it is in my nature to speak out and hit straight and in writing of the political affairs of Albany, I had need to do so'. Soon a recognized voice in the community, he promoted an Albany-Fremantle rivalry that haunted the district long after his departure. Ambitious to produce a leading provincial newspaper, he published a progressive, tri-weekly, penny paper to serve Albany residents, settlers in the region and travellers in the visiting mail steamers. Although providing an admirable range of local, colonial, national and international news, it had no literary content. His printing company published several editions of Alluring Albany: Handbook for the Port and Back Country and Guide to the Chief West Australian Health Resort.

Forster supported female suffrage; his wife Ann was active on numerous women's committees. An ardent separationist, during the Federation debate he questioned the validity of Western Australia being controlled by other territories. He clashed with the local politician A. Y. Hassell, supported younger aspirants such as George Leake junior and was critical of Sir John Forrest's government for directing funds away from Albany for Fremantle harbour development and the 'quixotic' Coolgardie pipeline. Forster declared that Albany suffered through the lack of improved railways, higher education or support for trade, through disproportionate customs' tariffs, the offloading of ballast at Frenchmans Bay and lack of interest in an Admiralty plan to extend the Princess Royal Harbour. He was particularly dispirited when he lost a strenuous fight to retain the mail steamer service for Albany.

Initially suspected of being over-solicitous in support of De Hamel's mining ventures and bid for the mayoralty and for his 'inquisitiveness', Forster had a genuine concern for the community. Even an old adversary, who once thought him 'poisonous', changed his opinion. A keen golfer and founding member of the Albany Bowling Club, Forster was well informed about sport in general. In September 1900 he left for Perth to edit the Morning Herald. Two years later, he moved to Melbourne as sports editor for the Age.

After a stint in Auckland on the New Zealand Herald, from 1908 to 1932 Forster was sub-editor on the Hobart Mercury, and played a prominent part in the steady growth of the paper, enjoying the 'esteem and confidence of the proprietors and his colleagues'. A keen bowler, he represented the State against mainland teams. He was also interested in football, cricket and rowing. His son William, editor of the Sporting Globe in Melbourne, predeceased him. Forster died on 21 December 1932 in hospital in Hobart, survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • D. S. Garden, Albany (Melb, 1977)
  • Albany Advertiser, 21 Jan 1899, p 2, 26 Jan 1899, p 2, 28 Jan 1899, p 2, 18 Sept 1900, p 3, 3 Jan 1933, p 4
  • Mercury (Hobart), 22 Dec 1932, p 6
  • information from Albany Public Library, Western Australia.

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Forster, William Frear (1857–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 12 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 March, 1857
Parkend, Northumberland, England


21 December, 1932 (aged 75)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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