Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Walter James Jeffery (1861–1922)

by B. G. Andrews and Sandra Burchill

This article was published:

Walter James Jeffery (1861-1922), journalist and author, was born on 20 August 1861 at Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, son of James Jeffery, warrant officer in the Royal Navy, and his wife Rosina, née Wright. At 15 Walter entered the navy but after two years transferred to the merchant marine, visiting India and Australia. He was also employed on a lightship in the English Channel, as a fireman in London, as a farmworker, and as a newspaper reporter at Portsmouth. At Portsea, Hampshire, on 19 December 1881 he married Ellen Martha Elizabeth Wilson (d.1934).

Settling in New South Wales in 1886, Jeffery worked on the Illawarra coalfields, but by October 1887 he had begun a long career with the newspaper empire founded by Samuel Bennett. Employed as a reporter on the Sydney Evening News, he became in 1891 sub-editor of the weekly Australian Town and Country Journal and in 1893 editor. In the thirteen years that he presided over its fortunes the journal circulated widely in New South Wales and was a significant competitor of the more strident Bulletin. From 1906 until his death Jeffery was manager and editor of the Evening News. Under his management the paper made more effort to entertain its readers but did not altogether lose its nickname, the 'Evening Snooze'. In 1918 he played a leading part in the negotiations which transferred control of the News and the Journal from the Bennett family to a public company, S. Bennett Ltd. Widely respected in Australian newspaper circles, he was committed to the Anglo-Australian connexion, and attended the Imperial Press Conference in Ottawa in 1920.

In the early 1890s Jeffery met George Lewis ('Louis') Becke, a writer of sea stories. Between 1896 and 1901 they collaborated on three novels, A First Fleet Family (1896), The Mystery of the Laughlin Islands (1896) and The Mutineer (1898), the last focused on the Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian; a biography of Arthur Phillip (1899); a history, The Naval Pioneers of Australia (1899); and a miscellany, The Tapu of Banderah (1901), which reprinted some of the many sketches and stories contributed to the Fortnightly Review, the Pall Mall Gazette and other journals in London, where Becke was based in 1896-1902. Their correspondence reveals that the partnership was uniformly and unusually harmonious, with Jeffery completing most of the research and preparing initial drafts which Becke reworked and sold to London publishers. On his own account Jeffery also published a novel, The King's Yard (London, 1903), and A Century of our Sea Story (London, 1901), in which solid research and the telling anecdote are fruitfully combined.

In addition to his writings Jeffery compiled for (Sir) William Dixson indexes of references to Australasia in the journals and debates of the House of Commons and to other historical sources. He also campaigned vigorously for a statue of Phillip to be erected and for rescue of the anchor of the Sirius, a First Fleet ship, from the waters around Norfolk Island. He was a trustee of the Public Library of New South Wales in 1908-22. He died of Bright's disease at North Sydney on 14 February 1922 and was buried in the Church of England section of Rookwood cemetery. His wife and one daughter of their seven children survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • The Evening News, 1867-1926 (Syd, 1926)
  • A. G. Day, Louis Becke (New York, 1966)
  • R. B. Walker, The Newspaper Press in New South Wales, 1803-1920 (Syd, 1976)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Feb 1922
  • Bulletin, 16 Feb 1922
  • Louis Becke papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

B. G. Andrews and Sandra Burchill, 'Jeffery, Walter James (1861–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 August, 1861
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England


14 February, 1922 (aged 60)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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