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Henry Kenneth Prior (1893–1967)

by Bridget Griffen-Foley

This article was published:

Henry Kenneth Prior (1893-1967), newspaper publisher, was born on 13 March 1893 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, third child of Australian-born parents Samuel Henry Prior, journalist, and his wife Alice May, née Marsh. The family moved to Sydney in 1903. Ken was educated at Sydney Boys' High School and joined the Bulletin in 1910. Commissioned lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 October 1915, he served with the 51st Battery, 13th Field Artillery Brigade, in Egypt and France. Major Prior's A.I.F. appointment ended in Sydney in October 1919. By then he had accepted William Macleod's invitation to manage the Bulletin. At the Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Randwick, on 1 October that year he married with Catholic rites Josephine Mary (Molly) Lawler, a nurse.

Overriding Macleod's objections, Prior launched the Australian Woman's Mirror in 1924 to keep the Bulletin's presses busy. The weekly magazine relied on contributions from its readers, and proved popular and cheap to produce. Five ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, handsome and blue eyed, Prior rolled up his sleeves and helped to wrap the Mirror's fashion patterns for its subscribers. In 1927 Macleod sold his shares in the Bulletin Newspaper Co. Ltd to the Priors. When Samuel died in 1933, Ken became chairman and managing director. In 1932 the firm had joined with P. R. Stephensen and Norman Lindsay to found the short-lived Endeavour Press. Despite Endeavour's demise, Ken gave local authors a boost in 1934 by establishing the S. H. Prior memorial prize of £100 for the best book of the year.

Employees found Prior unassuming and cordial, if a little remote. He always agreed to a rise when asked, but it was never more than 10 shillings. Former members of his brigade, his lifelong friends, often found their way on to the Bulletin's staff. Two of his sons worked at the Bulletin, and all three served in World War II. Prior generously provided for employees in the services. He was shattered when Molly died just days before Japan's surrender.

Although he was an exacting proofreader, Prior knew that his expertise lay in accountancy and printing. Editorial policy was never his strength and he had taken charge of a magazine that had lost its old élan. By the 1950s traditional columns endorsing the White Australia policy and denouncing communists and Jews made the Bulletin appear increasingly outdated in its stridency. Late in that decade the fifty-five shareholders of the Bulletin Newspaper Co. Pty Ltd received no dividends. Prior sold the company in October 1960 to Sir Frank Packer for about £400,000, admitting: 'We have found it impossible for an independent newspaper to carry on in these times'.

From the 1930s Prior had been involved with King & Prior Pty Ltd, paper merchants; after retiring, he established the publishing firm, Prior Press Pty Ltd. He enjoyed playing golf and lawn bowls. Survived by his daughter and sons, he died on 5 August 1967 at his Mosman home and was cremated. His portrait by H. A. Hanke is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Stewart, Writers of the Bulletin (Syd, 1977)
  • P. Rolfe (ed), The Journalistic Javelin (Syd, 1979)
  • C. Munro, Wild Man of Letters (Melb, 1984)
  • Newspaper News, 1 July 1933
  • Bulletin, 14 June 1933, 1 Feb 1961, 2 Sept 1967
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Oct 1960, 7 Aug 1967
  • Australian, 7 Aug 1967
  • private information.

Citation details

Bridget Griffen-Foley, 'Prior, Henry Kenneth (1893–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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