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Frederick Sinnett (1830–1866)

by Marjorie J. Tipping

This article was published:

Frederick Sinnett (1830-1866), journalist and literary critic, was born on 8 March 1830 in Hamburg, Germany, elder son of London-born Edward William Percy Sinnett, newspaper editor, English teacher and author, and his wife Jane, née Fry. After his father's death in England in 1844 his mother supported the family by editing and translating. He probably trained in both surveying and engineering and as a newspaper reporter, through association with J. S. Mill, Harriet Taylor and others he became well versed in political economy.

Showing early signs of tuberculosis, Sinnett decided to migrate to Australia and arrived in Adelaide in May or June 1849, hoping to become a sub-engineer for the Adelaide and Port Railway Co. Instead, he joined Thomas Burr, land agent and surveyor, and in 1850 they laid out the town of Truro. In 1852 Sinnett joined a party exploring the Lake Torrens area; in 1854 he reported his 'Observations' in a paper to the Victorian Institute for the Advancement of Science. He moved to Melbourne in December 1851 as 'intended editor' of the Melbourne Morning Herald and General Daily Advertiser. He formed a company and brought new capital into the business but in September 1856 C. F. Somerton took over from him as printer and publisher, renaming the paper the Herald. Although cheerful and buoyant, he was not a good businessman and he lost heavily while with the Herald and in later ventures. He joined the Argus staff and was leader-writer in 1857-60. On 29 October 1857 at St Peter's Church of England, Melbourne, he married Jane Ann, daughter of Thomas Burr; he gave his religion as Unitarian.

Sinnett's professionalism and infectious wit guaranteed him a place among the literary and artistic circles of the young colony. He had a hand in several ventures, and with Edgar Ray had helped to found in 1855 the splendid Melbourne Punch; he was a member of the group, including James Smith, R. H. Horne, N. Chevalier and James Stiffe, that met to plan its issues, and in 1856-59 he was editor. In May 1858, also with Ray, he began the Daily News in Geelong and was sole editor until its failure in August 1859. With his knowledge of German language and literature he had many friends among the German artists, scientists and scholars living in Melbourne. He was a member of the Philosophical Institute (formed in 1855). In December 1857 he was elected to the committee of the short-lived Society of Fine Arts. He went to Queensland in October 1858 as Argus correspondent to report on the gold rush to Canoona; next year he published in Geelong an account of his experiences.

Later in 1859 Sinnett returned to Adelaide and worked for a while as parliamentary shorthand writer. He also set up an iceworks and, as Sinnett & Co., in April 1860 produced the first ice blocks in the city. In a booklet Ice, and Its Uses (n.d.), he passed on instructions and recipes for his customers. In August 1862 he produced the Daily Telegraph, the first evening newspaper in Adelaide; he also contributed to other publications. His fluent and analytic essay, An Account of the Colony of South Australia, was written for the 1862 International Exhibition in London.

In financial difficulties once more, Sinnett accepted a post with the Argus, arriving in Melbourne in August 1865. He and his wife took part again in Melbourne's literary and theatrical life, holding Saturday night readings and discussions of Shakespeare's plays. But Sinnett, so lively and versatile and with 'a husk of shyness', was now rapidly weakened by tuberculosis; on 23 November 1866 he died at his home in Kew and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery. Predeceased by two daughters, he was survived by his wife (d.1892) and two of his three sons; the elder, Percy, writing as 'Per Se', showed literary promise before his death at 23. Sinnett was mourned for his kindness of heart, the brilliance of his intellect and conversation and especially his humour. Of his few certain writings, the most notable is his essay in the Journal of Australasia, June and December 1856, 'The Fiction Fields of Australia'. In this discussion of the criteria of fiction and of several recently published novels, he raised important questions which are still relevant. The essay was republished in Brisbane in 1966 with an introduction by Cecil Hadgraft.

Select Bibliography

  • Table Talk, 17 Jan 1896
  • Age (Melbourne), 24 Nov 1866
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 Nov 1866
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 Nov 1866
  • James Smith papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • H. G. Turner papers (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Marjorie J. Tipping, 'Sinnett, Frederick (1830–1866)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 March, 1830
Hamburg, Germany


23 November, 1866 (aged 36)
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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