Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Henry Gisborne Varley (1852–1936)

by John Atchison

This article was published:

George Henry Gisborne Varley (1852-1936), journalist and politician, was born on 7 April 1852 in London, son of William Waterloo Gisborne Varley, picture-dealer, and his wife Ann, née Daston. With his parents, he reached Sydney on 4 September 1856 in the Lloyds; having attended school at Maitland, he joined the Maitland Ensign in 1866 as an apprentice. He later moved to the Wallsend Miner's Advocate, a small weekly started by James Fletcher, transferring with it on the paper's incorporation into the Newcastle Morning Herald in 1876. Catering to public interest, Varley introduced reports on handball, athletics and coursing as special features; he also acted as handicapper for the Wallsend Jockey Club and was secretary of the Wallsend and Plattsburg Athletic Club. In covering the first race meeting at Tamworth (1878), he wrote a comprehensive review of the district.

At West Maitland registry office Varley had married 16-year-old Jane Louise Brackenreg, daughter of an innkeeper, on 26 January 1871. Moving his family to Grafton when he became manager and part-owner of the bi-weekly Clarence and Richmond Examiner in 1881, he involved himself in community organizations, such as the Grafton Water Brigade, and continued his interest in athletics. By 1887 he was sole proprietor of the Examiner and turned his tri-weekly into a leading provincial newspaper. He remained sole proprietor, manager and editor until 1905 when he moved to Sydney and undertook the duties of the metropolitan office, exercising control through local staff heads. In 1915 a Grafton company, including (Sir) Earle Page, was formed and the paper became the Daily Examiner; Varley retained a controlling interest.

His championing of dairy farmers aided the establishment of the Grafton Dairy Co. Ltd, of which he was chairman. Varley persuaded the New South Wales Fresh Food & Ice Co. Ltd to operate on the Clarence, with strategically located creameries. A leading member of the Clarence River Railway Construction and Harbour Improvement League, he lobbied hard but unsuccessfully for the Clarence-New England connexion, then turned his attention to the construction of the coastal line. He was a generous supporter, lay canon and synodsman of the Church of England, and displayed a liberal and catholic spirit in the publication of religious news.

In 1904 Varley became a director (later managing director) of the New South Wales Country Press Co-operative Co. Ltd (Country Press Ltd from 1921). As a committee-member of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, he served on its country sectional committee. He was also a committee-member of the Australian Provincial Press Association (1909-27), a member of the Empire Press Union, a councillor of the Metalliferous Mining Association and belonged to the Aborigines Protection Board (1910-16).

Nominated to the Legislative Council in 1917, Varley proved a sturdy champion of country interests, but did not seek election to the reconstituted House in 1933. Later years saw him increasingly active as a vice-president of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales. Survived by his wife, two daughters and four sons, Varley died on 28 April 1936 at his Bellevue Hill home and was buried in South Head cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 1917, 9 Apr 1924, 16 Nov 1932, 29 Mar 1934, 30 Apr 1936
  • Sun (Sydney), 7 Apr 1924
  • Daily Examiner (Grafton), 30 Apr, 1 May 1936
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Varley, George Henry Gisborne (1852–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 April, 1852
London, Middlesex, England


28 April, 1936 (aged 84)
Bellevue Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.