BONYTHON, Sir John Langdon (1848-1939)


BONYTHON, Sir John Langdon (1848-1939)
editor and public benefactor
was the second son of George Langdon Bonython and his wife Annie, daughter of James Fairbairn MacBain of Aberdeen. The Bonythons are an ancient Cornish family, well-known in Tudor and Stuart times. Bonython was born in London on 15 October 1848, and was brought to South Australia by his parents at an early age. He received a sound education at Brougham school, Adelaide, in his sixteenth year obtained a position on the staff of the Advertiser, Adelaide, and, as a colleague put it, began to "work as though the paper belonged to him". This capacity for hard work remained with him all his life and stood him in good stead in the newspaper office, where his position steadily improved. He became a part proprietor of the Advertiser in 1879, and subsequently for a period of 35 years was editor and sole proprietor. Other papers were added, the Chronicle, a weekly, and the evening Express. In 1929 these papers were taken over by a public company. During his editorship of the Advertiser, Bonython was closely in touch with the public men of South Australia and exercised a large influence on the community. He never had the power that Syme (q.v.), for a period, had in Victoria, but was nevertheless one of the most influential journalists in Australia. He was too busy a man to enter local politics and probably realized that he could be more powerful outside the house. In 1901, however, he was nominated for the federal house of representatives and in a state-wide vote obtained second place on the poll. At the 1903 election he was unopposed for the electorate of Barker. He was a member of the select committee, 1904, and royal commission, 1905-6, on old-age pensions. He gave up politics in 1906, was appointed one of the 14 trustees under the Australian soldiers' repatriation act of 1916, and one of the seven commissioners under the soldiers' repatriation act of 1917. He retired from his newspapers in 1929, after 65 years' service.
In spite of his close attention to business, Bonython found time for many other interests, the chief of which was education. In 1883 he was elected chairman of the old Adelaide school board of advice, and for 18 years rarely missed a meeting. In 1889 he became president of the council of the school of mines and industries, and held the position for 50 years. He fought with ministers for it, and when financial difficulties arose, assisted with his own purse. He provided the funds for the chemical and metallurgical laboratories, possibly the most up-to-date in the Commonwealth, and kept his interest in the school to the end of his life. He was chairman of the council of the agricultural college at Roseworthy from 1895 to 1902, joined the council of the university of Adelaide in 1916, and gave £52,329 to build a great hall and £20,000 to endow a chair of law. He was deputy chairman of the South Australian advisory council of education from 1916 to 1926, chairman of the Commonwealth literary fund for 20 years, president for many years of the South Australian Cornish Association, and in 1931 was elected president of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, as successor to Viscount Falmouth. Towards the end of his life he gave £100,000 toward the completion of parliament house, Adelaide, and was present at the opening of the new legislative council chamber in June 1939. Except for some deafness, Bonython retained all his faculties until a few hours before his death on 22 October 1939, a week after his ninety-first birthday. He married in1870 Marie Louise Friedrike, daughter of D. F. Balthasar, who died in 1924. He was survived by a son and three daughters. He was knighted in 1898, created C.M.G. in 1908, and K.C.M.G. in 1919. Though Bonython gave away much, both privately and publicly, his estate of £4,000,000 was probably the largest ever left by an Australian. Most of it went to his family, though there were several bequests to religious institutions. His success was largely due to his great vitality, prudence and capacity for work. He had a remarkable memory, was a good raconteur, and could make an excellent speech.
His son, Sir John Lavington Bonython, born in 1875 and educated at Prince Alfred College, was mayor of Adelaide 1912-13 and lord mayor 1927-30. He was knighted in 1935.
Burke's Colonial Gentry, 1891; The Advertiser, Adelaide, 23 and 24 October 1939; Ninety-eighth Annual Report of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, 1931; Debrett's Peerage, etc., 1936.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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