Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Boreham in the Editorialist Tradition

Crucial Platform
While the influence of the press as an educative instrument was waning in the first two decades of the twentieth century when Boreham’s editorial career was flourishing, the press continued to exercise a dominant role in providing information, educating and influencing thought in society.

The Australian press had long been considered an agent of social improvement and community cohesion through its promotion of family values, its pro-Imperial stance, its advocacy of the British way of life and its loyalty to the royal family. The power of the press to influence political opinion could be seen in the unashamed stance of most Australian dailies in cultivating support for wars, promoting allegiance to England, urging support for conscription and challenging the value of strikes and riots. Commenting on the first two decades of the Australian commonwealth, communication academics Graeme Osborne and Glen Lewis said, “The press was the dominant media of the day. The major papers and magazines took the leading role in communicating political news and forming public opinion”.[1] As to whether the press accurately reflected society, Osborne and Lewis stated that the press “was often anti-Catholic and opposed Irish Home Rule. It excluded women and ignored Aboriginals. Most papers were anti-Asian”.[2]

The editorials appeared to be the major source of ideas and opinions in the twelve to sixteen pages of the paper when Boreham wrote between 1912-1920, a period when the Mercury experienced no competition from any other daily. Australian academic Imne Salvsinszky’s assertion that “the familiar essay ... had few outlets in Australia in the first half of the nineteenth century” highlights the importance of the editorial.[3]

Even by 1930, Sydney Morning Herald writer Henry M Green observed that “in essays, Australian literature is even weaker than in drama”,[4] and believed this was due to a “lack of leisure and lack of a market”.[5] This observation underscores the continuing importance of the editorial in society. In spite of the advance of books and magazines in Australia, a survey undertaken in 1950 indicated that readers of the Mercury were spending an average of forty-five minutes each day (compared with an Australian average of thirty-five minutes) and that the editorial columns were being regularly read by fifty-eight percent of the readers.[6]

Always Throwing Light on Things
It is important to view Boreham’s editorial contributions in the context of the tradition in which he wrote. The earlier phases of his writing career with the Otago Daily Times (1899-1906) and the Mercury (1912-1918) fitted the description once given to editorial writer, Dr Rutherford Waddell: “Always to be throwing light on things, to stimulate thought and aspiration, and conduct them along desirable channels, to interpret to the younger and less informed the world of men, of books, and of things, and in doing this to give them the surest and most wholesome interpretations”.[7] In the first, impromptu, editorial that Boreham wrote for the Otago Daily Times, he offered a Gibbonese analysis of the Roman Empire to assess the current health of the British Empire. He laced his argument with quotations from Lord Tennyson and Robert Louis Stevenson and then pressed home his conclusion with an analogy drawn from nature.[8] This maiden editorial not only bore the Boreham editorial signature but it distinguished his writing from the paper’s regular editorials chiefly by the way it provided a historical and literary lens through which readers could interpret the present and find encouragement for the future.

Christians and the Press
In sketching the sphere of Christian influence in Australia between 1836 and 1901, Ian Breward observed the significant “number of Christians, lay and clerical, [who] owned and edited local and urban newspapers” including the Syme brothers in Melbourne, “who had been educated for the Congregational ministry [but] found a wider platform through the Age”.[9] Breward further observes that, “religion’s importance was underlined by extensive reporting in both metropolitan and local papers”.[10]

The educated voice of a local religious leader was highly valued during Boreham’s career and editorial staff of Australasian dailies hired church representatives with literary skills to express a religious or moral voice. The occasional editorial took on a public chaplaincy role especially at times of national emergency or international crisis. These sometimes took the form of a eulogy with statements of comfort, such as in the editorial, ‘Mr Gladstone is dead’,[11] a message of hope such as the editorial that launched the Mercury in 1915, ‘A New Year—and The World at War!’[12] or an expression of civic celebration as stated on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s arrival in Hobart, ‘Great Day Dawns’.[13] The regular religion editor usually expressed a viewpoint on Christian festivals—Easter and Christmas—and other red-letter days, such as New Year, Australia Day, Empire Day (later Queen’s Birthday) and End of Year. The Saturday editorial in the Mercury and the Age developed a different style from the rest of the week, and was usually designed to uplift, provoke or inspire. This thesis will seek to ascertain whether there were any specific expectations, directions or constraints that were imposed on Boreham by the managers and editors of the papers to which he contributed.

Standing in the Editorial Tradition
While Boreham undertook the religious editorial role in the Mercury between 1912-1959 and the Age from 1936-1959, others provided this function at different times and in various papers. Contemporaneous with Boreham was the Presbyterian minister, the Rev Thomas Jollie Smith (1858-1927), who was a leader-writer for the Argus and the Australasian from 1907 to 1927. He studied as an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne and did his theological education at Ormond College where he later trained ministers for the church. After ordination, he had a distinguished pastoral ministry in South Australia before undertaking a “brilliant” academic career.[14] Like Boreham he was “a voracious and retentive reader” which, combined with his ability as a “pithy and substantial preacher”,[15] equipped him to be “an erudite critic and plain-speaking leader-writer”.[16] Professor Rentoul asserted that Jollie’s editorial writing “did much to ensure a more serious hearing for the Christian message than in earlier decades”.[17]

The Rev Edward Sidney Kiek (1883-1959) wrote for the Adelaide Advertiser at a later period than Thomas Jollie. Kiek trained ministers in his Congregational tradition and was an active, liberal church leader who, according to Breward, “revitalized the South Australian theological world in the 1920s”.[18] Assessing the significance of his Saturday leaders in the Advertiser from 1937 to 1959, Walter Phillips writes: “It was a magnificent feat to sustain that effort weekly to the end of his life ... the variety of topics he dealt with is most impressive. He reflected on many aspects of life and thought in the modern world, bringing to bear on them his wide knowledge of literature and history. Through them he conveyed a common sense morality and spirituality”.[19]

Following Boreham at the Age was the Rev Dr Alan Watson, a prominent church leader whose editorials reveal a thinker who “loved literature and … loved words” and was able to relate to the ordinary person.[20] Watson continued the Saturday editorial tradition on 25 July 1959 and wrote for the next seventeen years until 24 January 1976. From March 1996 the Age gave this editorial the heading, ‘A Saturday Reflection’.

From 1976, the role was assumed by Boreham’s biographer, the Rev T Howard Crago. Later, when Crago could not continue at a weekly frequency, the editorial, on alternate Saturdays, bore the initials of THC and the new writer JD—Jim Darling. When this arrangement concluded, the Age employed the Rev Robert Brown (the third Baptist in succession) and ‘the motor bike preacher’, John Smith, who wrote on alternate Saturdays. During this time the editorial became known as the ‘Faith’ column and in 1998 authorship was widened to incorporate people from traditions other than Christian and people without a faith in God. The anonymous religious lead editorial no longer exists in the newspapers in which Boreham wrote and has been replaced by religious or faith opinion columns written by named authors.

F W Boreham discovered an important platform in the leading papers of the state and countries where he lived. He contributed to these newspapers for an extremely long period and saw this as an important part of his ministry.

Geoff Pound

Image: A recent edition of the Melbourne Age, to which FWB contributed for decades.

[1] Osborne and Lewis, Communication traditions in Australia, 63.
[2] Osborne and Lewis, Communication traditions in Australia, 64.
[3] Imne Salvsinszky, The Oxford book of Australian essays (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1997), 1.
[4] Cited in Salvsinszky, The Oxford book of Australian essays, 1.
[5] Salvsinszky, The Oxford book of Australian essays, 2.
[6] Mayer, The press in Australia, 228-233. In contrast, the section of the Mercury that drew the greatest number of regular readers was the Letters to the Editor (eighty-one percent and the least attention, the Radio Programmes (forty-one percent).
[7] Mr Wilson, Otago Daily Times, 28 April 1900.
[8] Otago Daily Times, 15 June 1900; Mercury, 15 August 1914.
[9] Breward, Australia: ‘The most godless place under heaven’, 30.
[10] Breward, Australia: ‘The most godless place under heaven’, 31.
[11] Otago Daily Times, 20 May 1898.
[12] Mercury, 1 January 1915.
[13] Mercury, 20 February 1954.
[14] Ian Breward, ‘Thomas Jollie Smith’, ADB, vol. 2, 1891-1939, ed. Geoffrey Serle (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1988), 663.
[15] Breward, ADB, 664.
[16] Breward, ADB, 664.
[17] Breward, ADB, 664.
[18] Ian Breward, ‘Edward Sidney Kiek’, ADB, vol. 9, 1891-1939, eds. Bede Nairn and Geoffrey Serle (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1983), 587-588.
[19] Walter Phillips, Edward Sidney Kiek: His life and thought (Adelaide, SA: Uniting Church Historical Society, 1981), 17.
[20] Duncan Watson and Nigel Watson, eds. Alan Watson's Saturday reflections: A selection from his writing for 'The Age' over seventeen years (Melbourne: Mullaya, 1976), xiii.