Big influence on South Australia wielded by John Langdon Bonython as The Advertiser owner

John Langdon Bonython gave £100,000 for the South Australian parliament building to be completed in the 1930s.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

London-born son of a carpenter/builder, John Langdon Bonython rose to one of South Australia’s most influential business figures in the 19th Century and into the 20th. In 1854, Bonython sailed with his family to Adelaide and attended Brougham School, North Adelaide, but his parents couldn’t afford his further education.

Determined to succeed, he joined The Advertiser newspaper as a junior reporter at 16. With hard work and successful shares speculation in mining, in 1879, he could buy a junior partnership in the newspaper. This became joint ownership with F.B. Burden in 1884, when he also became editor – ­for the next 45 years. By 1893, he was The Advertiser’s sole proprietor.

Bonython continued shrewd business judgement and an uncanny appreciation of public opinion. The Advertiser pursued a liberal progressive policy and was a leading advocate of federation. It aligned with the growing middle class and identified closely with South Australia’s progress. The newspaper had a big revenue stream from small advertisements but Bonython also believed in extensive news coverage, though often clashing with the Australian Journalists’ Association.

Bonython was elected to the first commonwealth parliament in 1901, serving for six years. He favoured protection, the White Australia policy and developing South Australian industry. He emphasised the need for locks to control the River Murray and he favoured building the Adelaide-Darwin railway before the East-West railway.

Education was one of strong interests. He was among founders of South Australian School of Mines and Industries in 1886 and was its president for 50 years. Bonython was a generous public benefactor, including £100,000 to complete parliament house and helping many destitute people who waited in lines outside his office during the 1930s Depression.

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