John Davies

Founder John Davies from dubious, humble beginnings

On Wednesday morning, July 5,1854, the first number of the Hobarton Mercury, in which was incorporated the Hobart Guardian, was published at Hobart by John Davies, journalist, and Auber George Jones, a wealthy Tasmanian pastoralist.

Within a few weeks John Davies became the sole proprietor. He later modified the name of the new paper to The Mercury, the title it still retains.

John Davies was born in London on June 10, 1814. At the age of 16 years he was employed as a clerk, and burdened with the responsibility of looking after a fatherless family, comprising his mother and six brothers and sisters.

His father, Michael John Davies, convicted of obtaining goods under false pretences, had been sentenced to seven years' transportation to New South Wales.

Permission was granted for Mrs Davies and her three youngest children to join her husband in New South Wales.

John Davies, at the age of 16, was left with the bleak prospect of facing the future in London separated from the members of the family. England was in a general state of economic depression following the Napoleonic wars.

Unemployment was very high, contributed to by the machines of the industrial revolution. Stories of opportunities and prosperity in the Australian colonies, widely published in pamphlets and the press, were eagerly read by the economically disadvantaged and adventurous. England was anxious to rid itself of its unemployed.

Some people committed petty "crimes" with the object of obtaining a free passage and the opportunity of sharing the fruits of the land of opportunity.

One can only speculate about the thoughts, feelings and intention of the young John Davies. He ordered six pounds of candles and two pounds of wax lights on the account of a firm of chemists. His action was quickly discovered. He was charged and sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen's Land.

He arrived at Hobart Town in August, 1831, and was assigned his ticket-of-leave and was able to rejoin his father, mother, his younger sisters and his brother David at Port Macquarie. He became a constable, and in 1840 was appointed Chief Constable at Penrith.

On December 16, 1840, John Davies married Elizabeth Ellis, an Anglican. But John Davies was a Jew, and, by marrying a non-Jew he suffered the religious Hebrew bigotry which expelled him from the church of his faith.

John Davies was a man of tough pioneer mettle.

He scorned the easy road to success, and chose to fight for his right to succeed, for the fighting spirit was an important part of his character.

Soon after starting his newspaper enterprise in Hobart, Davies had insufficient money to meet the wages of his men.

He set up a stand outside Hobart Town Hall and auctioned his services to the highest bidder.

The townsfolk entered into the spirit of the auction and when John Davies' indebtedness to his employees was matched by a bid, he ended the auction.

Having collected the money he paid his men and then for several weeks was obliged to undertake two jobs at the newspaper and for the person whose bid he accepted.

Hobart Town had no shortage of journals when he started his enterprise, but Davies believed there was a need for an independent paper which would not only respond to its readers, but use impartiality and discretion.

He did not want the paper to be tied to any political party, like many partisan journals of the day.

He had a great interest in community welfare.

For many years he represented the Devon constituency in the Tasmanian Parliament. Later, he contested the Huon seat, which he held for many years.

Davies was credited with having the first bridge built across the Huon River and he had a long association with racing. He was secretary of the last race meeting held on the old New Town track.

He also was an enthusiastic supporter of drama and opera and as proprietor of Hobartís Theatre Royal, in which his descendants took a keen interest.

John Davies' premature death in 1872, the day after his 58th birthday, resulted from his helping Hobart citizens in distress.

Bad floods in June, 1872, inundated many homes in the Wapping district of Hobart.

Davies threw open the theatre to the homeless for temporary shelter, and in assisting them in their plight, caught a chill from which he later died.

Every member of the Davies family who followed the founder as head of the company producing The Mercury (there were seven) maintained the belief in the parallel development of the newspaper and Tasmania.

The first Hobarton Mercury was a bi-weekly, and the imprint recorded that it was "printed and published by George Auber Jones and John Davies at No 11 Macquarie St, Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land".

When he arrived in Hobart Town, Mr Davies was quick to see that, despite many rivals, the settlement offered him the chance to start a newspaper.

In 1854 he acquired an interest in a newspaper named the Guardian which he had been operating for about eight years.

He remodelled it as the Hobarton Mercury on July 5, 1854.

On September 13 that year he became sole proprietor of the Hobarton Mercury.

On January 1, 1858, the newspaper became a tri-weekly published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On New Year's Day in 1860 it became a daily newspaper.

Through the 1850s the Hobarton Mercury absorbed several of its contemporaries, and when these mergers had been completed the newspaper's name was changed to The Mercury.


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