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Bonython Family is distinguished by a capacity for hard work, a leaning towards public service and significant benefaction to the institutions and people of Adelaide.

John Langdon Bonython 

John Langdon Bonython (1848–1939) was born in London and brought to South Australia by his parents in 1854. Employed by the Advertiser newspaper at the age of 17, he was said to have worked as though the paper belonged to him. In 1879 he became part-owner, and following successful speculation in mining shares, sole proprietor and then editor for over 40 years (1884–1923). Through the Advertiser and his later acquisitions, the weekly Chronicle and evening Express, he fostered causes which included Federation, universal elementary schooling, protection of small business and racially restricted immigration.

Particularly interested in technical education, Bonython was an influential council member of the South Australian School of Mines (president for 50 years), Roseworthy Agricultural College (chair 1895–1902), and the University of Adelaide (1916–39). Elected to the first House of Representatives in 1901, he carried his interests into the federal legislature until 1906. In addition to his newspapers and parliamentary service, Bonython worked on several commissions and committees, such as the Commonwealth Literary Fund, and was a significant benefactor, especially to St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral although the family worshipped at the Pirie Street Methodist Church. During the Great Depression Bonython’s £100,000 job-creation gift helped complete the long-delayed construction of Parliament House.

In 1898 he and JR Fairfax were the first Australian newspaper proprietors to be knighted. Bonython was made CMG in 1908 and KCMG in 1919. On his death, his personal fortune was possibly the largest hitherto left by any Australian. Mount Bonython in the Adelaide Hills and Bonython Hall at the University of Adelaide remember his name; his North Adelaide home Carclew, now a state government youth arts centre, still graces Montefiore Hill.

Other members of the Bonython family

Bonython’s eldest son, John Lavington Bonython (1875–1960), joined the family newspaper business and in 1900 was elected to the Adelaide City Council, serving as mayor in 1912 and lord mayor from 1927–30. Knighted in 1935, he chaired numerous public bodies, sat on the board of the South Australian Housing Trust, and actively supported various charitable institutions including the Minda Home. After the death of his first wife Blanche Ada Bray in childbirth, Bonython married in 1912 Constance Jean (1891–1977), elder daughter of Charles Herbert Warren and Alice Downer, who became an indefatigable hostess and worker for charity. Lady Bonython’s lively reminiscences, I’m No Lady (1976–81), were published privately by her son (Charles) Warren Bonython (1916–), a noted environmentalist and explorer. His younger brother Hugh Reskymer (Kym) Bonython (1920–), who was decorated as an RAAF pilot in the Second World War, has subsequently promoted jazz concerts, motor racing, contemporary art and the state branch of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy. Their elder step-brother, Ada’s son John Langdon Bonython (1905–1992), chaired Advertiser Newspapers Ltd and co‑founded Santos.  

By Carol Fort & Wilfred Prest

This entry was first published in The Wakefield companion to South Australian History edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly. Uploaded 1 September 2015.

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Bonython Hall

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Image: a high angle photograph of a large stone hall with towers and three doors under a large window at the front.

John Langdon Bonython

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John Lavington Bonython

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Image: painting of man wearing robes holding a roll of paper

Lady Constance Jean Bonython

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Image: Lady Constance Bonython
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