The Bonython family, civic minded, philanthropic and Methodist—thanks to an early association with John Wesley—took great pride in its Cornish ancestry. Eric Glenie Bonython self-published a book tracing the family’s origins in Cornwall to 1277. The repossession of the family estates was a motivating but unrealised force in the long life of the Hon. Sir John Langdon Bonython KCMG (1848–1939), one of the third of the six generations who settled in South Australia and the forceful editor/owner of the Adelaide Advertiser.
He arrived in South Australia with his parents, George and Annie, in 1854, aged six; his grandfather, Thomas, and his wife, Ann Harris, had arrived in 1840. Thomas farmed at Mt Barker. George, who had been born in Canada, pursued a thriving building trade in Adelaide.
John Langdon joined the Advertiser in 1864. Fifteen years later, he was made a partner; he became the sole owner in 1893. The business traded as J.L. Bonython & Co. and remained his until 1929, when it was sold to Advertiser Newspapers Ltd.
His early association with radical men like South Australian premier Charles Cameron Kingston—to whom he was very loyal—and Sir John Cockburn—with whom he conducted a correspondence of over 30 years—marked his early political life as a radical liberal.
Bonython was the supporter of reforms associated with the Labor Party, although he opposed the establishment of a Labor Party paper, which became known as the Herald, in 1932. Bonython’s relations with his own journalists soured in 1917, and by 1925 his long support of Labor men—both state and federal—had come to an end.
He served in the first two Commonwealth parliaments as an Independent Liberal. He did not give Federation much support initially, and continued to champion state rights and bemoan big government spending. After 1924, he became more conservative.
The newspaper and speculation in mining shares made him a fortune. His contribution, and that of his whole family, to South Australia is legendary. He presided over the School of Mines for 50 years and served on the councils of Roseworthy Agricultural College and the University of Adelaide. At the federal level, he served on the Commonwealth Literary Fund and acted as trustee and commissioner of the Soldiers Repatriation Fund and the Old Age Pensions Commission. A Chair of Law, the Bonython Hall and the marbled parliament were among a number of gifts bestowed by him.
His eldest son, Sir John Lavington Bonython (1875–1960), edited the Saturday Express and, from 1929 to 1960, served as a director of Advertiser Newspapers. He became Lord Mayor of Adelaide (1928–30). His second wife, Constance Jean Warren, a Downer, wrote a light-hearted autobiography, I’m No Lady (1981).
John Bonython AO (1905–92), the only son of Sir John Lavington Bonython’s first marriage to Ada Bray, daughter of a premier, was educated at the University of Cambridge and chaired Advertiser Newspapers in the 1970s, as well as becoming a founding director of Santos Ltd.
REFs: E.G. Bonython, The Bonython Family (1966); E.J. Prest, Sir John Langdon Bonython (2011).