Robert Harris (1829–1904) became the patriarch of a four-generation newspaper dynasty in north-west Tasmania. He was a baby when he sailed for Australia with his convict mother in January 1831. He was apprenticed to printer Henry Dowling at the Launceston Advertiser in October 1845. He married in July 1853 and produced two sons, both of whom followed in the printing trade, and three daughters.
Harris launched the Auction-Mart Advertiser in January 1863, renaming it the Launceston Times in July 1864. In June 1869, he bought the Cornwall Chronicle, made it a tri-weekly and incorporated his Launceston Times into it. He also introduced a weekly that, in February 1871, he and partner Thomas Cook Just renamed the Tasmanian. Harris sold his Launceston newspapers to Just in June 1871 and continued as a commercial printer.
In Victoria on 28 September 1875, he launched the Colac Times in competition with the bi-weekly Colac Herald, but moved to Wellington in July 1878 to become head printer at the New Zealand News. He returned to Australia in 1881 and worked at the Melbourne Argus for nine years. His younger son, Charles James (1864–1913), served a printing apprenticeship in New Zealand. At the end of 1883, he briefly joined his father at the Argus before working as a journalist and manager on newspapers in Brisbane, Townsville and Sydney. He joined the Launceston Daily Telegraph where he became managing editor of the weekly Colonist.
Encouraged by the mining boom in western Tasmania, Robert Harris enticed his sons to Burnie to launch the bi-weekly Wellington Times, which became the Emu Bay Times in November 1897. The family business was Incorporated in 1894 with Charles in control; his father and brother ran the commercial printing and commercial side of the business.
The Harris company launched the North Western Advocate in Devonport in January 1899, and made it a daily five months later. They amalgamated it with the Emu Bay Times on 13 November 1899, with the North Western Advocate taking precedence but with Burnie becoming the publication centre.
The North Western Advocate became the Advocate from 2 December 1918. Three of Charles’s sons—Russell Charles (1892–1935), Selby Upton (1894–1967) and Leonard Burnie (1890–1964)—ran the paper from 1913 to 1963. The fourth generation—Selby’s son, Geoffrey Philip (1917–98) and Leonard’s sons, Charles Ian (1916–92), Lloyd John (1921– ) and Warren James (1924–2000)—took over until the beginning of the 1990s. Geoffrey’s son, Paul Geoffrey (1948– ), replaced his father as managing director in 1991. From 1967 to the late 1970s, the Advocate fought off a bid by the Launceston Examiner to grab half of its rival’s readers.
In 1990, Harris and Company Ltd (40 per cent) and Rural Press Limited (60 per cent) acquired the Launceston Examiner for $30 million. At the end of 2003, Rural Press took over Harris and Company and became part of Fairfax Media in May 2007.
REFs: R. Kirkpatrick, interview with L. Harris (2003); K. Pink, And Wealth for Toil (1990).