Thomas Mitchell (T.M.) Shakespeare (1873–1938) had been a printer for eight years, a country newspaper owner for nine years, and the secretary and manager of the NSW Country Press Association and business arm for nine years when he attended Canberra’s official naming ceremony in March 1913. On returning to Sydney, he told his four sons and two daughters that he planned to establish a national newspaper in the national capital.
In January 1925, the Shakespeare family and R.J.S. Fallick, of the Queanbeyan Age, formed the Federal Capital Press of Australia Ltd with capital of £25,000. The company began publishing the Canberra Times on 3 September 1926. The Shakespeare sons had been preparing for this: Arthur Thomas had gained 10 years’ journalistic experience with the Sydney Morning Herald; James William (Bill) and Christopher John (Jack) had become the proprietors of the Hawkesbury Herald at Richmond; and Clarence Eugene (Clarrie) had trained on a newspaper at Katoomba before joining Bill and Jack at Richmond. Bill and Jack sold the Hawkesbury Herald in May 1926, and Jack went to Canberra to install the machinery for the new paper. Arthur resigned from the Sydney Morning Herald to become managing editor of the new paper. Clarrie joined the reporting staff in 1926 (only to die a year later) and Bill joined as secretary/accountant in October 1927. A.E. (Alf) Shakespeare, a cousin of T.M.’s, also joined the reporting staff.
The Canberra Times first appeared as a weekly, and became a daily on 20 February 1928, ahead of the expected shifting of government departments from Melbourne to Canberra. But with the Great Depression, the newspaper struggled grimly for survival for more than a decade. T.M. Shakespeare resigned from the NSW Country Press Association in February 1929 to become managing director of the Federal Capital Press of Australia Ltd.
He had entered newspapers as an apprentice compositor on the Forbes and Parkes Gazette in 1887. At Condobolin, he established the Lachlander on 26 July 1895 and married Ann Forster a year later. In 1897, they sold their home to fight a libel action. They lived in three rooms partitioned off from the newspaper offices, where their first son, Arthur (1897–1975), was born. Shakespeare won the libel action and the Lachlander prospered. Shakespeare sold the paper in 1902 and bought the Grafton Argus, which he sold in November 1904 to move to Sydney to administer the NSW Country Press arms. He was secretary and manager (1904–28) and secretary (1906–28 and 1931–38) of the Australian Provincial Press Association (APPA). Arthur himself was APPA secretary (1929–31 and 1938–54).
In the late 1950s, Arthur worried about the Shakespeare family’s ‘absence of male succession’. He wrote to R.A.G. Henderson, managing director of John Fairfax & Sons, on 17 March 1958 to seek ‘an understanding which will ensure that in the place of family succession this newspaper would be in hands which would uphold it always as a useful organ of public opinion at the Federal capital’. Fairfax considered two related possibilities: printing a southern edition of the Herald in Canberra, or printing a national daily there. On 4 April 1963, John Fairfax Ltd and the Federal Capital Press of Australia Pty Ltd signed a secret agreement through which Fairfax acquired 10,000 of the 80,000 issued £1 shares in Federal Capital Press and obtained an option to purchase the remaining 70,000 shares for £578,000, the option being exercisable in 1967 or earlier—if one of a range of situations occurred, such as another company taking steps to publish a daily newspaper in Canberra. In 1964, with Rupert Murdoch planning to establish the Australian, the agreement with Fairfax was brought into play and the Sydney company took charge at the Canberra Times. Arthur Shakespeare retired as managing editor in July 1964 and Jack Shakespeare retired simultaneously.
REFs: R. Kirkpatrick, Country Conscience (2000); H. Shakespeare, ‘The Canberra Times’, 10 August 1974, typescript held by Canberra Historical Society.