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Norton, John (1858–1916)

from Truth (Melbourne)

John Norton, Eden Photo Studios, 1898

John Norton, Eden Photo Studios, 1898

State Library of New South Wales, 892968

It is with great regret that we have to chronicle the passing hence of a great journalist, a great man and a personal friend, in the person of Mr. John Norton, the well-known proprietor of "Truth", who died at Melbourne on the 5th ultimo. Born at Brighton, England, Mr. Norton, after some journalistic experience in the Levant (and after refusing an offer of a distinguished position in the British Diplomatic service) landed in Australia in 1884. At first connected with the "Evening News", he joined the "Truth" newspaper at its origin, and in due course became proprietor of that paper. As a journalist, he was vitality itself: his energy was inexhaustible and in his denunciation of corruption. pumppuritanism, tyranny, and meanness of every kind, he spared no-one from the highest to the lowest. His contempt for the petty, and for the dishonorable, for the Pharisaic and the rottenly respectable, was unbounded; and his language in denouncing all shams and patrons of such was ? in its fervour. His literary style was wide; without the polish of the practised phrasemonger. It had in its rough and volcanic violence of diction the fury of an irresistible torrent of utmost apocalyptic invective. The keen shaft of satire that points the bitterness of Pope's lines was beyond him: the ponderous antitheses of Gibbon were too elaborate for a tribune of the people: but he poured out with the vigor of Rabelais or of Victor Hugo a whirlwind of fierce and stinging English that the "Bulletin" vainly attempted to imitate, and that only a genius Junius or a Butler could have rivalled. In Australia he was a power: and since we have referred to him as a modern Butler in prose, we may speak of him as being (as the epitaph on the author of "Hudibras" expresses so well) "a man of extraordinary learning, wit, and integrity; the curious inventor of a kind of satire amongst us, by which he plucked the mask from pious hypocrisy: the first and last of writers in his way".

As was natural, Mr. Norton made enemies, but his friends—and the poor were particularly his friends—knew full well the essential nobility of his real character. The flinty face he showed to the smug counterfeiters of society hid a kindly heart: and many of the poor of Sydney will lament a vanished friend, who did good by stealth, while his weaknesses were flaunted in the face of the world.

The "Oceania" newspaper was represented at the funeral service and at the graveside by the Editor, and now in these few lines we pay a final tribute to the memory of a great Australian journalist. He hated the false: and he did, he wrote, not always the best perhaps but the best as he saw it, for the annihilation of the false, and for the assertion of the liberties of the oppressed and the downtrodden.

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'Norton, John (1858–1916)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/norton-john-7863/text35129, accessed 17 October 2019.

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