The untold story of Critchley Parker Sr

My impression is that the history of journalists and newspapers in colonial Australia, and particularly Melbourne, is largely untapped. I wish someone had tracked more closely the movements of Frank “Critchley” Parker (1862-1944), as his life intersects in some significant ways with the childhood of Katharine Susannah Prichard. This is Critchley Parker Sr I’m talking about, as in recent times there has been interest in his son and his curious death; I’ll return to that. In Katharine’s autobiography, her father, Tom Prichard, made The Sun: The Society Courier the the “liveliest, wittiest weekly published in Melbourne” during his time as editor from c.1889 to c.1892, only for new owners to change the paper’s character, turn it into a “merely social weekly” and sack Tom (31).  It was a crisis point for the family, just as Katharine’s sister Beatrice was born, and led to them moving for Launceston for work. Yet strangely, Katharine’s second published story, and the earliest extant one, “That Brown Boy,” was published in the children’s page of The Sun in 1899. (You might be pleased to know that “Brown” is the surname of the protagonist.) Katharine lists her address as “Clareville,” her grandmother’s house, and I speculated in chapter four of my biography that perhaps she could only read The Sun at her grandmother’s house as her father wouldn’t have the newspaper which sacked him in his own house.

Much of this is called into question by the little I have discovered in the last week of Critchley Parker. He started The Sun in 1888, around the time he hired Tom as editor. Contrary to what Katharine believed, it doesn’t seem to have changed owners until 1897, when the socialist Henry Hyde Champion bought it, well after Tom had left. So why did Tom leave The Sun? And if it was a falling out with Critchley Parker, why did Parker re-hire Tom to edit his new newspaper, The Australian Mining Standard, in 1896? Tom held this position until his death in 1907, and, rather inconveniently, it makes my theory of a grudge against The Sun highly unlikely.

There are more elements to this. Newspapers didn’t talk about themselves or each other enough for my liking, but the few references to The Sun: The Society Courier in Trove digitised newspapers show that Parker started short-lived Sydney editions twice, in 1893 and 1896. Only copies of the second edition are held in Australian libraries; the first has disappeared forever. Could the first Sydney edition have something to do with Tom’s departure?

And then there’s Critchley himself. He was an ardent pro-conscriptionist in World War One and after his attack on anti-conscriptionists, a Catholic newspaper struck back with one of the richest, most gossipy and potentially least reliable biographical sources on him. “It was at this stage that the evolution from Ernest Frank Parker to F. Critchley Parker took place. He came across the name of a British Admiral, Sir Critchley Parker, and he determined, apparently, to convey the impression that he belonged to the family of that great Admiral. So he first became ‘F. Critchley Parker’ and later plain ‘Critchley Parker.'” [1] It goes on to detail his marrying into money, his divorce, and insists that any merit in any of his newspapers has never been his.

Parker was a keen fly-fisherman in Tasmania, inventing a fly which is still used today and publishing a book on the fish he’d killed. His son and namesake apparently shared his love of Tasmania. Critchley Jr fell in love with a Jewish journalist and became heavily involved in the Zionist movement. He was scouting out a potential site for a Jewish homeland in Tasmanian wilderness by himself when he died in 1942. It’s this curious story which has rightly received attention from historians in recent years; the details of his father’s life have been largely forgotten.

[1] “A Low Sectarian: Something About Critchley Parker,” Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), Saturday 28 April 1917, page 16. Download in PDF.

About Nathan Hobby

At work on a biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard for a PhD at the University of Western Australia. Also a novelist and librarian. View all posts by Nathan Hobby

2 responses to “The untold story of Critchley Parker Sr

  • whisperinggums

    Fascinating Nathan … as I wander around Trove I often wonder myself about the stories of the men and women who made it, and wish we knew more. It’s particularly frustrating when there are no bylines or the bylines are pseudonyms. Love the name change and the little story about the son. I can see you are enjoying your research even if it throws up the occasional “inconvenient truths”!


    • Nathan Hobby

      So true – these journos now obscured are the very ones now throwing light on their society through Trove. Contrary to my post I should actually perhaps celebrate just how much Trove has thrown up on Parker. “Inconvenient truths” – that’s a good way to put it! And yes, loving the research.

      Liked by 1 person

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