Rod Kirkpatrick: Moving Targett they missed

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The first time I encountered Walter Scott Targett, he was wrongly introduced to me as having founded the Lithgow Mercury in 1878. Later, I ran into him in Broken Hill as the editor of the Argus in 1888 and in Port Pirie as the editor of the Standard in 1889.

But Targett was missing from all the Australian press biographical lists that I consulted to try to find out more about the man. Recently I bumped into him again and, with the benefit of the National Library’s Trove website, and its digitised newspapers, a Targett descendant and newspaper indexers Rod and Wendy Gow, I have been able to piece together much of the story of the man who edited newspapers in four colonies – at Casterton (Victoria), Lithgow, Broken Hill and Warren (NSW), Port Pirie (South Australia), and Latrobe (Tasmania).

Walter Scott Targett was born on April 3, 1849, in the Thames-side locality of Rotherhithe (then Surrey), one of eight children of David Scott Targett, farmer and ship-builder, and his wife, Eliza. The family migrated to New South Wales in 1854 and some of the children were born in Australia.

David and wife Eliza immediately settled their growing family at Cundletown, near the junction of the Manning and Dawson rivers, where Targett grew sugar cane reasonably successfully.

In the second half of the 1860s, he operated cross-river punts firstly at Cundletown and later at Tinonee, further up the Manning. He also became the licensee for Tinonee’s Ferry Inn for about nine months from September 1870 while son Walter was involved in cricket and rowing in the town.

From April 1865 Tinonee had a newspaper, the Manning River News, and, according to compositor George Else, Walter served his apprenticeship there. In 1870 the News printed a booklet containing a long poem, The Last of the Tribe that Targett had written. After Tinonee, Targett spent about a year in New Zealand before moving to Victoria for about six years. He was probably an employee of the Melbourne Argus in 1872 before joining the Colac Herald for about three years. He launched the Casterton News in Victoria’s Western District in early March 1875.

Targett married Emily Chapman on September 23, 1875, at Colac and their first child, Harold Scott – later to become the sporting editor of Sydney Truth – was born at Casterton on February 9, 1877.

In April 1878, Targett sold the Casterton News in what Mount Gambier’s Border Watch described as “quite a sudden arrangement, no intimation of Mr Targett’s intention to retire from the business having been made”.

Six months later, the Targetts arrived in Sydney on the steamer Logan, and two months later Emily gave birth at suburban Petersham to their second child, Sydney Phillip, who would survive only 16 months. Meanwhile Walter had started work as a compositor on the Lithgow Mercury, which had began publication in October 1878 even as the Lithgow Valley Coal Company opened a “large works for the manufacture of earthenware pipes, fire-bricks, terra cotta, and all descriptions of pottery”.

In the Mercury’s centenary supplement, Targett was featured prominently – and incorrectly – as the founding owner-editor. In fact, he bought the paper more than three months after it had begun publication.

On January 24, 1879, Lithgow auctioneer H. Mortlock advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald that on January 28 at 3 o’clock he would sell by auction, without reserve, the “whole of the plant with goodwill and immediate possession of the Lithgow Mercury, consisting of superior Albion printing press, type, ink, bill and note paper, cards, and all necessary materials for carrying on a printing business”. Mortlock said the plant was “entirely new, being only three months in use, and is positively to be sold solely on account of the indisposition of the proprietor”. The Mercury had a weekly issue of 300 copies.

The “indisposition of the proprietor” referred to more than his physical health. The editor of another paper wrote in July 1883 that Targett had gone to the ‘Valley of the Black Diamonds’ (Lithgow) as a poor compositor and had worked at the case, but the paper had been sold when “the original boss wasn’t able to come down with the wages every Saturday”.

As a newspaper publisher, Targett made an immediate mark on Lithgow: He was invited to “christen” the Lithgow Valley Saw Mills in May 1879 and was elected secretary of the town’s School of Arts by August 1879.

In December 1882, Targett was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly as the Member for Hartley, a seat he held until January 1887. He won such esteem in Lithgow that in July 1883 the community presented him with £110 ($220) and an illuminated address as a testimonial for his public services.

Targett’s political career took a large chunk of his time until the beginning of 1887, and his involvement with the Mercury was intermittent. He took in two partners, William Lawson and Mason Whittard Gilbert, three months before he was elected to Parliament. In December 1886, they sold the newspaper to Charles Lawrence and Mary Winifred Caulfield.

For the first six months of 1888 Targett managed and edited the Broken Hill Argus. On February 20, as the Argus became a daily, Targett said the paper would advocate the “federation of the colonies, without which there is no possibility of Australia taking her place among the nations”. Within three weeks, Broken Hill had three dailies.

Targett probably left Broken Hill only because he had a bout of typhoid fever in May that year. Forty people farewelled him at a banquet on June 16. Targett said he was “leaving under peculiar circumstances, but he had no wish to allude to them”.

From Broken Hill, he headed to South Australia to manage and edit the Port Pirie Standard, when it was launched – on January 4, 1889, by James Cowan, politician and businessman, and Fred Grey, auctioneer and shipping agent. In his introductory editorial, Targett said the Standard was the result of a desire by residents to “provide a representative journal that would advocate in a competent manner the interests of the district.”

It was clear that those “interests” were to boost the town’s port. Targett said “the whole power of the metropolitan press” had been ruthlessly used to push the claims of Port Pirie into the background “to the undue advantage of the capital”.

During his short stint as editor of the Broken Hill Argus, Walter Targett had “infused a certain vivacity” into the newspaper, according to the Kapunda Herald. At Port Pirie, however, he mostly used sarcasm, particularly in attacking the rival Advocate. While in South Australia, he became general secretary of the Waterside Workers’ Federation

In 1890, Targett shifted to Latrobe, Tasmania, to launch the North Coast Standard on April 5. He quickly became immersed in the Latrobe community, chairing a concert in May, presenting a lecture on ‘Tennyson, poet and prophet’ in July, and becoming a committee member of the Latrobe Turf Club in September. He was a dominant figure in any community, standing 6ft 6in (198cm) tall and weighing 22 stone (140kg).

Targett sold his Latrobe newspaper at the beginning of 1891 and in February that year, began operating a real estate agency at the mining town of Zeehan, on the west coast of Tasmania. By May he had become the chairman of Zeehan’s Progress Committee and in March 1892 he became a member of the Zeehan Hospital Committee.

Evidence indicates he probably departed Tasmania around the end of 1892 after failing in an application for a hotel licence at Sheffield. By 1895 he was a hotel keeper at Campbelltown near Sydney and he had daughters born in that district in March 1894, September 1896 and July 1898. He had letters to the editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald in March and November 1894 and April 1897.

In 1899 he returned to newspapers, editing the Warren Herald in north-western NSW. He was soon the secretary of the Warren Jockey Club. He stayed until mid-1901 and was presented with a purse of sovereigns on departing.

Somehow he was one of the delegates in October that year when the NSW Country Press Association held its first annual conference. For the rest of his life, Targett appears to have lived in Sydney. In 1908 he was a valuer for Hurstville Council and in 1918 he was working for the Government Printer.

He died on September 9, 1918, from injuries received when he was run over by a steam tram outside Kogarah railway station.
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