HACKETT, Sir John Winthrop (1848-1916)

HACKETT, Sir John Winthrop (1848-1916)
journalist and public benefactor
was the eldest child of the Rev. J. W. Hackett, M.A., and his wife, Jane, a daughter of Henry M. Mason, LL.D. He was born in the county of Dublin, Ireland, on 4 February 1848 and was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated B.A. in 1871 and M.A. in 1874. He was called to the Irish bar, but almost at once emigrated to Sydney, where he was called to the New South Wales bar in 1875. He took up journalism and contributed to the Sydney Morning Herald, but in the following year went to Melbourne to become vice-principal and tutor in law, logic and political economy, at Trinity College. In 1880 he was a candidate for Normanby at an election for the legislative assembly as an advanced liberal, but was so badly defeated that he lost his deposit. At a later election he was opposed to (Sir) John Madden (q.v.) and this time lost by only a small margin. In 1882 he resigned his positions at Trinity College and went to Western Australia. He became a squatter in the Gascoyne district, but his first season was a bad one and he decided to give up the land. He joined forces with Charles Harper, the proprietor of the West Australian, and very soon his influence on this paper began to be felt. The Western Mail was established in 1885 and both papers became prosperous. In 1887 Hackett became editor of the West Australian and strongly advocated responsible government. Western Australia received its constitution in 1890, and Forrest (q.v.) selected Hackett as the first man to be asked to join the nominee legislative council. The population of the colony was still under 50,000 but it was beginning to rise, and the discovery of gold accelerated this very much. The papers grew with the population and became very valuable properties. Hackett as editor was writing a daily leading article, and was also the business manager. In 1894 he was elected to the legislative council as representative of the South-western province and held this seat until his death. He had been a delegate to the 1891 federal convention, he was also a delegate in 1897, and was appointed a member of the constitutional committee. He was asked to join more than one ministry, but had to decline as it was impossible for him to add to the work he was already doing. He was also of opinion that as a newspaper editor he would no longer be able to speak with the same freedom if he were in office. He advocated women's suffrage, and Western Australia was one of the earliest countries to give women the vote. He also strongly supported Forrest in his development policy, in the building of the pipe line to the goldfields, and the making of Fremantle harbour. He was interesting himself very much in the Perth public library, museums, and national gallery of which he became president, and also in the proposed university. He was a prominent member of the Church of England holding the offices of registrar of the diocese and chancellor of St George's cathedral. He declined a knighthood in 1902 but accepted it in 1911, and two years later was created K.C.M.G. The university was opened in 1913 with Hackett as its first chancellor, and he gave it its first substantial private contribution when he endowed the chair of agriculture. His partner, Charles Harper, had died in 1912, and Hackett was now in complete control of their papers. He went on working to the day of his death. His health began to fail in 1915 and he took a trip to the eastern states which appeared to have benefited him. He, however, died suddenly on 19 February 1916. He married in 1905 Deborah Drake-Brockman who survived him with four daughters and a son. He was given the honorary degree of LL.D. by Trinity College Dublin in 1902. Under his will a bequest to the Church of England paid for the building of St George's College, the first residential college within the university. The residue of his estate went to the university which received the sum of £425,000. £200,000 of this with accrued interest was used for the erection of a group of buildings which include Winthrop Hall and the student's building, Hackett Hall. Another £200,000 provides scholarships, bursaries and other financial help for deserving students.
Hackett was a fine example of the successful business man who was willing to give his time and money for the encouragement of things of the mind and spirit. He was a clear and able speaker, a wise and benevolent man who believed in morality, humanity, and the spread of knowledge. A highly strung man he crammed an enormous amount of both public and private work into his life of 68 years.
Burke's Peerage, etc., 1916; Melbourne University Calendars, 1876-82; The West Australian, 21 and 22 February 1916; The Argus Melbourne, 21 February 1916; H. Colebatch, A Story of a Hundred Years; Calendar of the University of Western Australia, 1939.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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