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14. Chapter XIV Second and Third Press Conferences

Two Lord Northcliffes—Interesting voyagers—Sir Wilfrid Laurier—George Ham—Mr. Meighan—McKenzie King—“Imperial” or “British”—Stephen Leacock—Among Red Indians—The Australian Conference—Old acquaintances—Lord Apsley—Anthony Eden, M.P.—A. P. Herbert's humour.


FIVE years after the first Imperial Press Conference there was the outbreak of war. The designs of Germany were revealed, and what was prophesied by Lord Roberts and others actually happened. “Distances between nations,” according to Ruskin, “are measured not by seas but by ignorance.” The late Viscount Burnham, speaking of the work of the first Imperial Press Conference, said:

“It helped more than any other conference to dissipate and dispel the fog of peace within the Empire, so that when the appointed hour came the fog of war was so thick that our enemies never saw through it and realised the essential unity of the Empire.”

Mr. Amery, M.P., put the position clearly when he said:

“The danger to pressmen as to politicians is to get absorbed in the little issues and forget the big

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one. The Conference of 1909 discussed the big problems that lay ahead with seriousness and in a practical spirit, such as was never seen in Parliament, and the result was that when they separated they knew what were the big issues with which the Empire might be faced any day. Though that was five years before the storm actually burst, there was not a village from one end of the Empire to the other which had not a true view of the cause and meaning of the recent war. No explanations were required; no long articles; all the people knew what the sacrifice would be.”

The second Imperial Press Conference was delayed by the war. It was not held until eleven years after the first Conference. At a meeting of the Australian section of the Empire Press Union held in Sydney I was appointed one of the Australian delegates to represent the Commonwealth. The number of delegates from Australia was fourteen.

When in London on their way to Canada, where the second Conference was held, many delegates again met Lord Northcliffe. The Lord Northcliffe of 1909 was different from the Lord Northcliffe of 1920. I was one of two delegates appointed at the first Conference by the Australian delegates to represent them on a subcommittee to form the constitution and rules of the Empire Press Union, an organisation that the first Conference decided to establish. The more we saw of him at that time the more we were charmed. Somewhat careless in his dress, at times almost shabby, but boyish in appearance and handsome, he talked little and was a good listener, always anxious to hear the views of

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others. With his firmly closed lips and Napoleonic face he gave the impression that he possessed an immense store of reserve power. The sub-committee, which numbered about fourteen or fifteen members, had several meetings in the Savoy Hotel. Lord Northcliffe was a most regular attendant. Though an extremely busy man he never missed a meeting, and he always arrived punctually. Controlling as he did so many newspapers he should be more concerned in the new organisation than anyone present, but he had the least to say of those present. In fact he only spoke once. It was when Mr. (afterwards Sir) Arthur Pearson attended and took the chair as chairman of the Executive Committee. Mr. Pearson and Lord Northcliffe were old newspaper rivals, but Mr. Pearson had been very ill—looked it—and was getting blind. Immediately the proceedings began Lord Northcliffe rose and, in a delightfully happy speech, expressed his pleasure at seeing Mr. Pearson well enough to attend. The genuine warmth and friendly feeling that was displayed by the two towards each other caused surprise amongst some of the journalists who only knew them as keen antagonists.

The Lord Northcliffe of 1909 was quiet and seemingly shy and retiring, but the Lord Northcliffe of 1920 appeared to us to be a different man altogether. He invited some of the overseas journalists who were on their way to Canada to visit The Times office, where they were shown round the literary, mechanical and other departments, and entertained. In appearance he had grown coarse and bulky, whilst in manner he was talkative, self-assertive, impatient and almost aggressive. He did not want to listen to others, but to

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talk himself. What interested him most was a wireless plant installed at the top of The Times office. He kept us there for a considerable time explaining its workings, and apparently he knew as much about it as the operators.

Mr. Moberly Bell, of The Times, told us that every morning between six and seven o'clock there was a ring on the telephone beside his bed. It was Lord Northcliffe, who had by that time read that morning's paper, and he there and then discussed with him its contents and its make-up. Invariably before breakfast Lord Northcliffe rang up the heads of the various newspapers he controlled and talked with them about features in that morning's issue of which he approved or disapproved.

Most of the British delegates to the Imperial Press Conference, as well as many of the overseas delegates, voyaged together on the C.P.O.S. Victorian from Liverpool across the Atlantic. There were a number of notable newspaper people on board, and they got to know each other intimately. There were several of the veterans of the first Conference, including the genial Sir Harry Brittain, as energetic and bright as ever. Sir Gilbert Parker, novelist, journalist, traveller and parliamentarian was with us. A Canadian by birth, Sir Gilbert produced his first play in Australia. The Times was represented by a Canadian, Sir Campbell Stuart, whose youthful, cheerful personality made him a general favourite. Sir Roderick Jones, of Reuters, with his newly married wife were also of the party. Perhaps the most attractive of the delegates was Colonel Sir

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Arthur Holbrook, M.P. Though seventy years of age yet in his ways he was the youngest of the travellers. He was the instigator of all the dances amongst the delegates, and he danced every dance. No matter how late the hour he always wanted the dancing to be continued so that he should have still more dances. The family record was remarkable. He had had six sons on active service. One of them got the Victoria Cross and others got various decorations, but all of them came back unscathed.


It was my third visit to Canada. The first time I was there in 1909, when, as a member of a party of Australian and New Zealand delegates to the Imperial Press Conference of 1909, we travelled through Canada on our way to London. During the couple of weeks we then spent in Canada we were the guests of the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. A special railway car was our home except when we occasionally spent a night at some of the beautiful hotels of the company. Luncheons and banquets were tendered to us wherever we went. Each of the provincial Governments and also the Dominion Government entertained us, and we were the guests of the then Governor-General, Earl Grey, and Lady Grey, at Rideau Hall, the historic home of Canadian Viceroyalty. We saw most of the wonders of Canada—vast prairies, where a few years previously buffaloes had wandered, converted into waving wheat fields, the immense pine forests, freshwater lakes that are great inland seas, the Niagara and Montmorency Falls, the stupendous grandeur of the

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Rocky Mountains, the far-famed Heights of Abraham and the walls and forts of quaint old Quebec, the majestic St. Lawrence river and the wonderful bridge over it at Quebec, as well as the Dominion's many activities in the fields of industry and commerce.

When in Canada in 1909 I was fortunate in meeting Sir Wilfrid Laurier, then Prime Minister of Canada. It was when we were the guests of the Governor-General. His charm and brilliancy were striking; he was handsome; he had a fine figure, his features well defined, his hair white; he had grace, courtesy and scholarly eloquence. At the first gathering of Empire statesmen in London he put in a few words the idea of Empire unity when he said, “If you want our aid call us to your councils.” At a dinner given by the Governor-General to the Australian and New Zealand journalists, Sir Wilfrid, when proposing “The Sister Dominions,” made a remarkable speech. He said:

“In connection with your reception in Toronto I was impressed by the statement made by one of you that you had come here as cousins and we received you as brothers. Truly as brothers we receive you—we are bound together by an even stronger tie than blood, a tie that is manifold in its embraces, not only binding together men of the same blood, but men of many origins, and connecting all in the common bond of citizenship. In a former period it was a proud boast in Asia Minor and Greece to proclaim, ‘I am a Roman citizen.’ In these days it is not ‘I am a Roman citizen,’ but ‘I am a British subject.’ It is in this

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quality that our guests are going to England at the present time.”

We met in Canada in 1909 an exceptionally remarkable man, Mr. George Ham. He was a sort of super-courier of the C.P.R. and was our cicerone through the Dominion. Before we landed at Victoria, British Columbia, from the steamer that brought us from Australia, he had come on board, and from then until we left he was our guide, philosopher and friend. All of us, especially the ladies, of whom there were several, got to love him for his kindliness and his wit. He was one of the best-known men in Canada, and wherever he went he seemed to exude his gospel of cheer. His fund of humorous stories was inexhaustible and his laughter infectious. Here are a few of his original sayings:

“Talk is cheap; that is why it is so prevalent.”

“Young man, when you think you know more than the boss does, it's time to quit.”

“Never offer an anchor to a drowning man.”

“Ours is a show world, but behind us all there is a Beneficent Showman.”

Once when he came round after an operation in a hospital he found himself in a darkened room. He asked the nurse the reason. “Well,” she explained, “there is a big fire across the street and we were afraid if you awoke and saw the flames you might think the operation hadn't been successful.”

One of his stories was about a judge during the Caribou gold rush who fined a miner two hundred dollars.

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“That's dead easy, for I've got it here,” said the culprit, “in my hip pocket.”

“And six months in jail. Have you,” continued the judge, “that in your hip pocket?”

Another of his stories was about the same judge, who sentenced a wicked old man guilty of a heinous crime to ten years' hard labour. “Your honour,” said the prisoner, “I'll never live to do as much as that.” “Well,” answered the judge, “you do as much of it as you can.”

When we parted with George Ham at Quebec we made him a presentation. Tears ran down his cheeks, and there were few of us whose eyes were not dim. The last time I saw him was in a hospital in Montreal in 1920. He was not wealthy, but he had what he told us he valued more than millions—the affection of thousands of friends. He died in Montreal in 1926 in his seventy-ninth year.


The Conference of 1920 was held at the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa. A month or so before it met, the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, had retired through ill-health. His successor, Mr. Meighan, welcomed the delegates. A quiet, spare-looking man between forty and fifty years of age, the new Prime Minister spoke deliberately and almost hesitatingly. His words were brief and to the point. It was true when he said: “As you pass through Canada you will find no disappointment in all you have been led to expect of the resources and hospitality of the people. You will find the bone and sinew very sound, the

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blood red and pure. You won't locate anything unhealthy in the body commercial.”

The leader of the Opposition, Mr. William Lyon McKenzie King, was also present. Like the Premier, he is a lawyer, and was then in the prime of middle age. We were interested to learn, as a striking example of Canada's changed attitude towards Britain, that his maternal grandfather, William Lyon McKenzie, in 1837 took up arms with the idea of establishing a republic, and led an armed revolt against the domination of a clique of ruling officials called “The Family Compact.” The revolt quickly collapsed and the leader fled to the United States. Later he was amnestied, and, having been cured of his love for republican institutions, he re-entered public life, in which before the revolt he had been a member of Parliament and a prominent figure. He was again elected to the Legislature. History describes him as turbulent and ungovernable, often the dupe of schemers, but he could neither be bribed, bullied nor cajoled. Though a poor man, he refused from Lord Goderick an offer of a position of influence with a salary of £1,500. The evils against which he struggled were real and grave, and he hastened their reform. It is a curious reflection that the grandson of a rebel leader, for whose head a price was offered, should be later the Prime Minister of Canada.

Mr. McKenzie King suggested an alteration in the title of the Conference from “Imperial” to “British.” He admitted there may be reasons for preferring the word “imperial,” but added: “With the struggles of the recent past, the word ‘imperial’ has come to denote a kind of centralisation in all matters of

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organisation and in method, autocracy rather than democracy, and as such is not adequately expressive of the spirit of the several democracies that comprise the nations of the British Commonwealth. The word ‘British,’ on the other hand, is suggestive of spirit rather than form. It speaks of an attitude that is synonymous with freedom, justice and liberty, fair play and right, and as such it tends to give a larger and finer meaning and significance to everything with which it is associated. Moreover, it is all-embracing and world-encircling, and it is, above all else, distinctive.”

With the approval of the Conference, Lord Burnham declared that, in spite of what Mr. McKenzie King had said, they would stick to their name. “We are proud of Britain,” said he, “but not ashamed of the Empire. It stands for liberty and equality, and has nothing in common with ramshackle empires of the past. The reason we have adopted our name is because we include in our membership nations that are not British. There are representatives in this Conference from the Empire of India and the colony of Malta.”

To many delegates the word “British” could scarcely be as acceptable as “imperial.” The term “British” and the talk of a “blood bond” could not be a strong reason for imperial unity to delegates such as Dr. Bartolo of Malta, Mr. de Lisser of Jamaica, Mr. Levi, a South African Dutchman, and Mr. Ollemans of Bloemfontein. In addition, there were representatives of more than two million French-speaking Canadians.

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Lord Athelstan was the principal Canadian host. He was at the first Conference as Sir Hugh Graham. He then struck everyone as remarkably retiring and unassuming. When the Glasgow University included him amongst the delegates on whom the honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred, he confided to me that he had doubts about accepting it, as he thought his educational attainments did not justify his carrying the designation of “doctor.” He feared he would feel that he was sailing under false colours. However, he was persuaded by his friends to take it. Few self-made men are troubled with excessive modesty, but he is essentially self-made. At fifteen years of age he was an office boy in the office of a newspaper, of which two years later he was manager. He was half owner of the Montreal Star when he was nineteen years old and full owner at twenty-one. He was Chairman of the Canadian Press Committee.

He entertained the delegates at a brilliant banquet at Montreal. Many Canadian notabilities were there. Professor Leacock made a characteristically humorous speech. He was head of the Department of Political Economy at the McGill University, and he told the visitors what was before them:

“You are to be given dinners and luncheons all the way from here to Vancouver, to be shown waterfalls, factories and works of all kinds, and in the spirit of true British brotherhood you are going to stand for it. I form something of a mental picture of you delegates when you get to

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a town at the end of the trip and they say, ‘This is the principal factory of our town, we want you to see it.’ Some men break down in hysteria and say in a quavering voice, ‘Is that your principal factory really?’ Others go off in a flying rage and say, ‘By heaven, don't show me that!’ But you are come to eat these luncheons and look at these factories because that is the way we bind our British Empire together.”

The visitors certainly had hospitality showered on them during their stay of more than six weeks in Canada. Their headquarters were two luxurious trains, in which they travelled from place to place. Their thoughtful hosts arranged that the monotony of the journey was broken by numerous motor trips and days and nights spent in the wonderful hotels of the Dominion. They saw Canada from east to west, travelling back by a different route to the one they went.

On arrival in Canada, when contemplating the lengthy programme of hospitality and travelling, one of the delegates, with a sardonic sense of humour, remarked, “I wonder who amongst us will die in Canada from all the travelling and feasting prepared for us.”

The reply promptly came in a shocked voice, “No one.”

He quietly answered, “Surely it is contrary to the law of average, especially when so many of the delegates are old and some of them sickly, that they should all survive such lavish feasting.”

A doctor and nurse accompanied the delegates

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wherever they went to provide medical attention for them during the whole of their stay in Canada.

The delegate who made the gloomy prediction was much surprised when the tour ended and no one died. When asked to account for it, he replied that that was “the most phenomenal thing about a trip crowded with phenomena.”

At Grand Pré, in Acadia, Nova Scotia, Lady Burnham unveiled a statue to the heroine of Longfellow's poem “Evangeline,” a story founded on a painful occurrence. When early in the eighteenth century Nova Scotia was ceded to Britain by the French, and later when war again broke out between France and Britain, the Acadians were rightly or wrongly accused of assisting the French with provisions and ammunition. The British authorities banished them from their homes and dispersed them amongst British American Colonies far from their much-loved, beautiful land.

When the Blackfoot Indians were visited at their reservation near Gleichon, the head of the party, Lord Burnham, was invested with the honour of chieftainship, and received the name of “Old Sun.” He was solemnly garbed in Indian fashion, squaws danced, and there was an Indian and cowboy exhibition in which wild cattle were lassoed, infuriated steers ridden and bucking horses mounted. The Indians made a splendid showing—mounted, painted and in full war costumes—as they swept across the prairie.

At hotels we met a good many Americans who did not hesitate to claim that they had won the war. At Lord

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Athelstan's Montreal banquet also there were United States journalists who expressed this view in somewhat aggressive terms. Sir John Willison, The Times representative in Canada, interpreted the delegates' views accurately when in the course of a speech he referred to what Canada had done in the war, and said:

“We sent our best and some 60,000 of them are still over there. We acted as we did because there was nothing else to do. Nor have we ever claimed that we won the war. If a Canadian may say it, we received the world's respect and kept our own, and that is enough for a decent individual or a decent nation.”

The speech was lost probably on those for whom it was meant, but it gave Britishers satisfaction!

The Duke of Devonshire was Governor-General of Canada. The delegates to the first Conference had been his guests at luncheon at Chatsworth, and the members of the Canadian Conference were his guests at Rideau Hall.


It was in September and October, 1925, that the third Imperial Press Conference was held, and the venue was Melbourne. There were six of the delegates who had attended all three Conferences—namely, Lord Burnham, Sir Harry Brittain and Sir Emsley Carr from England, Mr. J. W. Dafoe from Canada, and Mr. Theodore Fink and myself from Australia. Quite a number of the delegates had attended two of the Conferences. Lord Burnham, as Mr. Harry Lawson,

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was an active participant in the first Conference. His father, the first Lord Burnham, was President of the Committee that made the arrangements for the initial Conference, and on his death his son succeeded him in the Presidency of the Empire Press Union. The second Lord Burnham was the leader of the delegates who visited Canada, as he was also of the delegates who visited Australia, and in that capacity he was ideal, ever ready to say the right thing, and to the delegates courteous, considerate and affable. His charming wife, Lady Burnham, was as imbued as her husband with the desire to be of service to others, and was of great help to him in his work.

Amongst other delegates whose acquaintance it was a pleasure to renew were Sir Frank Newnes, son of the founder of Tit-Bits, Messrs. J. W. Dafoe of Winnipeg, C. F. Crandall of Montreal, J. R. Woods of Calgary, and Professor Bartolo of Malta.

Captain Anthony Eden, M.P., represented the Yorkshire Post, and he was accompanied by Mrs. Eden. It was but a year or two before that he had won the House of Commons seat for Warwick and Leamington. One of the Opposition candidates was a close relative, the socialist Countess of Warwick. Her son had married Eden's sister, but political differences did not interfere with family relationships, and the rival candidates were good friends even during the heat of the contest. When the poll was declared, Eden secured 16,337 votes, the Liberal, Mr. George Nichols, 11,134, and the Countess was at the bottom of the poll with only 4,015.

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When the British Press delegates were passing through New Zealand they were taken to the heights of Mount Eden, and at Auckland Captain Eden appropriately responded to the toast of the visitors, and recalled the connection between his family name and the city. About three miles from his own home is the small town of West Auckland, from which Lord Auckland, from whom he is descended, took his name. The name had been bestowed on the city, but it is a case of the child having outgrown the parent.

In Melbourne Captain Eden, representing as he did a Yorkshire paper, pointed out that Yorkshire has a specially close connection with Australia. He added, “Captain Cook was a Yorkshireman; it was his genius and courage explored your shores. Herbert Sutcliffe, a Yorkshireman, it was whose batting explored your bowling. A connection based on such a dual foundation must endure.”

Captain Eden's speeches were marked by his keen desire to further imperial unity and Empire preferential trade. In his last speech in Australia he wisely said: “A population of 6,000,000 is surely no corollary of a White Australia policy. There must be a considerable and more rapid increase of population if Australia is to be permanently safe for democracy.”

When he returned to England Captain Eden published his delightful book about the tour, “Places in the Sun,” a copy of which he sent me. There is an introduction by Mr. Stanley Baldwin, and in it Captain Eden freely and frankly, but shrewdly, discusses Empire problems, including the plethora of Australian Parliaments, second chambers, centralisation, governors from England, the aborigines, markets, compulsory

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voting, American competition, railway gauges, and tropical Australia.

One of the brightest memories of the Conference was Mr. A. P. Herbert of Punch. He described himself as “representing one of the more serious weekly papers.” The essence of humour is surprise, and he thought that was why people laughed when they saw a joke in Punch.

Whenever he sought enlightenment on some bird or beast or flower he was invariably told, “Oh! that is a pest; it comes from England.”

The visitors were taken round Canberra, then in course of erection. Mr. Herbert remarked that at Carthage visitors were shown the ruins of the historic buildings of a city which existed in remote times, but at Canberra they had the unique experience of going round a series of historic buildings that never had existed.

Tattersall's sweep in Tasmania he regarded as encouraging the three cardinal virtues—faith, hope and, in many cases, charity.

Matrimony is said to be a gamble, but in his opinion it is not; the gambler always has a chance.

Mr. Herbert's estimate of news values he indicated by the remark, “There is more joy in Fleet Street over one lover who cuts his sweetheart's throat than over nine hundred and ninety-nine just men who live happily ever after.”

He added, “The Psalmist said: ‘Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’ In Fleet Street they knew very well that joy might last a

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night, but a murder would last a fortnight. The best news story was bad news.”

The experience of the delegates to the third Conference in Australia was somewhat similar to that of the delegates to the second Conference in Canada. A couple of months were spent travelling from north to south of the continent, and from the far-famed Sydney Harbour in the East to the picturesque blue reaches of the Swan river in Western Australia. They were brought through the pastoral areas to view the extent of the wool and stock raising industries, to the agricultural districts to learn about wheat production; to see silver-mining at Broken Hill, coal-mining at Newcastle and gold production at Kalgoorlie; to inspect dairy farms and apple orchards, vineyards and vast city factories. They could view for themselves the wonderful resources of the continent and its immense empty spaces crying aloud for population. But what was even more useful from the Empire viewpoint was the close contact of the delegates with each other and the mutual exchange of knowledge and ideas of the Empire with its multifarious problems.

Photograph Facing Page 316: Imperial Press Delegates at Kalgoorlie, 1925. Photographed after spending an hour underground at Gt. Boulder Perserverance Mine. Left to right: Mr. Ernest Williams (general manager); Major the Hon. J.J. Astor, M.P. Fourth from left is Sir Frank Newnes, Bt., with Captain R.J. Herbert Shaw (The Times). Lady Violet Astor has Sir Joseph Reed on her left; Sir John Kirwan is carrying a miner's lamp, and on his left is Mr. Kyffin Thomas. Mr. J.M. Anderton (Hon. Sec. Kalgoorlie Reception Committee) is on the extreme right.