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MacAlpine, Edward William (1890–1959)

by Anne-Maree Whitaker

Edward MacAlpine, c.1930

Edward MacAlpine, c.1930

State Library of Queensland, 66906024

Edward William MacAlpine, communist activist and newspaperman, was born on 7 June 1890 at 53 Canal St, Newry, County Armagh, Ireland, the son of James McAlpin, railway ticket clerk, and his wife Julia (née Hill). Julia had been a teacher before her marriage and the 1901 Irish census shows the McAlpine family sharing their home with Julia’s sister Margretta Hill, a music teacher, and brother Edward George Hill, a law clerk. Both the Hills and McAlpines were adherents of the Church of Ireland. 

Another of Edward’s uncles, John Gordon Hill, was one of Ireland’s leading journalists. After an apprenticeship in Newry, Hill joined the staff of the Irish Times and covered the agrarian unrest of the 1880s including the campaign against Captain Boycott. In the process he befriended many nationalist leaders including Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt.[1] Edward, or Eamonn as he was often known, followed Hill into journalism. His first move away from home was to Britain where he worked in the civil service as a temporary boy clerk from 1907, and an assistant clerk in inland revenue from 1911.[2]

In early 1915 Edward and his younger brother James sailed to New York. Soon after Edward formed a relationship with Genevieve Grace Reis, and they were married on Christmas Eve 1916 at New York City Hall.[3] She had arrived in the United States as Geni Reis with her mother Zirel (Celia) and sisters in 1906 from the Jewish enclave of Bolechov, Austria (now Bolekhiv in western Ukraine). Her father Simon had reached New York two years earlier.[4]

Eamonn moved in New York’s bohemian circles and by mid-1917 was secretary of the Liberal Club in Greenwich Village, which was a meeting place for radicals such as John Reed, Eugene O’Neill and Edna St Vincent Millay.[5] He also formed a close friendship with Irish trade union organiser Jim Larkin, who left Dublin for the USA after the 1913-14 Dublin lockout.[6] In May 1918 Larkin founded the James Connolly Memorial Socialist League in New York, with MacAlpine as its vice-chair. Inspired by John Reed’s first-hand account of the Russian Revolution, Larkin and MacAlpine joined attempts to force the Socialist Party to the left, and were elected to its executive in July 1919.[7]

MacAlpine arrived back in Ireland in 1919 carrying letters from Larkin to various comrades.[8] He spent the next year or so in Ireland and England before attending the Second Communist International Congress in Moscow, where he was one of two Irish delegates along with Roddy Connolly, 19-year-old son of 1916 Easter Rising leader James Connolly. MacAlpine was a delegate not only from the Communist Party of Ireland but also from the Communist Labor Party of America. The Comintern Congress took place in the Kremlin from 19 July to 7 August 1920, with a keynote address by Lenin. Delegates participated in a wide range of events, touring the country, attending shop meetings, watching theatrical performances, and participating in a subbotnik loading railroad ties. There was much interest in Connolly and MacAlpine’s report, as Ireland’s war of independence was regarded as a model for other anti-colonial movements.[9]

MacAlpine spent the next few years as a freelance journalist in Europe, reporting on Germany in the days following liberal politician Walther Rathenau’s assassination in June 1922, on the Ruhr with the first French occupation troops in January 1923, and on Spain shortly after the start of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship in September 1923. By 1924 he was back in London working for the Daily Guardian, a Sydney-based newspaper founded in 1923 by Joynton Smith and R.C. Packer. From early 1924 his byline, E.W.MacAlpine, started to appear on articles in the Melbourne newspaper The Herald.[10] The following year his daughter Julia Eaugenia Miriam was born in St Pancras, London; she was to be his and Genevieve’s only child.[11]

In 1925 MacAlpine sailed for Australia, where he would remain for four years. He was following the lead of his uncle John Gordon Hill, who worked on the Bairnsdale Advertiser in country Victoria in the 1890s before returning to spend 22 years on the staff of the Dublin-based Freeman’s Journal.[12] After working at the Melbourne Herald Eamonn was appointed editor of the Sunday Times. While he was in Australia his father came out on a visit, and made many friends before returning to Belfast where he died in 1929.[13] The Sunday Times closed in 1930 and MacAlpine returned to London; as The Bulletin explained, his ‘last Australian job was to nurse the “Sunday Times” through its last illness and bury it with fitting honors’.[14]

After stints as sub-editor at the London Sunday Times and Daily Express, in 1936 MacAlpine was appointed one of ‘ten brilliant editors’ of a new venture, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, founded by R.C. Packer’s son Frank. Its editor-in-chief was George Warnecke who was married to MacAlpine’s cousin Nora Hill, the daughter of John Gordon Hill. MacAlpine’s role was head of the London bureau, where he was to remain until the end of World War II.[15]

During the war he covered the impact on the home front as well as the military and political course of the war. He was regarded as ‘one of Fleet Street’s most indomitable characters’ and the ‘cheeriest and most audacious member’ of the Fleet Street Home Guard.[16] He was one of the journalists selected for advance notice of the D-Day landing in 1944, and followed the US troops into France.[17] In May 1945, before the war had ended, MacAlpine was appointed editor-in-chief of Consolidated Press and set off for Sydney. He still undertook some special assignments such as being the only Australian journalist covering the US nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946.[18]

In 1948 Eamonn and Genevieve’s daughter Julia was married at All Saints’ Woollahra, Sydney. She had been sent out to Australia during the London Blitz at the age of 15, and spent two years boarding at Frensham School, Mittagong. After school she enlisted in the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force and trained as a telegraphist. Her husband, John Denis Gleeson, was a squadron-leader in the RAAF and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[19]

MacAlpine received a Coronation medal in 1953. The same year he resigned as editor-in-chief at the age of 63, but remained a director of Consolidated Press. His position as editor-in-chief was taken by David McNicoll, who had served under him in the London bureau during the war.[20] As a director MacAlpine was an enthusiastic promoter of television and FM radio as areas for media expansion, giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Television in 1953 and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board inquiry into FM radio in 1957.

Edward William MacAlpine died of coronary occlusion at his home in Hunters Hill, Sydney, on 1 August 1959 leaving an estate of £19,000.[21] Tributes came from both sides of politics. Prime Minister Robert Menzies said: ‘He had a distinguished career both overseas and in Australia. He contributed much to journalism both as a writer and a picturesque personality, and as editor and executive director.’ Opposition leader H.V. Evatt described him as ‘a big figure in the newspaper world over many years’, adding ‘I knew him and valued his friendship, and extend the deepest sympathy to his family and many comrades.’[22] His widow Genevieve Grace MacAlpine died on 13 June 1961 in Tonbridge, Kent, England. A street in McKellar, ACT, is named after him.

Footnotes
[1] ‘John Gordon Hill’, Freeman’s Journal (Dublin), 5 November 1923, p 4.

[2] London Gazette, 3 September 1907, p 6024; and Edinburgh Gazette, 7 March 1911, p 235.

[3] New York City Municipal Archives, historical vital records 24 December 1916, certificate 5986.

[4] New York passenger arrivals 1892-1924 (Ellis Island), SS Moltke, 1904 and SS Main, 1906.

[5] Christine Stansell, ‘When the Village broke free’, New York Times, 2 June 2000, p 29; Edward W MacAlpine, US draft registration card, 5 June 1917.

[6] Manus O’Riordan, ‘Larkin in America’, Saothar, vol 4, 1978, pp. 50-53; Emmet O’Connor, ‘Larkin, James (1874–1947)’, Dictionary of Irish Biography, https://www.dib.ie/index.php/biography/larkin-james-a4685.

[7] O’Riordan, ‘Larkin in America’, pp 50-51; MacAlpine to Daly and O’Brien, 10 May 1918, William O’Brien papers, National Library of Ireland, MS 13,961/1/44.

[8] Larkin to Foran, 15 September 1919, William O’Brien papers, National Library of Ireland, MS 15,679/3/5.

[9] John Riddell (ed), Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!, New York, 1991 and 2013, two vols.

[10] ‘Famous journalist’, North Western Courier (Narrabri NSW), 10 May 1926, p 2.

[11] Birth on 16 February 1925, General Register Office, Volume 01B, p 78.

[12] ‘An Irish pressman in Australia’, Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), 19 January 1895, p 9; Bairnsdale Advertiser, 23 July 1898, p 2; ‘John Gordon Hill’, Freeman’s Journal (Dublin), 5 November 1923, p 4.

[13] ‘Old identity passes’, Labor Daily (Sydney), 11 October 1929, p 4.

[14] ‘The Inky Way’, The Bulletin, 17 September 1930, p 3.

[15] ‘Ten Brilliant Editors’, Sun (Sydney), 18 March 1936, p 9; Bridget Griffen-Foley, ‘Glen William (George) Warnecke’, Australian Dictionary of Biography https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/warnecke-glen-william-george-15903.

[16] E.W. MacAlpine, ‘The Germans killed my cat’, Daily Telegraph, 24 June 1944, p 7; ‘E.W. MacAlpine’, The Times, 3 August 1959, p 8.

[17] Larry Rue, ‘Letter from Tribune writer in Germany’, Chicago Tribune, 6 June 1954, p 11; Larry Rue, ‘Yanks behave magnificently, Aussie writes’, Chicago Tribune, 2 July 1944, p 2.

[18] ‘New editor-in-chief for Telegraph’, Daily Telegraph, 3 May 1945, p 2; ‘Bikini destruction less than in Pearl Harbor attack’, The Sun (Sydney), 2 July 1946, p 1.

[19] ‘Bride and ’maids in white organdie’, Daily Telegraph, 30 September 1948, p 12; ‘British evacuee youngsters have grown up here’, Australian Women’s Weekly, 25 March 1944, p 16; Julia MacAlpine, ‘A WAAF finds it easier to get in than out’, Daily Telegraph, 24 October 1945, p 10.

[20] ‘Changes in Cons. Press’, Daily Telegraph, 20 November 1953, p 3.

[21] Edward William MacAlpine, probate packet 4/498638, NSW State Archives.

[22] ‘Tributes to former Sydney editor’, Canberra Times, 3 August 1959, p 4.

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Citation details

Anne-Maree Whitaker, 'MacAlpine, Edward William (1890–1959)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/macalpine-edward-william-33050/text41198, accessed 29 January 2023.

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