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Molesworth, Voltaire (1889–1934)

by Peter Spearritt

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Voltaire Molesworth (1889-1934), journalist and politician, was born on 29 December 1889 at Balmain, Sydney, second surviving son of Hobart-born James Molesworth, wharf labourer, and his Sydney-born wife Elizabeth Ellen, née Vibert. Aged 3, he went with his parents to William Lane's New Australia settlement in Paraguay for about a year. After primary education in Sydney, he became a warehouse clerk and in 1912 joined the staff of the Cumberland Times, moving to a metropolitan daily, the Evening News, in 1914. He specialized in industrial affairs.

In October 1913 Molesworth became a delegate to the Nepean Federal Labor Council, over which J. T. Lang presided, and next September was defeated for the Federal seat of Nepean. Several times rejected for the Australian Imperial Force because of a heart defect, he became a leading opponent of conscription. Nonetheless, he opposed the anti-recruiting group in the Labor Party, regarding them as 'extreme internationalists'. He was finally accepted by the A.I.F. in 1918 but after three months his health failed and he returned to the Evening News.

Throughout the war Molesworth pursued two careers simultaneously, serving as secretary of the Nepean Labor Council (1914-18) and making a name for himself in journalism. As honorary auditor of the Australian Journalists' Association, he revealed that many members were not paying their subscriptions and was soon elected treasurer; after two years he was elected State president in 1919. That year he became chief of staff of the new newspaper Smith's Weekly.

Molesworth relished Labor politicking, playing a leading role in the Industrial Vigilance Council. A moderate, he opposed socialists like J. S. Garden and the One Big Union movement. In August 1919, while president of the Randwick Labor Council, he was attacked for using his talents on a capitalist paper and as an enemy of the working class, but managed to retain his recently secured position on the central executive of the State branch of the Labor Party and was a delegate to the Commonwealth Political Labor Conference that year. In March 1920 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Cumberland. Entering parliament at a time of leadership struggles within the party, Molesworth had leadership aspirations himself; in 1921 he was defeated for whip and in 1923 for secretary. Next year Lang tried to have Molesworth expelled for supporting a leadership challenge by T. D. Mutch. Molesworth explained his decision to retire from politics in Smith's Weekly on 6 December 1924: 'Labour in N.S.W. is torn with strife, intrigue and political corruption … One cannot be loyal to the Labour movement and be loyal to Mr Lang'.

Editor of the Daily Guardian since its foundation in July 1923, Molesworth delighted in exposing scandals, especially any involving Lang, but he lost his position in a management reshuffle in 1929. Next January he signed an agreement with R. C. Packer, whose Associated Newspapers Ltd had taken over Smith's Newspapers Ltd, to continue as managing editor on a salary of £50 a week, but in 1931 the contract was broken and he received substantial recompense. In 1932 he became managing editor of Sporting Life Publications Ltd, a Packer organization, and next year acquired Packer's shares to become a major shareholder; the company owned Turf Life which Molesworth ran in 1933.

He had turned to the Nationalists, serving them and their successors, the United Australia Party, as a voluntary publicity director. He also served as president of Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia. Nominated to the Legislative Council by the Stevens government in 1932, he did not stand for the reconstituted council in 1933.

Molesworth had married Ivy Vick at All Saints Church, Woollahra, on 6 November 1915; they had two daughters and a son, but Molesworth had little time for family life. In 1920 they had set up house at Burwood, in 1925 moved to Randwick and in 1932 to Vaucluse. He was an omnivorous reader, his books were his companions; he also collected coins and stamps. His career was cut short when he died as a consequence of mitral stenosis on 5 November 1934; he was cremated with Anglican rites. Lang later described him as a 'larrikin journalist', a master of political invective and innuendo.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Baume, I Lived These Years (Lond, 1941)
  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • G. Souter, A Peculiar People (Syd, 1968)
  • R. B. Walker, Yesterday's News (Syd, 1980)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1922, p 2767, 1924, p 129
  • Australasian Journalist, 15 Sept 1919
  • Newspaper News, 1 Dec 1934
  • Journalist, 31 Dec 1934
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Mar 1920, 6 Nov 1934
  • Daily Guardian (Sydney), 17 Oct 1924
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 6 Dec 1924
  • United Australian Review, 21 Sept 1932
  • V. Molesworth papers (State Library of New South Wales and National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Peter Spearritt, 'Molesworth, Voltaire (1889–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/molesworth-voltaire-7614/text13305, accessed 22 November 2017.

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