George Alexander Syme

George Alexander Syme (1821-94)

Newspaper Editor & Clergyman

Location: Pres*H*132

Born at Montrose, Scotland on 10 October 1821, the son of George Alexander Syme a schoolteacher and Jean née Mitchell; his younger brothers were Ebenezer (Melbourne General Cemetery) and David (Boroondara Cemetery), the latter whose proprietorship of The Age helped shape the political and social landscape of Victoria for over five decades. 

At the age of fourteen he entered the University of Aberdeen gaining an MA before studying theology and ultimately rejecting the dogma of both the Established Church of Scotland and the Free Presbyterian Church; under the influence of Rev James Morrison at Kilmarnock, Syme then went on to become a Baptist minister at Nottingham, England (1848-63) where he was said to have been active in radical progressive social causes notably Temperance, the early closing movement, shorter hours of labour, and the extension of suffrage. 

Described as “kindly, calm and considerate when unexcited, but incoherent under stress”, bad health forced Syme to migrate to Victoria in 1863. He rejected religion becoming a secularist, joined The Age and edited the paper for eight months in 1866 during his brother’s trip to England; for many years he was editor of The Age’s country journal, The Leader (1863-85) until ill-health forced his retirement; The Age described his influence as “a staunch Liberal and through little known to the Melbourne public, he did valuable service to the cause of Liberalism in the colony with his pen for many years”.

Syme died suddenly at the residence of his son, George Adlington Syme (q.v.), Collins Street, Melbourne on the last day of 1894 aged 73; Rev Charles Strong (q.v.) conducted a “simple but impressive burial service” attended by brother David, his trusted editor Arthur Windsor (Coburg Cemetery), Sir Samuel Gillott (Melbourne General Cemetery) and Baron Ferdinand von Mueller (St. Kilda Cemetery).

ADB Volume 6 1851-90 (R-Z).
Sayers, C., “David Syme. A Life” (1965).
The Age 1 & 3 January 1895.
The Leader 5 January 1895.

(Image courtesy La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN01/02/95/23)