Elizabeth Fairfax (née Jesson, 1778–1861), colonial free settler, was born in Birmingham and around 1800 married William Fairfax, whose family had previously held estates in Barford, Warwickshire. By the time of the birth of their sons, William junior and John (1804–1877), Fairfax senior was involved in the furniture trade. Widowed in 1835, she emigrated to New South Wales with John, his wife Sarah (née Reading, 1808–1875), and their three children in 1838. Three years later, John Fairfax, in partnership with journalist Charles Kemp, purchased the Sydney Herald, which became the Sydney Morning Herald in 1842. By the mid-1850s, John Fairfax, with his sons Charles John Fairfax (1829–1864) and James Reading Fairfax (1834 –1919), owned the Herald outright, building a highly successful publishing enterprise and a family association with the paper that would last almost 150 years. Elizabeth was remembered by her grandson James as ‘a woman of strong religious convictions’ who greatly influenced her son’s contributions to the Congregational Church in the colony. ‘It was her teaching and inheriting her strong character that led to [John Fairfax’s] success in life and in placing her sons and grandsons where they are’, he said. Elizabeth died in Sydney, aged 83, in 1861.


  • Title: Portrait of Mrs Fairfax
  • Creator: an unknown artist
  • Physical Dimensions: frame: 79.5 x 70.0 cm, support: 61.7 x 51.0 cm
  • Provenance: Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Gift of John Fairfax Holdings Ltd 2002 Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
  • Rights: https://www.portrait.gov.au/form-image-request.php
  • External Link: https://www.portrait.gov.au/portraits/2002.77
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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