John Fairbairn

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(1794-1864) Newspaper propietor, educator, financier and politician. According to the Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, “The embryo of the State education system we know today, trial by jury, the principle of the mutual life assurance company – all these were fruits of his endeavours at the Cape”.


Born in Carolside Mill in the Parish of Legerwood, Berwickshire, Scotland on 9 April 1794, the son of James Fairbairn and Agnes Black. He attended the University of Edinburgh where he studied Medicine “acquiring at the same time a more than passing knowledge of classical languages and mathematics”. In 1818, however, he turned to education, and for more than 5 years taught at Bruce’s Academy in Newcastle upon Tyne. Here he also joined the Literary and Philosophical Society.

Arrival in South Africa

In 1822, Thomas Pringle persuaded him to emigrate to Cape Town, promising a literary and teaching career in the recently annexed Cape Colony. Fairbairn arrived in Table Bay on 11 October 1823. Here he founded a school with Thomas Pringle and founded (again with Pringle) the South African Journal (1824) and the New Organ (1826) and became co-editor and later sole editor of the South African Commercial Advertiser (till 1859). By gaining the right to publish unhampered, they established the principle of freedom of the press in South Africa. He later founded the vast and influential Old Mutual Insurance Company. Married Elizabeth (Eliza) Philip, daughter of John Philip on 24 May 1831. Five children were born to Fairbairn and Eliza. He died in Cape Town.

Role in theatre


Bosman, 1928: pp.

Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa

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