‘None of the Grays was any good’: The Gray family and the Freeman’s Journal, 1841-1893

Felix Larkin

The Freeman’s Journal was the main nationalist daily newspaper in
Dublin in the nineteenth century, and it was the unofficial organ of
the Irish Parliamentary Party at Westminster from the mid-1870s
onwards. It was published continuously from 1763 to 1924.

The Gray family were owners of the Freeman for over fifty years –
from 1841, when it was purchased by Sir John Gray, to 1893. The
family’s involvement with the Freeman spanned three generations, and
they made it an important newspaper.

The repeal in the 1850s of the oppressive duty on advertisements and
then on the newspapers themselves opened the way for a great expansion
in the newspaper market. Sir John Gray exploited this opportunity,
growing the circulation of the Freeman from as little as 2,000-3,000
copies per day to approximately 10,000. Under his son, Edmund Dwyer
Gray, its production capacity was further increased, its circulation
again grew threefold – to over 30,000 copies per day – and it
became extremely profitable. In addition, in 1882 he acquired the
Belfast Morning News.

In 1887, Edmund converted the Freeman into a public company, while
retaining control for himself and his family. He died at the early age
of forty-two in 1888, and for the next four years the company was
effectively under the control of his widow and their young son, also
Edmund Dwyer Gray. They lost control of the newspaper as a result of
the internal divisions within the Irish party in the aftermath of the
‘Parnell split’.

Both Sir John Gray and the elder Edmund Dwyer Gray were prominent in
municipal politics in Dublin and they were also Members of Parliament,
and Edmund might have led the Irish Party but for the advent of
Charles Stewart Parnell.

The family had strong connections with Australia. The wife of the
elder Edmund Dwyer Gray was a daughter of the Anglo-Australian
philanthropist Caroline Chisholm, and their son emigrated to Australia
in 1894 after he lost control of the Freeman. He had a successful
journalistic and political career in Tasmania.

James Joyce has one of the characters in his story ‘Grace’ in
Dubliners exclaim that ‘none of the Grays was any good’. My paper
will outline the Gray family’s involvement with the Freeman, and
will consider whether Joyce’s verdict on the family is justified.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900