Ezra Norton

Ezra Norton (8 April 1897 – 4 January 1967) was an Australian newspaper baron and businessman.[1]

Early life

Norton was born in the Sydney suburb of Watsons Bay, son of the proprietor of the Truth, John Norton (1858-1916) and Ada McGrath (1871-1960), whom he married some weeks later. During his childhood he was subject to his father's drunken assaults on his mother and himself. He was educated at Scots College, Bellevue Hill. Valerie Lawson notes that "Norton often stayed away from school and was thrashed when he did attend."[2] After failing to matriculate twice, he was sent to Christian Brothers' College, Waverley, where he was treated better.[2]

Norton learned the newspaper trade in his father's business. His father died in 1916, but had disinherited his wife and Ezra and left the bulk of his estate to Ezra's 9-year-old sister, Joan Norton (1907-1940). His mother Ada Norton (née McGrath) persuaded the New South Wales Parliament to backdate the new Testator's Family Maintenance Act to take effect before his father's death. Under this legislation, she succeeded in having his will rewritten in 1920 so that she and Ezra Norton each received a third of his inheritance, allowing Ezra Norton to gain control of Truth and Sportsman Ltd the publisher of the Sydney Truth, the Melbourne Truth, sister papers in Brisbane and Perth, and the Sydney Sportsman, each published on Sundays.[2]


Norton attempted to widen his papers' range by adding a little discussion of culture, but they soon moved back to their traditional coverage of sport, crime and divorce. Frank Packer's launch of the Sunday Telegraph in 1939 undermined the viability of the Sydney Truth and he attempted to fight back by establishing a daily paper to compete with the Telegraph and "The Sun" in which he succeeded despite wartime paper rationing. Frank Packer and Ezra Norton were bitter rivals in business for many years. On Derby Day 1939, Ezra Norton and Frank Packer fought it out literally, with fists, in the members' enclosure at Randwick Racecourse.[2][3] Norton gained a licence from the Minister for Trade and Customs, Eric Harrison to launch the Daily Mirror in Sydney in 1941.[4] Ezra Norton was awarded the Coronation Medal in May 1937 for Commerce.[5]

In 1957, Ezra Norton's horse Straight Draw won the Melbourne Cup.

In October 1958, Norton and his partners sold their newspapers to the Fairfax group from whom they were acquired by Rupert Murdoch in 1959.[2]

Norton was incensed by the content of a Cyril Pearl book highly critical of Norton's deceased father, and was "widely believed" to have lobbied the NSW State Government for changes that in 1958 extended defamation law to cover the reputation of the dead.[2][6]

Although Ezra Norton retained some business interests, by 1960 he had virtually retired from the business world. He resided at a waterfront mansion at Vaucluse until his death in 1967.


In 1922, Norton married an English war widow, Lillian Mary (Molly) Willoughby (1892-1952). Molly was a 29-year-old dancing teacher. He also adopted her infant son, John Stanley Norton. They were happily married for 30 years until Molly Norton died suddenly on 20 March 1952.

The following year on 11 June 1953, Norton married Emma Georgina (Peggy) Morrison (1915-2008) and they had one child, a daughter, Mary Norton. (Born 1955)


Ezra Norton died of cancer in his Vaucluse home on 4 January 1967 aged 69.[7] A large funeral was held at St Mary Magdalene Catholic Church at Rose Bay and his body was buried with his father, mother and sister in the Norton family plot at South Head Cemetery (refer: Waverley Cemetery ) with Catholic Rites.

He was survived by his wife Peggy,[8] and their daughter Mary and his adopted son, Dr. John Stanley Norton.[2] His estate was valued in 1967 at $4,000,000.[9]

Further reading

  • Sandra Hall. Tabloid Man - The Life and Times of Ezra Norton. Published by Fourth Estate/Harper Collins, Australia. 2008. (ISBN 978 0 7322 8259 2).


  1. Hall, Sandra. Tabloid Man. (Ezra Norton Biography). 2008
  2. Lawson, Valerie. "Norton, Ezra (1897 - 1967)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 20 August 2007.
  3. Claire Harvey Looking back over 70 years at The Sunday Telegraph Daily Telegraph 20 November 2009
  4. Hall, Sandra. Tabloid Man (Ezra Norton Biography). Fourth Estate/ harper Collins. Australia. 2008.
  5. Sydney Morning Herald. Coronation Medal (NSW State List). 12 May 1937. Page 7
  6. "Master of Philosophy Confirmation Seminar: An Historico-legal Study of the Defamation Act, 1958 (NSW)". UQ Events. University of Queensland. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  7. Sydney Morning Herald. Death Notice: Ezra Norton.-- 6 January 1967.
  8. Sydney Morning Herald. Death Notice: Emma Georgina (Peggy) Norton. Age 93.-- 29 Nov 2008.
  9. Hall, Sandra. Tabloid Man (Ezra Norton's Biography). 2008
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