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Using Your Pain to Forge Your Own Path: John Fairfax’s Story

Warwick Fairfax

April 24, 2019

John Fairfax, my great-great-grandfather, is a perfect example of a man who did not let his crucible experience define him. Rather, his crucible experience was the springboard to bring his vision to life. It created an inflection point that changed the path of his life and the course of my family’s future.

John Fairfax was born in 1804 in the county of Warwickshire in England (hence the first name that my father and I have). He did not grow up a wealthy man. At age twelve, John was apprenticed to a local bookseller and printer. At age twenty, he moved to London to work for the Morning Chronicle newspaper. He later moved back to Warwickshire and founded the Leamington Chronicle.

John’s Crucible Moment

In 1836, John was faced with a crucible moment. His paper published an article condemning the conduct of a local lawyer. The lawyer sued the paper. While the court ruled in favor of John Fairfax and the Leamington Chronicle, the lawyer —knowing that John’s resources were limited — sued the paper again. The court again ruled in favor of John and the paper.  Unfortunately, the heavy legal expenses forced John into bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy left John devastated. All that he had dreamed of over the last decade seemed to be gone. The townspeople, including friends from his local church, wanted to raise money to support John and help the Leamington Chronicle continue, but John would not accept charity.

Moving Forward 

In 1838 John and his wife, Sarah, took their three young children on the arduous four month journey to Australia. John felt unfairly persecuted, but he did not give up on his dream of building his own newspaper. If anything, the dream and the vision grew.

John’s vision of building a paper “without fear to express opinion…without the reproach of self-interest, sworn to no master and free from the narrow interests of sectarianism” eventually would become a reality. In 1841, John purchased the Sydney Morning Herald.

The existing motto of the paper fit neatly into John’s vision: “In moderation placing all my glory, while Tories call me Whig – and Whigs a Tory.” In today’s language, it would read, “while Conservatives call me Liberal and Liberals call me Conservative.” Unlike many papers of the day, John’s newspaper would not be a party newspaper.

John was able to forgive the wrong done to him and was not bitter. Years later, John would return to Leamington and pay off the debts of his creditors, even though he did not have to. They were wiped clean in bankruptcy. John even paid off the debts of the lawyer who had unfairly sued him.

What can we learn from John’s story?  

  • Our failures don’t have to define us.
  • Our failures can sometimes be a catalyst for bold risk-taking.
  • Our crucible moments can increase our determination and expand our vision — and help bring that vision to life.
  • To be able to move forward, we need to forgive.

John’s story is a great example of how a crucible experience of great loss, tragedy, and unfair persecution can motivate us to achieve our vision. We could do well to learn from John Fairfax and the way he allowed his crucible experience to propel him forward.

Crucible Leadership, Warwick Fairfax, Inspiration, Leadership, Coaching, Leading a Life of Significance, Refined


  • How can your crucible experience motivate you to achieve your vision, and perhaps an expanded vision?
  • How can you let go of any bitterness you may have toward others?
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