Sir Arthur Pearson, 1st Baronet
Family and early life
Pearson was born in the village of Wookey, Somerset to Arthur Cyril and Phillippa Massingberd Maxwell (née Lyte) Pearson (the granddaughter of the hymn-writer and poet Henry Francis Lyte) and educated at the prestigious Winchester College in Hampshire. His father was Rector of Drayton Parslow in Buckinghamshire, England. His first job was as a journalist working for the London-based publisher George Newnes on Tit-Bits magazine. Within his first year he had impressed Newnes enough for him to make him his principal assistant.
In December 1887, Pearson married Isobel Sarah Bennett, the daughter of Canon Frederick Bennett, of Maddington, Wiltshire, with whom he had three daughters. In 1897, Pearson married, as his second wife, Ethel, daughter of William John Fraser. Ethel, Lady Pearson, won be appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). The couple had a son, Neville, and three daughters.
In 1890, after six years of working for Newnes, Pearson left to form his own publishing business and within three weeks had created the periodical journal Pearson's Weekly, the first issue of which sold a quarter of a million copies. A philanthropist, in 1892 he established the charitable Fresh Air Fund, still in operation and now known as Pearson's Holiday Fund, to enable disadvantaged children to partake in outdoor activities. In 1898, he purchased the Morning Herald, and in 1900 merged it into his new creation, the halfpenny Daily Express.
The Express was a departure from the papers of its time and created an immediate impact by carrying news instead of only advertisements on its front page. He was successful in establishing papers in provincial locations such as the Birmingham Daily Gazette. He came into direct competition with the Daily Mail and in the resulting commercial fight almost took control of The Times, being nominated as its manager, but the deal fell through.
In 1900 Pearson despatched the explorer and adventurer Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard to Patagonia to investigate dramatic reports of a giant hairy mammal inhabiting the forests, and conjectured to be a giant ground sloth, long since extinct. Hesketh-Prichard's reports from 5,000 miles away gripped readers of The Express, despite him finding no trace of the creature.
During this same period, Pearson was also active as a writer, and wrote a number of tourist guides to locations in Britain and Europe. Under the pseudonym of "Professor P R S Foli", he wrote Handwriting as an Index to Character in 1902, as well as works on fortune-telling and dream interpretation. Pearson was a strong supporter of Joseph Chamberlain's tariff-reform movement, and organised the Tariff Reform League in 1903, becoming its first chairman. In 1904 he purchased the struggling The Standard and its sister paper the Evening Standard for £700,000 from the Johnstone family.
He merged the Evening Standard with his St James's Gazette and changed the Conservative stance of both papers into a pro-Liberal one, but was unsuccessful in arresting the slide in sales and in 1910 sold them to the MP Sir Davison Dalziel, and Sir Alexander Henderson.
Loss of eyesight and later life
Beginning to lose his sight due to glaucoma despite a 1908 operation, Pearson was progressively forced from 1910 onwards to relinquish his newspaper interests; the Daily Express eventually passed, in November 1916, under the control of the Canadian–British tycoon Sir Max Aitken, later Lord Beaverbrook.
Through the British and Foreign Blind Association, Pearson published his Pearson's Easy Dictionary in Braille form in 1912. Later completely blind, Pearson was made president of the National Institution for the Blind in 1914, raising its income from £8,000 to £360,000 in only eight years. On 29 January 1915, he founded The Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Care Committee (later renamed St Dunstan's and now known as Blind Veterans UK), for soldiers blinded by gas attack or trauma during the First World War. Its goal, radical for the times, was to provide vocational training rather than charity for invalided servicemen, and thus to enable them to carry out independent and productive lives. Pearson's dedication to this work led to him receiving a Baronetcy on 12 July 1916, whereupon he took the title Pearson, 1st Baronet of St Dunstan's, London. He received the GBE in 1917.
Pearson was a close friend of the pioneer of the Scouting movement Baden-Powell, and supportive of his efforts in setting up the movement and publishing its magazine The Scout. When Pearson's scheme for publishing in Braille was faltering due to lack of funds, on 2 May 1914 Baden-Powell publicly requested that "all Scouts perform a 'good turn' for The Scout magazine publisher Mr C Arthur Pearson, in order to raise money for his scheme of publishing literature in Braille for the blind."
In 1919, Pearson wrote the book Victory over blindness: how it was won by the men of St. Dunstan's. He founded the Greater London Fund for the Blind in 1921, funded by the establishment of its annual 'Geranium Day' appeal.
Pearson died on 9 December 1921 when he drowned in his bath after knocking himself unconscious in a fall. He was buried in Hampstead Cemetery after a service to which the Cabinet, the British and Norwegian royal families, and many institutes for the blind all sent official representatives. Two of his pallbearers were blind. He was survived by his wife, son and three daughters.
- Per the District 16, Drayton Parslow, Buckinghamshire, England 1881 Census
- Weaver, J.R.H. (1927). The Dictionary of National Biography. p. 429.
- Fritzinger, Linda (2006). Diplomat without Portfolio: Valentine Chirol, His Life and Times. I.B. Tauris. p. 324. ISBN 9780857712134.
- "PATAGONIA; Hesketh-Prichard's Stirring Tale of Exploration in the Far South". The New York Times. 20 December 1902. Retrieved 22 November 2008.
- Cox, Howard; Mowatt, Simon (2014). Revolutions from Grub Street: A History of Magazine Publishing in Britain. Oxford University Press. p. 45. ISBN 9780199601639.
- Dark, Sydney (1922). The life of Sir Arthur Pearson. p. 140.
- Rose, June (1970). Changing Focus – The Development of Blind Welfare in Britain. Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-100490-X.
- The London Gazette: . 1 September 1916.
- Dark, Sydney (1922). The life of Sir Arthur Pearson. p. 195.
- "Sir Arthur Pearson describes the great victory won over blindness". New York Times. 1 June 1919. Retrieved 4 December 2008.
- Dark, Sydney (1922). The life of Sir Arthur Pearson. pp. 203–204.
- Pearson, Arthur (1919). Victory over blindness. George H. Doran.
- Sidney, Dark (1922). The life of Sir Arthur Pearson. Hodder and Stoughton.
- My story of St Dunstan's. 1961. Lord Fraser of Lonsdale.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sir Arthur Pearson, 1st Baronet.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1921 Collier's Encyclopedia article Pearson, Sir Arthur.|
- St Dunstan's institute for blind servicemen – Now Blind Veterans UK
- Pearson's Holiday Fund
- Sir Arthur Pearson, 1st Baronet at Find a Grave
|Baronetage of the United Kingdom|
(of St Dunstans)
1916 – 1921