Mervyn Horton, Newington College probationary prefect. (image: The Newingtonian)
Mervyn Horton, Newington College probationary prefect. (image: The Newingtonian)

Art patron Mervyn Horton was born at L’Aiglon 278 Glebe Point Rd on 27 July 1917, some six years after his parents had migrated to Australia. He was the only child of Welsh-born Ethel Mabel née Harris and Harry Horton, an English chartered accountant and businessman more preoccupied with making money than with his family. Harry helped develop the ironmongery / hardware company Traversi Jones and became one of its major shareholders.

The Hortons were by 1921 at Penalt in Ashfield; they later settled at Forest Dean Pymble. Often seriously ill as a child, Mervyn was educated at Newington College where he edited the school magazine and was a committee member of the school’s historical society. (For an historical excursion to Lapstone Hill his father provided a motorcar and paid for lunch.) With an average Leaving Certificate, Mervyn matriculated in 1935.

The next year the family attended the Berlin Olympics as part of a European holiday, and on return Mervyn submitted some travel articles to the Sydney Morning Herald. Although they were rejected, he was offered work with the newspaper. His father, however, insisted he enrol in a profession. Mervyn then spent a miserable year studying medicine before switching to law. He was an articled clerk when, after a series of coronary episodes, Harry Horton died aged 54 in 1940.

The death of his father provided Mervyn with an income (from Traversi Jones) and the chance to pursue his natural interests. Although close to graduation he gave up the law. He then became an assistant to photographers Olga Sharpe and Max Dupain, studied cooking, opened an espresso bar / art gallery in Rowe St, was a patron of the Creative Leisure Movement, and director and editor of Ure Smith Publishers. He was on the committees of the National Trust, the Gallery Society, the Arts Council of Australia, the Society of Artists and the Art Gallery of NSW. In 1962 he founded Art and Australia to promote Australian artists. He also edited several picture books of contemporary Australian art and was appointed AM in 1982. He dabbled in playwriting; his Prisoners in setting and tone was reminiscent of David Williamson’s The Removalists. A generous host, he gave lavish parties at his Palm Beach weekender and his home at Potts Point.

Mervyn Horton died of liver cancer on 22 February 1983, survived by his mother who died in her 100th year seven months later.