Equipped with a comprehensive college education and otherwise intellectually developed by exploration in unusual corners of the earth, by personal contact with internationally prominent personages and broad experience in the publishing field, John Revelstoke Rathom was one of the foremost journalists and authors in America. For the last seventeen years of his life he lived in Providence, from whence his literary contributions to current history emanated and brought him fame throughout the country and even in foreign lands. He was particularly gifted with a power of expression that carried his thoughts directly and effectively to the reader’s mind, while his convincing logic won friends for the causes he advocated and brought him the esteem and admiration of thousands. Recognition of his abilities came from many sources and he was carried from post to post in journalism and placed in chairs of great responsibility. An idealist, yet practical, he was a brilliant writer, with a rich vein of humor and a mind that could not be swerved from a determination when once he had decided that a course was right. He was a man of intense devotion to public affairs that affected the happiness of the people and his benefactions to worthy causes were many and valuable. His citizenship was clean and wholesome and he took a great pride in its possession, maintaining to the full its responsibilities and its duties. His friends were countless and might be found in nearly every country of the globe, for he had been a wide traveler and wherever he went he attracted people by his genial personality and convincing sincerity. Loyalty might be said to have been a proper motto for a man of his character, for he was loyal in all things, to himself true, to his principles unfaltering. Although of foreign birth, he was an American nationalist of purest quality, his patriotism faultless. His contributions to journalism were of lasting quality and in his death Rhode Island lost a beloved editor and poet and the country a valuable citizen whose niche will long remain empty for want of a worthy successor.
He was born in Melbourne, Australia, July 4, 1868, a son of Harold Revelstoke and Dora Adelaide (Hamilton) Rathom, his father having been a lawyer by profession, born in London, England, in 1816, deceased in Australia in 1880. He spent the better part of his days in Melbourne, which city he served as mayor, and had been Governor of Victoria. His wife, mother of John R. Rathom, was a native of Maidstone, Kent, England. Their son received his education in London and at Harrow in England and at the Scotch College in Melbourne and Whinham College in Adelaide. In 1886 he became associated with the Melbourne “Argus” and by that newspaper was sent as correspondent to Egypt, where he remained for two years. He then joined the Bundury Expedition to New Guinea and left that organization in 1890, coming to America and stopping in Seattle, Washington, where he became a reporter on the staff of the “Post-Intelligencer.” This journal sent him to Vancouver, British Columbia, as its correspondent there, in which occupation he came into touch with the Schwatka Expedition which was to explore Alaska and joined that body. Returning to Canada, he joined the staff of the Victoria “Daily Colonist” and in 1892 went to Astoria, Oregon, where he became associated with the “Daily Astorian” as its editor. Like many members of his profession he was possessed of a spirit that urged him onward and in 1893 he was in Portland, Oregon. There he met Harvey W. Scott, editor of the “Oregonian,” who invited him to become his telegraph editor, a post which he accepted and where he remained for a time, then going on to San Francisco, California, where he became a member of the staff of the “Chronicle.” He was a correspondent in Cuba during the Spanish-American War and went to Africa in a similar capacity in the Boer War of 1900-01. There he met General Kitchener, with whom he maintained a lifelong friendship. Returning to America, he became managing editor of the Chicago “Times-Herald” and later of the “Record-Herald,” then owned by H. H. Kohlsaat. In 1906 he came to Providence to accept the post of managing editor of the “Journal and Evening Bulletin,” filling this position until 1912, when he was raised to the chair of editor and general manager. During the early years of the World War he became nationally famed for his courageous leadership in editorial writings that formed public opinion and for his remarkable work in exposing the German secret service organization in the United States. He was vigorous in his denunciation of the Germans and from the beginning did all in his power to enlist the United States in the cause of the Allies. He was the first American citizen to receive the decoration of the Crown of Italy, and by Albert, King of the Belgians, was created a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold. He was one of the founders of the Boy Scout organization in Rhode Island and in 1910 was made first Scout Commissioner of the State.
It was largely through his influence and incessant activities that a large tract of land was secured on the shore of Lake Yagoog for the establishment of a Scout Camp and it was in recognition of this that Rathom Lodge was erected and named in his honor. This camp is one of the finest in the New England States, of rustic construction and in perfect harmony with the work for which it is intended. The great mess hall is equipped for the comfort of one hundred and seventy-five scouts, which is the greatest number believed to be advisable for the purposes of a scout camp. Beautifully appropriate in memory of the man who did so much for them the Scouts selected his birthday to do him special honor and on July 4, 1929, with ceremonies coordinated with a celebration of the day of American independence a bronze tablet, set in the front of Rathom Lodge, was unveiled. Rectangular in shape, the tablet has a border of forty-eight stars typifying the Union and surrounding his portrait in bas relief, the subject being in Scout uniform. On either side of the portrait are inscriptions, that on the left being a copy of his last message to Scouts, the other on the right hand being the words of the memorial. The message to the Scouts reads:
The American boy—that complicated bundle of contradictions—is the greatest and most wonderful experimental laboratory on earth and he can be made either the hope or the despair of the world. It is to the former goal that the efforts of the Boy Scouts of America are pledged; and as long as our people still hold to the basic virtues the work cannot fail. God speed every activity in that direction.
John Revelstoke Rathom
As molded in the bronze, the dedication and memorial read:
John R. Rathom, a Father of the Boy Scout movement in Rhode Island, loved boys and gave freely from his great heart for their welfare. A courageous soul, his far spiritual vision and reverence, his star-high ideals, unswerving honor, patriotism, loyal friendliness, faithful service for humanity, with active kindness to all creatures, shaped a gallant character which expressed in the noble life that lives ever on, a radiant inspiration. Dedicated on his birthday, July 4, 1929.
In addition to his work for the Scouts he used the influence of his newspaper in support of the District Nursing Association of Providence and in the campaigns of the Lying-in and Homeopathic hospitals. From 1917 to 1923 he served as a director of the Associated Press and in 1919 until 1923 was a member of its executive committee. In 1922 he was elected president of the New England Newspaper Association. He belonged to the Providence Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Historical Society, Americus Club of Chicago, Pilgrims of New York, Dickens and Australian clubs of London, England; and the Art, Hope, Pen and Pencil and Turks Head of Providence. He was a recognized authority on immigration and sociological questions and wrote many articles on those subjects for magazines, as well as contributing many exquisite poems and prose works of other sorts. He died in Providence, Rhode Island, December 11, 1923.
John Revelstoke Rathom married, February 25, 1903, Florence Mildred Campbell, daughter of Captain M. B. Campbell, of New Cumberland, West Virginia, a veteran of the Civil War. She is a niece of the late Judge John A. Campbell, of the Circuit Court of West Virginia, and a granddaughter of the late Rev. William Beaumont.
Mr. Rathom’s place in American journalism is secure. He contributed invaluably to its current information and to its permanent records. He had the nature of a poet with the vigor of a Websterian mentality. His logic was unanswerable and his writings were models of graceful construction and convincing in their presentation of propositions. Although a man of enormous energy and unflagging industry, he always found time to devote to his friends and was one of the most delightful companions when indulging in conversation on topics in which there was general interest. He was a valuable member of the body politic and to the Fourth Estate his gifts were helpful and permanent.
Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.