Hackett, Sir John Winthrop (1848–1916), newspaper owner and editor, politician, and philanthropist, was born 4 February 1848 in Crinken, Co. Dublin, twin of Jane Georgina and third eldest among eight children of the Rev. John Winthrop Hackett, perpetual curate of Crinken, and his wife Jane Monck Mason. In 1866 Hackett entered TCD, where he was an active member of the College Historical Society, graduating BA in 1871 (classics and English) and later MA. He was called to the Irish bar in 1874.
In early 1875 he emigrated to Australia with his good friend Alexander Leeper in the ship Hampshire. Hackett initially settled in Sydney but was unable to find permanent employment. After moving to Melbourne in 1876, he was appointed vice-principal of Trinity College, an unpaid position under Leeper as principal. Hackett taught law, logic, and political economy. In 1880 he contested parliamentary elections twice in an attempt to become a member of the Victoria legislative assembly, but lost on each occasion. In 1882 he purchased the 240,000 acre sheep station of Wooramel in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia, but due to drought conditions ended the venture after a few months. In 1883, the year he was appointed a justice of the peace, he accepted an offer from Charles Harper to be part-owner and business manager of Perth's leading newspaper, the West Australian. In 1887, after being unable to find a suitable replacement as editor for the paper, he assumed the post himself. On Harper's death (1912) Hackett became the sole owner. He became involved in church affairs, where he held a variety of positions within the Western Australian Church of England diocese. In over thirty years of service, he served on nineteen church committees including the panel of tries and educational board, and was diocesan trustee. His church work culminated in appointment as chancellor of St George's cathedral, Perth.
In 1890 he was nominated a member of the Western Australian legislative council. He would have seen himself as an independent liberal member, although ‘radical liberal’ might be more accurate. In parliament he led the assault on government financial aid to church schools; supported the franchise for both men and women; endeavoured to improve conditions for the mentally ill; modernised divorce legislation; supported an increase in pay for parliamentarians; condemned some deplorable environmental practices; encouraged the construction of the Fremantle port; and supported the building of the 350-mile-long goldfields water pipeline. He was also one of Western Australia's delegates during the 1890s to the National Australasian Conventions, which resulted in the establishment of Australian federation in 1901. During the 1891 convention he notoriously stated: ‘[E]ither responsible government will kill federation, or federation . . . will kill responsible government’ (Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates, i, 280 (12 Mar. 1891)). In 1897 he was in a minority of two selecting a site for a new Western Australian parliament house. The building, at the site he originally suggested, was completed by 1904. From 1906 to his death in 1916, he was father of the Western Australian legislative council.
He became involved in several sporting and community organisations, holding the positions of vice-president of both the Western Australian Cricket Association and the Football Association. For sixteen years he was president of the South Perth Lawn Tennis Club. He also sat on a committee that helped to improve the leisure and recreation facilities around Perth and was pivotal in establishing the Western Australian Library, Museum, Art Gallery, Zoo, and the 988-acre King's Park that overlooks central Perth. As well, in an effort to establish himself in the local community, he was a member of both the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Western Australia (of which he was grand master 1901–4) and a member of the influential men-only Weld Club. From 1897 to 1916 he was trustee of the Karrakatta cemetery board, and from 1900 served as chairman of the board.
On 1 July 1902 the University of Dublin awarded him an honorary doctorate of laws, for which he returned to his homeland for the first time since his departure for Australia. While in Europe he also attended the coronation of Edward VII in London. In 1904 the parliament of Western Australia passed the university endowment act, setting aside lands for a future university. In 1909 Hackett chaired a royal commission that recommended the establishment of a university in Western Australia. On the first day of the commission he announced his intentions to endow the chair of agriculture. In 1911 an act of parliament established the University of Western Australia and two years later Hackett was unanimously elected its first chancellor. In 1897 he had declined a knighthood, which he eventually accepted in 1911; subsequently (1913) he was created a KCMG. After suffering from Parkinson's disease Hackett died on 19 February 1916. His bequests included £A425,000 to the University of Western Australia and £A138,000 to the Church of England.
At the age of 57 he married (1905) 18-year-old Deborah Vernon Drake-Brockman, fifth child of Frederick Slade Drake-Brockman and his wife Grace Vernon (née Bussell). His widow, four daughters, and a son survived him. The son (also named John Winthrop Hackett), after a lengthy and distinguished military career in the British army, was appointed principal of King's College, London.