How an Estonian tailor’s daughter became a key player in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire

Three heirs of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire – Lachlan, James and Elisabeth Murdoch – and their mother Anna Torv, the daughter of an Estonian tailor Jakob Tõrv, can track their family history to the Tõrvanõmme farm in Estonia’s Pärnu County.

In the wake of the news that Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of the media magnate Rupert Murdoch, will become the chairman of News Corp, one of the largest mass media corporations in the world, we take a closer look at the Murdoch heir’s family connection to Estonia.

From Tõrvanõmme to Glasgow

Lachlan, James and Elisabeth Murdoch’s granddad Jakob Tõrv hailed from the Tõrvanõmme farm in Tõstamaa borough in Estonia’s Pärnu County.

Before the Second World War, Jakob worked as a village tailor and later in Pärnu, making trousers. In Pärnu, he boarded a ship to Scotland (it is not clear whether before or during the war), where he continued to work in a tailor’s shop in Glasgow and anglicised his name to Jacob Torv. Soon, he fell in love and married the Scottish shop owner’s daughter; their daughter Anna Maria Torv who would later marry Rupert Murdoch, was born in Glasgow in 1944.

Tõrvanõmme pine tree that is under nature protection, in the Tõrvanõmme farm land in Estonia’s Pärnu County. Lachlan Murdoch’s granddad hailed from the farm. Photo by Toomas Mitt, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

Jakob’s marriage fell apart, when Anna was still a child; the divorce left Anna and her siblings (she has two brothers and a sister) with the father, who moved to Australia with the children in 1954 and opened his own drycleaning business there.

Building up a media empire

Anna finished high school in Australia; as her father did not have enough money to send her daughter to university, she took a job as a reporter for The Daily Mirror, a Sydney-based afternoon paper. While working at the paper, Anna met its owner, Rupert Murdoch, who had inherited the Adelaide-based tabloid The News from his late dad, Sir Keith Murdoch, in 1952, and who would build the global media empire in the next 70 years.

A love story followed, and Anna and Rupert married in 1967; their first child, Elisabeth, was born in 1968. Soon, Australia became too small for the ambitious newspaper magnate and in 1969, the family moved to the UK, where Rupert took over The News of the World, followed closely by The Sun. Their sons Lachlan (1971) and James (1972) were born in London.

Anna Maria and Rupert Murdoch in 1985 at an event in at Hampton Court Palace, the UK, hosted by then-prince Charles and princess Diana. Screenshot from an ITN video.
Anna Maria and Rupert Murdoch in 1985 at an event in at Hampton Court Palace, the UK, hosted by then-prince Charles and princess Diana. Screenshot from an ITN video.

The family would move on to New York City in the mid-1970s, where over the years their empire expanded by acquiring numerous assets, including the Twentieth Century Fox film studio and The Wall Street Journal.

Connecting with Estonia

During their marriage, Anna Murdoch graduated from two universities, obtained a master’s degree and published several novels. Her novel “In the Name of Family” was also published in Estonian in 1997; in the novel, Anna draws on her experience in publishing and publishing management. The book is said to be dedicated to all the founding fathers of newspapers – past, present and future.

According to some Estonian media reports in 1991, she visited her father’s birthland for the first time in 1980, when Estonia was still behind the Iron Curtain, but Estonian World was unable to verify this.

According to local sources in Tõstamaa, Anna visited Estonia with her dad Jakob in 1986 – when the Soviet Union showed the first signs of crumbling. A local man called Endel Andrese told the Tõstamaa Tuuled paper in 1997 that “a grey-headed man, accompanied by a middle-aged lady dressed in extravagant clothes” drove a taxi to Tõrvanõmme farm, Jakob’s birthplace. According to Endel Andrese, “the lady”, presumably Anna Murdoch, did not speak Estonian, but he had had a long conversation with Jakob – or Jaska, as he was locally known – in Tõrvanõmme.

The location of the Tõrvanõmme farm in Estonia. Source: Google Maps.

Anna and Rupert Murdoch visited Estonia together in November 1991, just a few months after the country had regained independence from the Soviet Union.

The couple and their entourage met with Arnold Rüütel (then the Chairman of the Supreme Council, a Soviet-era role; Rüütel would be elected president in 2001) as well as journalists from the weekly Eesti Ekspress and business paper Äripäev – both privately owned papers that were established during the Estonian independence movement in the late 1980s and were not part of the communist establishment.

“Your elite must be full of communists and the KGB,” Rupert Murdoch told the journalists at a press conference in Tallinn, according to Hans H. Luik, the founder of Eesti Ekspress, who moderated the event. One of the magnate’s colleagues, who sat at the table with him at the press conference, said in a private conversation: “We also met with Arnold Rüütel. Don’t you think that he doesn’t know much about economics or modern Europe?”

Rupert Murdoch holding a copy of Eesti Ekspress, Estonia’s first independently published weekly since the Soviet occupation, during a visit to Tallinn with his wife, Anna. Photo by Eesti Ekspress.

Rupert Murdoch said at the press conference that their visit to Estonia was not a business trip. It was just a trip to the birthplace of Anna’s father – they came via Finland, where Rupert made a deal to buy newsprint for his outlets.

In the early 1990s, Anna Murdoch donated $10,000 to ESTO – a global Estonian diaspora festival that was started by Estonian expats who had escaped their homeland during the Second World War. In 1992, the festival took place in New York.

“The donation to ESTO is in memory of my father, who died two years ago,” Anna wrote to the festival’s organisers.

“Unfortunately, my husband Rupert and I will not be able to be in New York for ESTO 92, but we wish all participants a lively and successful celebration,” she said, adding “I am sad that I will miss the Estonian singers. My father used to tell me how wonderful singing voices his countrymen and women had.”

“I’m particularly pleased to see the message of the small Republic of Estonia resounding around the world this summer thanks to the work of ESTO’92,” she concluded.

A group of Estonian expats at ESTO, a global Estonian cultural festival, in Sweden in 1980.

Leading News Corp

Rupert and Anna, who was also a board member of News Corp and actively involved in the business, divorced in 1999 – two years after Rupert had met Wendi Deng, a Chinese TV-executive 37 years his junior, who was working for Murdoch-owned Star TV in Hong Kong. Anna had to resign from the media empire’s board as well. One of the most expensive divorces in the world reportedly left Anna Murdoch with $1.7 billion in assets, including $110 million in cash.

Anna remarried to William Mann, a financier, who died in 2017. In 2019, she remarried to Ashton dePeyster, also a financier, whom she has described as her “toy boy”, according to Tatler magazine.

Following the news that Rupert Murdoch has crowned his son Lachlan as his successor at News Corp, the British daily The Telegraph reported that that could also bring Anna back into the fold.

“When Lachlan Murdoch takes up his role as head of one of the largest media conglomerates in the world, his circle of confidants will inevitably shrink. But there is one opinion he will always want to hear, that of his mother, Anna. ‘We are very close to our mother,’ Lachlan has said,” according to the paper.

Lachlan Murdoch with his wife, Sarah, in 2013 at the premiere of “The Great Gatsby”. Photo by Eva Rinaldi, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 licence).

“But then she had always taken a keen interest in the company; when she and Rupert divorced, Anna lost her position on the News Corp board. In a farewell address at the time, it was revealed she thought of this as not just the end of a marriage, but the end of a whole life. ‘I said I wished News Corp the best,’ Anna revealed, ‘and that Rupert’s children were my children too, and that I had always tried to do my best for News Corporation… and that I was very sad to be leaving.’ Maybe, now Lachlan is at the helm, she’ll be back,” The Telegraph wrote.

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