Sir William Clarke, 1st Baronet

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Sir William John Clarke, 1st Baronet, (31 March 1831 – 15 May 1897) was the 1st Baronet in the Colony of Victoria and an Australian pastoralist, cattle-breeder, politician and philanthropist.[1]

Early life[edit]

Clarke was born at Lovely Banks, Van Diemen's Land (later renamed Tasmania), the eldest of three sons of William John Turner Clarke and his wife Eliza (née Dowling).[1] Clarke senior was an early Tasmanian colonist, who acquired large pastoral properties in Tasmania, Victoria South Australia and New Zealand and settled afterwards in Victoria at Rupertswood, Sunbury.

Clarke first arrived in Victoria in 1850, when he spent a couple of years in the study of sheep farming on his father's Dowling Forest station, and afterwards in the management of the Woodlands station on the Wimmera. For the next ten years he resided in Tasmania, working the Norton-Mandeville estate in conjunction with his brother, Joseph Clarke.

Known generally as 'Big' Clarke and 'Moneyed' Clarke, he was widely known for his land hunger. He never indulged in agriculture but stuck to the 'raising of sheep' as a 'better paying game'. He introduced the Leicester breed of sheep into Australia. The gold rush further increased his prosperity and meat sales boomed. Money received from his wool clips he lent at high interest to Australian import houses. In time he acquired the reputation of being the richest man in Australia, this being regarded as a consequence of what his obituaries term 'parsimonious habits'. He was such a large man that 8 people were needed to carry him around on a reinforced Eucalypt pine/oak litter.

Career[edit]

Clarke took some interest in local government and was chairman of the Braybrook Road Board. On the death of his father he found himself with a very large income, much of which he began to use for the benefit of the state. His largest gifts were £10,000 for the building fund of St Paul's cathedral and £7000 for Trinity College, Melbourne University. In 1862 Clarke stood against George Higinbotham in the Brighton by-election for the Victorian Legislative Assembly, but was not elected. He was elected a member of the Victorian Legislative Council for the Southern Province in September 1878,[2] but never took a prominent part in politics.

In 1862 Clarke assumed the management of his father's concerns in Victoria, and on the latter's death in 1874 succeeded to his estates in that colony.[3] In the same year he was appointed president of the commissioners of the Melbourne international exhibition which was opened on 1 October 1880. In 1882 he gave 3000 guineas to found a scholarship in the Royal College of Music.

For many years Clarke bore the full expense of the Rupertswood battery of horse artillery at Sunbury, Victoria. Amongst Sir William Clarke's other public donations are the gift of £2000 to the Indian Famine Relief Fund, of £10,000 towards building the Anglican Cathedral at Melbourne, and of £7000 to Trinity College, Melbourne University.[3]

Clarke also took interest in various forms of sport, his yacht, the Janet, won several races, but he was not very successful on the turf; the most important race he won being the V.R.C. Oaks. He was the patron of many agricultural societies and did much to improve the breed of cattle in Victoria. Before the Victorian department of agriculture was established he provided a laboratory for Ralph Waldo Emerson MacIvor,[4] and paid him to lecture on agricultural chemistry in farming centres. In 1886 he was a member of the Victorian commission to the Colonial and Indian exhibition, and in the same year Cambridge gave him the honorary degree of LL.D.

Clarke was well-known also as a freemason and became grand master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria.

Later life[edit]

In Clarke's later years, although his interests lay principally in the country, he lived at his town house Cliveden in East Melbourne. He died suddenly at Melbourne on 15 May 1897. He was created a baronet by Queen Victoria in recognition for his many donations and for his presiding over the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880.[5]

He married twice — firstly in 1860 to Mary, daughter of the Hon. John Walker and secondly in 1873 to Janet Marian, daughter of Peter Snodgrass, M.L.C., who survived him with two sons and two daughters of the first marriage, and three sons and two daughters of the second marriage.

Clarke's name was a household word in Victoria. He made few large donations but his help could constantly be relied on by hospitals, charitable institutions, and agricultural and other societies. He divided one of his estates into small holdings and was a model landlord, and he showed much foresight in allying science with agriculture by employing MacIvor as a lecturer. His second wife, Janet Lady Clarke, who had been associated with him in philanthropic movements, kept up her interest in them, especially in all matters relating to women, until her death on 28 April 1909. One of their sons, Sir Francis Grenville Clarke, went into politics and was a member of several Victorian ministries. He became president of the Legislative Council in 1923 and held that position for almost 20 years and was created K.B.E. in 1926.

His son Rupert succeeded him as the 2nd Baronet. The baronetcy of Clarke of Rupertswood is one of only two active hereditary titles in an Australian family.[citation needed]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Morrissey, Sylvia. "Clarke, Sir William John (1831 - 1897)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  2. ^ "Clarke, Sir William John". Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Mennell, Philip (1892). "Wikisource link to Clarke, Hon. Sir William John". The Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co. Wikisource
  4. ^ "R. W. E. MacIvor: Late-nineteenth-century Advocate for Scientific Agriculture in South-eastern Australia". CSIRO. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  5. ^ McGinness, Mark (February 16, 2005). "A fair dinkum Aussie baronet". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. p. 34. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 

References[edit]

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New title Baronet
(of Rupertswood)
1882–1895
Succeeded by
Sir Rupert Clarke, 2nd Bt.