Early life and background
Brentnall was born on 30 December 1846 at Escomb, County Durham, England, son of Joseph Edmund Brentnall, a chemist, and his wife Mary Ann, née Strutt. The family lived at Eston, Yorkshire, and Brentnall was educated at private schools at Great Ayton and Darlington. He was the nephew of Thomas Brentnall, the 9th Mayor of Middlesbrough (1862). He matriculated at the University of Durham but on departing education he joined the Middlesbrough branch of the National Provincial Bank of England. In 1874 at Bedford he married Caroline Crossley, and for the several years they lived at Prestonpans, Scotland, where Brentnall worked for a colliery company.
Emigration to Australia
In 1878 Brentnall decided to migrate to Australia and with his wife and young son arrived in Melbourne in November in the Loch Tay. After working briefly with the London Bank of Australia Brentnall established himself as a public accountant, and acquired two existing practices which brought him an immediate clientele of top Australian businessmen and pastoralists. Despite an early financial setback, owing to a defaulting partner whose liabilities Brentnall fully repaid, he developed a successful business which evolved with several names, Brentnall & Riley, Brentnall, Norton & Co., and Brentnall, Mewton & Butler. From 1880 he lived at Newnham, Caroline Street, in South Yarra.
In 1886 he helped to found the Incorporated Institute of Accountants, Victoria, and became president of the institute in 1898. In 1907 he was first president of the Australasian Corporation of Public Accountants and in 1928, when a royal charter was granted, he became first president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia. Later in life he served many years at the Victorian Companies Auditors' Board as examiner, director and chairman.
Brentnall was a keen musician and most notably a violinist and often performed in Melbourne. He also sang with the Metropolitan Liedertafel and in the Centennial Exhibition choir of 1888, and acted as organist for several local churches. He was president of the Melbourne Music Club and the Victorian division of the British Music Society, and was an important financial guarantor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in the late 1920s.
Brentnall was also an active trustee and vice-president of the Melbourne Newsboys' Society; he was also a director of the Royal Humane Society for forty years, and president for eleven.
Brentnall was a keen golfer; as early as 1874 he had been a member of the Royal Musselburgh Club in Scotland. His companionship with J. M. Bruce led to the founding of the (Royal) Melbourne Golf Club. Brentnall was the third captain of the club.
His wife died in 1909 and survived by a son and daughter, Brentnall died at his home on 10 July 1937 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.
- A. D. Ellis, The History of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club (Melb, 1941); Chartered Accountant in Australia, July 1937; Argus (Melbourne), 30 Dec 1935; Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 12 July 1937. More on the resources