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Robert Best (politician)

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Sir Robert Best
Minister for Trade and Customs
In office
2 June 1909 – 29 April 1910
Prime MinisterAlfred Deakin
Preceded byFrank Tudor
Succeeded byFrank Tudor
Leader of the Government in the Senate
In office
20 February 1907 – 13 November 1908
Preceded byTom Playford II
Succeeded byGregor McGregor
Vice-President of the Executive Council
In office
30 July 1907 – 13 November 1908
Prime MinisterAlfred Deakin
Preceded byJohn Keating
Succeeded byGregor McGregor
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Kooyong
In office
24 August 1910 – 16 December 1922
Preceded byWilliam Knox
Succeeded byJohn Latham
Senator for Victoria
In office
29 March 1901 – 30 June 1910
Personal details
Born(1856-06-18)18 June 1856
Collingwood, Victoria, Australia
Died27 March 1946(1946-03-27) (aged 89)
Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia
Political partyProtectionist (1901–09)
Liberal (1909–17)
Nationalist (1917–22)
Spouse(s)Jane Caroline Langridge
Maude Evelyn Crocker-Smith
Alma materUniversity of Melbourne

Sir Robert Wallace Best, KCMG (18 June 1856 – 27 March 1946) was an Australian lawyer and politician who served in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. He was a Senator for Victoria from 1901 to 1910, and then represented the Division of Kooyong in the House of Representatives from 1910 to 1922. Best served in cabinet in the second and third governments of Alfred Deakin. Before entering federal politics, he also served in the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1889 to 1901, where he was a government minister.

Early life[edit]

Best was born on 18 June 1856 in Collingwood, Victoria. He was the son of Jane (née Wallace) and Robert Henning Best, immigrants from Ireland. His father was a farmer and later worked as a customs officer.[1]

Best was educated at Templeton's School in Fitzroy. He left school at 13 and became a clerk in a printing office and then worked for a solicitor where he took articles and matriculated in 1875. He studied law at the University of Melbourne and was admitted as a solicitor in 1881. He married Jane Langridge the same year. He was elected as an alderman on Fitzroy City Council almost continuously from 1883 to 1897 and served as mayor in 1888 and 1889.[1]

Colonial politics[edit]

In April 1889, Best was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly as the member for Fitzroy (later subsumed by the seat of Richmond) and was offered, but turned down, a position in William Shiels' ministry in 1892. From September 1894 to December 1899 he was President of the Board of Land and Works, Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey, and Commissioner of Trade and Customs. He was responsible for introducing tariff reform in 1896 and land reform in 1898 to promote closer settlement and acted twice as Premier.[1][2]

Federal politics[edit]

Best was a strong supporter of the federation of Australia and resigned from the Legislative Assembly and was elected to the Australian Senate in the 1901 election. He was the inaugural Chairman of Committees in the Senate, serving from 1901 to 1903.[3] He was Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate from February 1907 until November 1908 in the third Deakin Ministry, where he was responsible for tariff and excise bills.[4]

Best was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1908. He served as Minister for Trade and Customs in Alfred Deakin's Fusion ministry from June 1909 to April 1910. He lost his seat in the landslide to Labor at the 1910 election, but was soon returned to Parliament at a by-election for the House of Representatives seat of Kooyong. He supported the introduction of conscription and he became a Nationalist in 1917. At the 1922 election, he was beaten narrowly on Labor preferences by John Latham, who ran as an independent on the slogan, "Get Rid of Hughes".[1]

Later life[edit]

Undated photo

Best returned full-time to his legal practice, which he had never abandoned. After the death of his first wife in 1901, he married Maude Evelyn Crocker-Smith. He died in 1946 in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn survived by two sons and two daughters of his first marriage and four daughters of his second.[1] His second daughter Phyllis Best was an actress who toured with Dame Sybil Thorndike and married fellow actor and radio personality Atholl Fleming.[5] His third daughter, Helene Best, was a pianist who trained at the Melbourne Conservatory. She went to London in 1935.[6] A son, Arthur Best, played for Melbourne and St Kilda in the Victorian Football League.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e Marshall, Norma (1979). "Best, Sir Robert Wallace (1856–1946)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-522-84459-7. ISSN 1833-7538. OCLC 70677943. Retrieved 27 August 2022.
  2. ^ "Sir Robert Wallace Best". Re-Member: a database of all Victorian MPs since 1851. Parliament of Victoria. Archived from the original on 23 April 2023. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  3. ^ "Appendix 3―Deputy Presidents and Chairmen of Committees (1901–2009)". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  4. ^ Jones, Catherine (2000). "BEST, Sir Robert Wallace (1856–1946) Senator for Victoria, 1901–10". The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  5. ^ "Miss Phyllis Best: marriage to Mr Athol Fleming". The Argus. 12 September 1932. p. 8. Retrieved 27 August 2022 – via Trove.
  6. ^ "Thelma Scott's understudy". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 June 1934. p. 8. Retrieved 27 August 2022 – via Trove.
  7. ^ "Arthur Fitzroy BEST". The AIF Project. Retrieved 6 August 2015.


Victorian Legislative Assembly
Preceded by Member for Fitzroy
Served alongside: Albert Tucker (1889–1900)
John Billson (1900–1901)
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Trade and Customs
Succeeded by
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by Member for Kooyong
Succeeded by