Robert Best (politician)

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Sir Robert Best

Robert Best - Eden Studios.jpg
Senator for Victoria
In office
29 March 1901 – 30 June 1910
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Kooyong
In office
24 August 1910 – 16 December 1922
Preceded byWilliam Knox
Succeeded byJohn Latham
Personal details
Born(1856-06-18)18 June 1856
Collingwood, Victoria
Died27 March 1946(1946-03-27) (aged 89)
Hawthorn, Victoria
Political partyProtectionist (1901–09)
Liberal (1909–17)
Nationalist (1917–22)
Spouse(s)Jane Caroline
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]

Born in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood to (Northern) Irish immigrants, and raised in Kyneton, Best was educated at Templeton's School, 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]

Political career[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]

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. 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] He was the last surviving member of Alfred Deakin's 1907-1908 Cabinet. His second daughter Phyllis Best was an actress who toured with Dame Sybil Thorndike and married fellow actor and radio personality Atholl Fleming.[4] His third daughter, Helene Best, was a pianist who trained at the Melbourne Conservatory. She went to London in 1935.[5] A son, Arthur Best, played for Melbourne and St Kilda in the Victorian Football League.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d Marshall, Norma (1979). "Best, Sir Robert Wallace (1856–1946)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 23 November 2007.
  2. ^ "Best, Sir Robert Wallace". Re-member. Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 23 November 2007.
  3. ^ "Appendix 3―Deputy Presidents and Chairmen of Committees (1901–2009)". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  4. ^ (Melbourne) Argus 12 September 1932
  5. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 28 June 1934
  6. ^ "Arthur Fitzroy BEST". The AIF Project. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
Victorian Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Robert Reid
Albert Tucker
Member for Fitzroy
Served alongside: Albert Tucker (1889–1900)
John Billson (1900–1901)
Succeeded by
Patrick O'Connor
John Billson
Political offices
Preceded by
John Keating
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
Gregor McGregor
Preceded by
Frank Tudor
Minister for Trade and Customs
Succeeded by
Frank Tudor
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
William Knox
Member for Kooyong
Succeeded by
John Latham