Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Baillieu, William Lawrence (Willie) (1859–1936)

by J. R. Poynter

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

William Baillieu, by Sarony Studios, 1911

William Baillieu, by Sarony Studios, 1911

State Library of Victoria, H85.175/7

William Lawrence Baillieu (1859-1936), financier and politician, was born on 29 April 1859 at Queenscliff, Victoria, second son of James George Baillieu and his wife Emma Lawrence, née Pow. James was born at Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales, on 13 March 1832. He was the third son among fifteen children of Lambert Francis Baillieu (1802-1861), dancing-master and musician, and grandson of Etienne Lambert Baillieu(x), who had come to Britain about 1790 from Liège, where the family had been embroiderers and mercers. At 17 James went to sea. In January 1853, while anchored in quarantine inside Port Phillip Heads in the Priscilla, he decided to escape the attentions of a drunken master by swimming to land, not to the nearest beach but to Queenscliff, two miles across a wild water-way. After a short time in hiding James gained employment as a boatman in the health service. He attended the arrival of the Australia, loaded with female government immigrants, and on 3 November married one of them, Emma Pow, a 'strong healthy and most lovely girl', baptized at Marksbury, Somerset, on 25 November 1838. The young couple lived first in a tent and then in a cottage on the beach at Queenscliff, where ten sons and four daughters were born to them.

James spent thirty years in the government service—as a boatman for health and customs, and after 1881 as a lighthouse-keeper at Point Lonsdale—but he also involved himself in the growth of Queenscliff to a fashionable watering-place. In 1881 he erected a large hotel, grand enough to attract the governor of Victoria for holidays. The thirteen Baillieu children who survived infancy attended the Queenscliff Common School—where they came under the influence of Robert Jordan, a notable teacher — and were active in local sporting events, especially boating and horse-racing, two family passions. James retired from the lighthouse service to share the management of the hotel with his third son George. Both were prominent in local affairs, each serving as mayor. James was described as 'very independent and honest in his opinions', though 'not what is known as a sharp businessman'. Nevertheless the family achieved some wealth as well as local notability, though only George was to remain at Queenscliff; the rest of the family moved to Melbourne in 1885. When James died at Camberwell on 10 December 1897, his sons buried him at Queenscliff, at his own request without benefit of undertaker or hearse; they themselves prepared him for burial, and bore him to his grave on a wagonette. Emma survived him, remaining a dominant figure in the family until her death in 1908.

It became a tradition among the Baillieus to regard loyalty to the family as the highest duty of all, and a family company formed later was named simply 'Mutual Trust'. William Lawrence became the pivot around whom the family fortunes, and much else in Australia, turned. The eldest son, James Lambert (1855-1890), worked briefly with him; the next three were little involved in William's affairs, but the five youngest all played significant roles in business. Edward Lloyd (1867-1939), known as 'Prince', became a sharebroker, pastoralist and racehorse owner. Arthur Sydney (1872-1943) made his career in the family estate agency, and as a company director. Richard Percy Clive (1874-1941), known as 'Joe', was a foundation partner with Prince in the family sharebroking firm. Norman Horace (1878-1955) and Maurice Howard Lawrence (1883-1961), known as 'Jac', were both sharebrokers and company directors. Two of the Baillieu daughters married close business associates of William. The network of business relationships which developed around the Baillieus had little formal structure, and friends and rivals alike referred to it as a 'group' rather than an empire.

At 14 'Willie' Baillieu left school for a job in the Queenscliff branch of Henry 'Money' Miller's Bank of Victoria. 6 ft 4 ins (193 cm) in height and a notable athlete, he loved boating which won him an influential friend in 1878 when he joined the crew of the yacht sailed by the wealthy Edward Latham, founder of the Carlton brewery. An extraordinarily close friendship developed; 'deep affection, perhaps unusual between men bound us together intimately', Baillieu later wrote. He fell in love with Latham's only daughter Bertha Martha (1865-1925), an attachment he announced to the Queenscliff population by naming his own small boat after her.

In 1882 William transferred to the bank's branch in the mining town of Maryborough. There he met the mayor Alfred Outtrim and B. J. Fink, a powerful promoter of Victoria's boom, whose brilliant younger brother Theodore was to become a friend and an abiding—and liberal—influence. Baillieu also became friendly with Donald Munro, son of James. In 1885 he left the bank and moved to Melbourne where he joined Donald Munro in an estate agency, with financial support from James Munro's Federal Bank and a personal guarantee from Latham.

As an auctioneer the 26-year-old Baillieu was a resounding success. With the land boom at its height there was no lack of agents trying to sell their fellow citizens real estate, at the same time lending them the money to buy it. He was described as 'the greatest auctioneer of all'; he had imagination as a promoter, a compelling presence on the stand, and a speed in disposing of business which left onlookers gasping. In 1897 Munro & Baillieu surpassed all others in the volume of business done, selling land worth more than £3 million. At 28 Baillieu became a noted figure in the Melbourne business world, which knew him henceforth as 'W.L.'. On 7 December at St Jude's Church of England, Carlton, he married Bertha Latham, and went to live with her parents in their mansion at Kew. Bertha's mother died in 1894, and next year Latham married William's sister Emma Elizabeth, who thus became her brother's mother-in-law.

The young auctioneers inevitably became involved in land speculation themselves, in a business community deeply enmeshed in an intricate game in which Victorians borrowed money from London to lend to each other, unhindered by banking laws protecting society against its own financial recklessness. Munro & Baillieu encountered liquidity problems as early as 1889, and met them, in the fashionable way, by accelerating both borrowing and lending. The collapse, when it came in 1891-92, was perhaps the most complete of all recorded bank crashes. The Victorian government passed legislation under which formal bankruptcy could be avoided if creditors agreed to compound the debts of firms or individuals, with the approval of the court. Munro & Baillieu had no hope of surviving the collapse of several land companies with which they were involved, especially while James Munro's Federal Bank lurched towards disaster. In July 1892 Theodore Fink, as Baillieu's solicitor, applied to the court for permission to call a meeting of creditors, a less happy task than his role as master of ceremonies at W.L.'s wedding. On 26 July, at separate gatherings, creditors of the partnership and of Baillieu himself agreed to accept 6d. in the pound. More remarkable than W.L.'s involvement in the land boom was his exceptionally expert recovery from the depression, though the later success of the Baillieus made it inevitable that this early discomfiture would echo in public memory.

The partnership with Munro was dissolved in 1892, and his first step in restoring his fortunes was to establish W. L. Baillieu & Co. as a new estate agency, in which he was soon joined by his younger brother Arthur. At about the same time Prince Baillieu formed, with Clive, the sharebroking firm of E. L. & C. Baillieu. The brothers worked closely together, dealing in land and shares and, increasingly, in mining property. Mining was to fascinate W.L. all his life: his first involvement seems to have been in organizing the exploitation of the black coal-seam at Outtrim, Gippsland, in 1890, while thirty years later he was grub-staking osmium prospectors in Tasmania. The Baillieus became deeply involved in the Indian summer of Victorian gold-mining, with the deep-lead Duke United at Maryborough their first major success. Even more spectacular was the Jubilee quartz-mine at Scarsdale, bought in 1889; its success was largely due to technical innovation, which W.L. was already adept at organizing though he himself had no technical training.

He had an increasing number of local associates in mining and other ventures, but the chief source of capital had still to be sought in England. E. L. & C. Baillieu had built up a considerable arbitrage business with London brokers, and in 1897 W.L. set sail for Britain to broaden this connexion. London had reason to look askance at young colonials 'with a bit of quartz in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other', and W.L.'s success in gaining acceptance in useful circles in the City illustrates his persuasive personality. A friend described him at this time as 'one of the wicked bears who are always ranging around the world with a view of getting as much out of it as possible', and there must have seemed a strong predatory element in W.L.'s unceasing search for profitable fields. A longer perspective suggests that behind his obvious delight in managing and making money — he is said to have become very rich by the turn of the century — he had also a more elevated instinct for national development, which he identified, habitually but not exclusively, with mining and related industries.

In August 1901 W.L. was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council as member for the Northern Province. Sitting as a non-party member he supported liberal policies of economic development and moderate social reform, including old-age pensions, increases in teachers' salaries and factory legislation (showing special concern for procedures to avoid and settle strikes). He supported the White Australia policy, but defended Chinese against discrimination. Years later the Labor member George Prendergast observed that 'he was generally considered a somewhat liberal-minded man in view of his great wealth at that period'. When John Murray became premier in 1909, Baillieu accepted office as minister of public health and commissioner of public works and was government leader in the council. In 1912, when Murray was succeeded by W. A. Watt, W.L. relinquished his portfolios, but continued as honorary minister and government leader in the council. He was content with a political power that was unobtrusive but real, and much greater than his formal positions implied.

In 1902 Prince temporarily withdrew from E. L. & C. Baillieu to spend a highly profitable decade as a member of the London Stock Exchange. In 1904 W.L. handed over management of the estate agency to Arthur, as his own interests became more diverse; henceforth he described his profession simply as 'investor'. Theodore Fink had invited him to be a director of the Herald in 1893 and he joined Fink on the board of Wunderlich Ltd in 1908. In 1904 he had joined three other boards: the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co. of Australasia Ltd; the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Co. Ltd; and the Carlton Brewery Ltd (in response to a solemn petition from its directors, prompted by respect for his abilities as well as for his wife's substantial shareholding). In the same year Montague Cohen introduced him to A. J. F. de Bavay, the Belgian chemist of the Foster brewery, who was devising a flotation process for extracting metals from the mountains of tailings around the Broken Hill silver-lead mines. W.L. was impressed, and with Prince and Cohen formed de Bavay's Treatment Co. Ltd (re-formed in 1909 as Amalgamated Zinc (de Bavay's) Ltd) to exploit the process.

Despite his preoccupation with Victorian gold-mining, W.L. had long had interests in mining ventures in Tasmania and New South Wales, and in 1906 he was to join the board of the important Hampden-Cloncurry copper-mine in Queensland. His involvement with Broken Hill had a different order of significance; he committed himself to the future of the great lode with a boldness of vision for his own and the national future. His principal associates included the Australian-born London sharebrokers Lionel Robinson and William Clark; Lionel's younger brother W. S. Robinson; Francis Govett, another London stock-broker, with extensive interests in Western Australia; John L. Wharton, H. J. Daly and the American mining engineer and future president, known locally as 'Hail Columbia' Hoover. In 1905-06 the group brought together a number of related interests in Broken Hill. W.L. joined the board of the reconstructed North Broken Hill Mining Co. (after 1912 North Broken Hill Ltd), of which he was to be chairman in 1926-31. With Robinson Clark & Co. he raised capital to develop the mine, only to find that its future lay in the despised Victoria Cross lease, which Prince and W.L. had bought as a speculative bargain in 1902 and sold to Norths in 1904. Norths provided de Bavay with a site for a flotation plant, and dumps of tailings. In 1905 W.L. joined Clark, Hoover and Govett in forming the Zinc Corporation to exploit another flotation process; the corporation eventually became a great mine-owner as well as a processor when it acquired the Broken Hill South Blocks in 1911. In 1912 a new company, Minerals Separation and de Bavay's Processes Australia Pty Ltd, was formed with W.L. as chairman, to develop flotation processes for other minerals. W. S. Robinson later wrote that 'no metallurgical development of the last fifty years … added so much to the wealth of the world as the flotation process … The part our group played was mostly due to W. L. Baillieu, whose belief in the success of flotation never wavered'. At the time when Broken Hill Proprietary was deciding that its future lay in iron and steel and away from Broken Hill, these loosely-related Anglo-Australian groups entrenched themselves at the northern and southern ends of the lode; they drew the old Broken Hill South Silver Mining Co. into their orbit as well as North Broken Hill Ltd and with new processes and new ore discoveries proved that there was more wealth in the famous Hill than had yet been removed from it.

Among W.L.'s other interests at this time was the Melbourne Electricity Co., whose advisory board he joined in 1908. Anxious to develop electricity generation from brown coal deposits in the La Trobe valley, he formed first a syndicate and later the Great Morwell Coal Mining Co. By 1914 a plan had been drawn up, with the involvement of Siemens of Berlin, to establish a Lurgi plant in the valley, the gas to be piped to Melbourne for electricity generation. When, in 1918, the State Electricity Commission was eventually established, Baillieu spoke proudly in the Legislative Council of his long 'obsession' with the prospect of massive electrification from brown coal, and claimed that the terms under which private enterprise had been willing to launch it 'would have been highly satisfactory to the State, and absolutely fair'. The public debate had convinced him, reluctantly, 'that the country would not permit the great under-taking to be taken up by private enterprise'.

In 1910 W.L. built his group a home in Collins Street. A massive building, it housed the offices of some fifty companies of vastly varying significance, all provided with common services by Secretariat Pty Ltd, founded by W.L.'s brother-in-law Edward Shackell. Collins House became, for sixty years, the symbol of Australian capitalism to its socialist critics; its rivals called it 'Glenrowan House' and alleged that its motto was 'when on thin ice skate fast'. The very scale of the Baillieu success aroused envy and animus, just as the qualities which brought that success inspired admiration in associates. The young W. S. Robinson, brought up with prejudices against land-boomers and Baillieu in particular, came to regard him as 'the greatest of all men who set out to develop Australia': Robinson admired his boldness of conception, and what W. M. Hughes described as 'his dauntless courage and tenacity of purpose'. W.L. himself once complained to fellow directors that, 'the trouble with you fellows is that you're more concerned with not being wrong than with being right'. Although his formal education was not extensive, he had great natural skill with figures, and an earthy directness of speech and writing. A shrewd judge of men, he sought technical advice wisely and used it well, negotiated with subtlety and force and chose excellent managers whom he supported loyally. He also had the rare quality of valuing diversity of view; 'in every good zoo', he remarked, 'you've got to have one of every kind of animal'. If there remained an enigmatic quality in his personality, it lay less in any ethical ambiguity — despite the murmurings of business rivals less clever than he — than in his reticence concerning his deepest motives, his preference for informal rather than formal authority, and his disdain for public honours; he twice rebuffed offers of a knighthood.

His private life was simple, though he lived well. Heathfield, his home in Camberwell, was large and comfortable, and Sefton, which he built at Mount Macedon early in the century, included a golf course among its amenities. W.L.'s four sons and four daughters were born between 1889 and 1904; Clive Latham (Baron Baillieu) (1889-1967), the eldest, left Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1908 for Trinity College in the University of Melbourne, proceeding to Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1911 to read law. He rowed for Oxford in 1913, was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple in 1914, and married William Clark's daughter Ruby in 1915. W.L. was an attentive father. His social life was restricted to his family and a few close friends, such as the architect W. R. Butler, the artist (Sir) Arthur Streeton, and in later years (Sir) Keith Murdoch. In middle age he developed a strong interest in country life, and acquired a number of properties, mainly in Queensland and Victoria. Two of his sons, Harry Latham and Tom Latham, made their careers as pastoralists; the youngest, James Latham, trained for the law.

When war broke out in 1914 Baillieu expressed surprise and apprehension, predicting economic dislocation and serious unemployment: 'My thoughts fly particularly to the working classes, who will be most seriously affected by hostilities', he told the Legislative Council. Australian base-metal mining was heavily dependent on German contracts; Baillieu took part in the rapid negotiation of a government guarantee for copper producers, which protected Mount Morgan and Hampden-Cloncurry, and in August he called a conference of Broken Hill companies and unions at Collins House which produced a plan for half-time working to prevent extensive lay-offs on the Hill. Before the war Broken Hill had also relied on German and other foreign smelters for processing half its lead output and almost all its zinc. The brash beginnings of Hughes's campaign against German dominance in the metals trade annoyed Baillieu, but when the minister recruited W. S. Robinson as architect of a new Imperial structure for the industry W.L. became a crucial, if wary, supporter. Robinson had persuaded W.L. that the war would be a long one, and revived the proposal that the Collins House group should acquire B.H.P.'s large smelter at Port Pirie. The Broken Hill Associated Smelters Pty Ltd was formed to take over the works in May 1915; W.L. was chairman in 1915-33, and under Robinson and Colin Fraser the works were rejuvenated and production greatly increased. At about the same time W.L. was involved in arranging for Mount Morgan, with Hampden-Cloncurry, to replace German interests as shareholders in Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Co., which operated a copper refinery at Port Kembla. Production was increased, and a fabricating plant was established by a new company, Metal Manufactures Ltd, incorporated in 1916 with W.L. on the board.

Australian capacity to smelt zinc remained extremely limited. Baillieu had inspected processes in Germany in 1911, but it was not until 1915 that the Collins House group explored the possibility of establishing electrolytic smelting of zinc in Australia, collecting information and experts in the United States of America; W.L., knowing that only Tasmania had electricity resources capable of supporting zinc smelting, negotiated with its government and chose a site at Risdon. In 1916 the Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australia Ltd was formed; technical problems in the pilot plant caused almost everyone but W.L. to panic, but skill and luck averted disaster. The attempt to raise £1 million in 1920, the largest float of its kind in Australia to that time, seemed likely to fail disastrously until he pledged the entire resources of Mutual Trust — in effect the Baillieu family fortunes — in support of the expansion on the plant. This act, which sufficed to save the company, was described by Robinson as 'one of the boldest actions in Melbourne's financial history'. It was too bold for two of the Baillieu brothers; convinced that 'William was off his head' they vainly sought ways of dissuading without confronting him.

W.L.'s wartime activities were not restricted to the mining industry. In August 1914 he attended the prime minister's conference on economic policies for war, and he remained 'much within the vortex of things'. His work as chairman of the Victorian State Munitions Committee in 1915-18 was highly praised by the minister for defence, and in 1918 he joined Treasurer Watt's Commonwealth Finance Council to plan post-war reconstruction. In 1915 he also contributed to policy-making in the marketing of primary production, when he urged compulsory government purchase and resale of the wheat crop. His proposal is said to have influenced the establishment of the compulsory pool scheme, under the Australian Wheat Board, in 1916. He advocated the pool as an exception to his general rule that 'the less the government interferes with trade the better it is for the community and for itself'; indeed he argued later for a merely voluntary pool, though by that time his opposition was mainly to the strident demands of the nascent Country Party, which he saw as the harbinger of 'socialism'.

The emergence of militant country organizations was but one symptom of the increasing bitterness which developed in the later years of the war. As early as 1916 W.L.'s moderate interventionism had been attacked, in his own electorate, as too liberal. He reacted to the new militancy of the Left with an outspoken championing of free enterprise, supported Hughes in the conscription debate, and contemptuously rebutted an attack mounted on him in Federal parliament in August 1917 by Frank Anstey, who revived the allegation of German associations. When the Victorian government fell, there were rumours that W.L. would seek the premiership, but instead he resigned his offices in November 1917; he later accepted the unofficial leadership of the Legislative Council. Early in 1922 he retired from the council; in a farewell statement to his constituents he attacked both the Country Party's sectionalism and Labor's socialism, expressing the fear that the two might combine.

Although Baillieu did not escape the prevalent hardening of general political attitudes, he retained much of his liberal pragmatism on specific issues. In labour relations he remained flexible and innovative, though sometimes abrasive in particular negotiations. He fully supported (Sir) Gerald Mussen's introduction at Port Pirie of staff amenities and safety standards unprecedented in the area: Mussen had been sent early in 1919 to Broken Hill to improve workers' conditions but he had been forced to withdraw when the 'Big Strike' of 1919-20 erupted. W.L. did not visit Broken Hill during the strike, though he chaired a committee of company representatives in Melbourne; his role at an important meeting of management and unions which was ultimately called at Collins House is said to have been liberal and constructive. E. J. Holloway later praised his attitude in labour matters, and gave him the main credit for accepting proposals for the famous 'lead bonus'. W.L. also gave thought to international aspects of the labour question: in 1919 the Australian government sent to Hughes at the Versailles Conference his proposal 'for a democratic programme to secure better conditions for working men'.

During the war W.L. had expressed concern for the future of Australian servicemen. With his brothers he donated £25,000—the largest single gift—to the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Fund in 1918, and after the war they purchased a mansion in Brighton to become, as Anzac House, a repatriation hostel for disabled veterans. The brothers also set up the Baillieu Educational Trust for the benefit of the children of dead or wounded soldiers. Three of W.L.'s sons had served with distinction in France and Britain: Clive returned with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, after serving in the Australian Flying Corps and then the Royal Air Force (1918-19); he was appointed O.B.E. and was mentioned in dispatches. Harry served in the British Army, winning the Military Cross for gallantry on the Western Front; Tom joined the Australian Flying Corps and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. By this time their mother's health was failing; Bertha Baillieu died in 1925, and her unmarried daughter Vere took her place as housekeeper at Heathfield and Sefton, homes which remained the centre of W.L.'s existence.

W.L.'s life in his sixties was, however, scarcely autumnal. As W. S. Robinson later recalled, 'the chief never really grew old'. He joined new boards—for example Yarra Falls Ltd in 1924, and Austral Silk and Cotton in 1927. Ever on the watch for new ventures, he explored the potential value of copper and oil in New Guinea and irrigation in Western Australia, and would have pursued the development of the vast ore body discovered at Mount Isa in 1923 had early reports not discouraged him. Under his chairmanship Amalgamated Zinc began in 1924 to investigate the possibility of establishing a paper industry in Tasmania, and in 1927 the Collins House group joined in forming Tasmanian Paper, forerunner of a company which established production in 1936. W.L. was said to be especially sympathetic to this venture because it satisfied three criteria he now applied to new investments: the product was equally important in war or peace; the raw material was available in Australia and war would not cut off supplies; and the product was not subject to substitution. The lessons of 1914 had been well learned, and another lesson also: the emergence of political extremism persuaded him that mere mining leases were a form of property too subject to the whims of unpredictable governments, while processing and manufacturing had greater security if soundly based.

The manipulation of money itself never ceased to fascinate him, and he enjoyed his almost legendary status as 'Australia's Money King'. Prime Minister (Viscount) Bruce recalled his embarrassment when a Baillieu syndicate under-bid the Australian government's regular London agent in tendering for a Commonwealth Loan. For reasons of continuity Bruce felt obliged to accept the higher London bid; he explained his motive to W.L. and was surprised and impressed when he made neither public nor private protest.

By the 1920s the international strength of the Collins House group was well established. W. S. Robinson's London office as 'controller' for the group gained an impetus of its own; W.L. supported Robinson in the decision to join in the British Metals Corporation rather than set up a separate marketing organization for the Broken Hill group. In 1926 it was decided that W.L.'s son Clive, who had gone to the Melbourne Bar after the war, should join the burgeoning London operation; he was well established there by 1929 when his father and Robinson were jointly awarded the gold medal of the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy 'in recognition of their services in the mineral development of the Empire'.

The Depression, rather than development, was to dominate W.L.'s last years. The slump in metal prices in 1926 presaged wider disasters. The Hampden-Cloncurry copper-mine closed, all W.L.'s financial adroitness was required to save the Port Kembla refinery, and Broken Hill itself was hard pressed to avoid drastic retrenchments. Now much quoted in the press, he looked to increased population and American investment as the country's chief remedies, but the Wall Street slump brought new dimensions of difficulty. In 1930 W.L. pleaded for major efforts to rationalize industry, and to break down 'the wall of suspicion' dividing employer and employee. He rejected orthodox remedies for the Depression: 'such deflation would bankrupt half the businesses in Australia, and who would employ all the staffs and employees?'. (He was himself secretly subsidizing the employment of professional men in state investigatory projects.) He was more sympathetic to the Premiers' Plan than most businessmen, and was wrestling with 'a scheme to lower capital values by an agreed writing down which would reduce the interest bill', when his health suddenly collapsed in 1932. Symptoms of physical restlessness, loss of memory, uncharacteristic indecision, and irrational fears — including a belief that he was insolvent — beset him. Unable to work, he retired from most of his offices; Clive and Vere took him to Britain, where he died of pneumonia on 6 February 1936, and was buried at Windlesham, Surrey. To the surprise of many, but not of those who knew his skill in avoiding unnecessary financial commitments, his estate was valued at under £60,000.

Prince Baillieu lived on until 14 July 1939. He had worked closely with W.L., but to the public he was best known as a racing man; a member of the Victoria Racing Club Committee from 1895, and honorary treasurer from 1918 until his death, he owned in whole or part many famous horses, including the 1924 Melbourne Cup winner Backwood (in which W.L. had a share) and the legendary Ajax, which in 1937-40 won 36 out of 46 races, including 18 in succession. He once remarked that he had kept his business records exactly to the farthing, but had no idea of the extent of his racing investments. He had a substantial property, Elleston, in New South Wales. Like other Baillieus, he was an active Freemason. On his death-bed he told his nephew that 'everything the Baillieu family has they owe to your Uncle Willie'; and one-fifth of his estate of almost £500,000 was left to the University of Melbourne Library 'in memory of William Lawrence Baillieu'.

The most prominent Baillieu of the next generation was W.L.'s eldest son Clive. His career was international, with its focus in London rather than Melbourne, but he always regarded himself as an Australian who happened to live and work much of the time in Britain. Circumstances delayed the launching of his business career until his mid-thirties, but its progress then was meteoric. After a period working with Robinson in the London office, he joined the board of the Zinc Corporation and immersed himself in mining matters. In 1936 he and Robinson established the New Broken Hill Consolidated mine to the south of the Zinc Corporation leases, and saw it become 'the heart of the field'. The Zinc Corporation, drifting apart from the original Collins House group, merged with the Imperial Smelting Corporation Ltd to become the Consolidated Zinc Corporation in 1949; after a further merger, Baillieu became in 1962-65 deputy chairman of Rio Tinto Zinc Corporation Ltd, a giant company with interests in America, Europe and Australia. These, and related interests, made him a force in the world mining industry.

Baillieu was also involved in insurance, in banking (on the boards of the English, Scottish and Australian Bank from 1929 and the Midland Bank from 1944), and in the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Ltd from 1924, becoming joint president in 1962-65 after the formation of Dalgety & New Zealand Loan Ltd. The company he always regarded as chief among his loyalties, however, was Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd whose board he joined in 1929; he became deputy chairman in 1945, chairman in 1949 and president in 1957, and saw it develop into a highly diversified industrial giant. His involvement with the international rubber industry brought him close links with the United States, and a concern for the stability of rubber supplies which became important in the period of emergency in post-war Malaya.

Clive shared his father's pragmatic liberalism. In 1928 he was approached to stand for the House of Commons as a Liberal, but decided against a political career. His involvement in public affairs was, however, continuous. In 1929-39 he sat as the United Kingdom representative in Australia on the Imperial Communications Advisory Committee, and in 1930-47 was an Australian representative on the Imperial Economic Committee. As Europe darkened into war, he was, with Bruce, one of the principal interpreters of Australian opinion to Britain, and vice versa. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1929 and K.B.E. in 1938.

When war broke out Baillieu was asked to go to the United States, where he played a very effective part organizing supplies of raw materials. A skilled, patient negotiator, who listened with courtesy and could sum up discussion with a persuasively phrased proposal, he proved as effective in Allied councils as he was in boardrooms, and he had an almost unrivalled knowledge of world trade in raw materials.

Returning to Britain, Baillieu was asked by the government to act as chairman of the Fairey Aviation Co., then in difficulties. In 1944 he became deputy chairman of the Federation of British Industry; as its chairman in 1945-47, and as a member of the National Industrial Council in 1945-53, he was deeply involved in efforts to revitalize British industry after the war. Twenty years earlier, he and his father had tried to persuade Australians to seek capital from America and not to rely, through mistaken loyalties, on London alone; in 1948 in Melbourne he argued that Britain's greatness was not over, and that Australia should participate in her recovery. That year he led a trade mission to Argentina; in 1950 he made a world tour of Dunlop plants, pausing in Melbourne to warn of the dangers of communist insurgency in south-east Asia. In 1953 he was created Baron Baillieu, of Sefton in Australia and Parkwood in Surrey, the first Australian hereditary peer with sons to succeed him.

Lord Baillieu gave time to causes, as well as to companies and governments. He was deeply interested in the English Speaking Union, spanning as it did his own allegiances to Britain, Australia and the United States, and was its chairman from 1951. He was a member of the General Advisory Council of the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1947-52, and after 1958 a governor of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Always concerned to improve the quality of management, he chaired the Committee on Industrial Management which produced the 'Baillieu Report', was a member of the first council of the British Institute of Management, and later its first president.

Late in life he showed particular concern for the preservation of business archives and, especially, for the collection being gathered by the University of Melbourne. He died suddenly in Melbourne on 19 June 1967, predeceased by his wife in 1962; his will provided for the transfer of his own rich collection of papers to a suitable repository in Australia, and also revealed the usual strong sense of family identity in expressing the hope that a suitable biography of W. L. Baillieu would be written.

His eldest son William Latham (b.1915) succeeded to the title. He was killed in an accident in 1973 and the title passed to his son James William (b.1950). The first Lord Baillieu was also survived by two other sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, The Rush that Never Ended (Melb, 1963)
  • M. Cannon, The Land Boomers (Melb, 1966)
  • W. S. Robinson, If I Remember Rightly, G. Blainey ed (Melb, 1967)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7, 8 Feb 1936
  • Age (Melbourne), 15, 17 July 1939, 19 June 1967
  • Herald (Melbourne), 19 June 1967
  • papers of Sir Colin Fraser, of W. S. Robinson and of Broken Hill companies (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • papers of 1st Lord Baillieu, including J. H. Reynolds, Memoir of W. L. Baillieu (held by Lord Baillieu's trustees)
  • family and business papers (privately held).

Citation details

J. R. Poynter, 'Baillieu, William Lawrence (Willie) (1859–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baillieu-william-lawrence-willie-5099/text8517, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 28 August 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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