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Brookman, Sir George (1850–1927)

by R. M. Gibbs

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

Sir George Brookman (1850-1927), businessman and politician, was born on 15 April 1850 in Glasgow, Scotland, eldest son of Benjamin Brookman, letterpress-printer, and his first wife Jane, née Wilson. On medical advice the family migrated in 1852 to Adelaide where Benjamin was engaged by the government printer before establishing his own business. After education at James Bath's school and that of R. C. Mitton, George worked for D. & J. Fowler, wholesale grocers and importers. In the 1880s, with William Finlayson, he conducted a large retail grocery business in King William Street. Then, at a time of economic uncertainty, he became a sharebroker and financial agent and, in 1890-96, a member of the Stock Exchange of Adelaide.

After news of promising gold finds in Western Australia, Brookman formed the Adelaide Prospecting Party (later Coolgardie Gold Mining and Prospecting Co. Ltd) with ten paid shares of £15 each and five free shares issued to his brother William and Samuel W. Pearce. These two prospectors pegged claims at Hannan's Find, north-east of Coolgardie, in June 1893. Despite the waverings of associates, and conflicting reports from experienced men who visited 'Brookman's sheep-run', as the claims were known, Brookman increased the syndicate's capital, then in Melbourne floated the Ivanhoe property as a subsidiary company, and the Lake View and Boulder East Co. in Adelaide. The Great Boulder claims were sold off in London. Difficult conditions on the fields, problems in delivering the first battery, and the financial stringencies of the promoters were surmounted; at the end of 1894 Brookman witnessed in person the satisfactory results of the initial clean-up at the battery. Next year Associated Gold Mines of Western Australia Ltd was formed in London to absorb further claims. By 1896 the success of the many Brookman companies, with the best leases on the 'Golden Mile', was apparent — an achievement realized largely through Brookman's extraordinarily skilful financial transactions and able administration. When the Coolgardie Gold Mining and Prospecting Co. was voluntarily liquidated in 1898, its capitalization represented £9,275,750.

Brookman never lost his interest in Western Australian and South Australian mining, but after a controversy over the management of Associated Gold Mines in 1900 he resigned his directorships and his later years were marked by other activities. He had been chairman of the Walkerville District Council in 1886, 1894 and 1899, and represented Central District in the South Australian Legislative Council in 1901-10. Politically conservative, he favoured orthodox financial policies and opposed general suffrage for the council. He advocated electrification but not nationalization of the Adelaide tramways, ignored the existence of sweating in factories, and believed the public education system had gone too far, except in imparting rudimentary agricultural and technical knowledge. He was a consistent supporter of harnessing the Murray for irrigation, and sought improvements in shipping facilities, more help for the mining industry, development of the Northern Territory with Asian labour, and closer settlement in selected areas.

In business affairs Brookman was associated with several public companies and built substantial offices in Grenfell Street. He bought and restructured the Electric Lighting and Traction Co. Ltd, which from 1895 had sought to supply electricity to Port Adelaide and Adelaide; from 1905 he was chairman of the local, and later central, board of the Adelaide Electric Supply Co. Ltd. In wartime he was also prominent, contributing liberally to the South Australian Bushmen's Contingent for the South African War and raising funds in World War I. A member of the State War Council, chairman of the State Repatriation Board, and active on behalf of the War Savings Committee and Red Cross Society, he was appointed K.B.E. in 1920. Brookman was also chairman of the Adelaide Hospital, a governor of the Children's Hospital and of the South Australian Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery, a director of the Bank of Adelaide in 1911-27, and a council-member of the University of Adelaide in 1901-26. His benefactions included £15,000 donated to the building fund for the South Australian School of Mines and Industries, and gifts to the Art Gallery.

Brookman was known to his contemporaries as public-spirited, alert, energetic and courteous, with his opinion always well considered; to some people he seemed reticent and retiring. He was above all a shrewd businessman. Small in stature, from his parliamentary days onward he had varying health. He died at Medindie on 20 June 1927 and was buried in North Road cemetery, survived by his wife Eliza Martha, née Marshall, whom he had married on 13 February 1878 with Presbyterian forms at St Kilda, Victoria, and by a daughter and two sons. His estate was valued for probate at £42,748. Two oil portraits are held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • J. J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1907)
  • Garden and Field Pty, Our Pastoral Industry (Adel, 1910)
  • Register (Adelaide), 2 Sept 1899, 17 Apr 1919, 29 Oct 1920, 21 June 1927
  • Observer (Adelaide), 8 June 1901, 23 Oct 1920, 25 June 1927
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 21 June 1927
  • family papers privately held).

Citation details

R. M. Gibbs, 'Brookman, Sir George (1850–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brookman-sir-george-5375/text9095, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

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