Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brunton, Sir William (1867–1938)

by David Dunstan

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

Sir William Brunton (1867-1938), businessman and lord mayor, was born on 1 February 1867 at Carlton, Victoria, son of David Brunton, mason, and his wife Margaret, née Lonie, both Scottish-born. He was educated at Princes Hill State School and, after his father died, was apprenticed in 1880 as a carpenter and joiner. Seven years later Brunton was invited to join his uncle's business, Currie & Richards, manufacturers of galvanized spouting and ironware. He became a partner and, in 1918 when a proprietary company was formed, a managing director, retaining a lifelong connexion with the firm. He consolidated his business career by accepting directorships with London Stores Ltd, the Standard Mutual Building Society, and the Metropolitan Gas and Australasian Advertising companies.

Brunton entered the Melbourne City Council for Victoria Ward, which took in North Carlton, in January 1913. He was one of the council's many representatives on the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works in 1919-30. In October 1923 he was elected lord mayor to replace the ailing Sir John Swanson, served three successive terms and voluntarily relinquished the office in 1926. As chairman of the National War Memorial of Victoria Committee he worked toward the creation of the Shrine of Remembrance. He developed the Lord Mayor's Fund for Metropolitan Hospitals and Charities and in 1926 helped to raise £200,000 for victims of bushfires in Gippsland. Brunton was knighted in 1926 and elected alderman in 1929. Having been a member of the committee of management of the Royal Melbourne Hospital for fourteen years, he resigned as vice-president in December 1936 after a disagreement over the site for its new building.

Brunton had been thrust into public prominence during the police strike which began on 31 October 1923. On 2 November, at the request of the (Sir) H. S. W. Lawson ministry, Brunton made use of council powers to recruit special constables. By Saturday, 3 November, one hundred had been enrolled. That evening saw serious rioting and looting in the city: he interviewed the attorney-general Sir Arthur Robinson, and arranged for Sir John Monash and Brigadier General H. E. Elliott to take charge of the 'specials' and control the situation from the Town Hall. On 5 November the ministry announced Brunton's appointment as chairman of an executive committee, with the responsibility of co-ordinating services and the power to enrol a force of 5000; the committee met regularly over the next few weeks. The minority Labor councillors were highly critical of his actions: they believed that the Lawson ministry had escalated the situation and, with Brunton's active connivance, had shelved responsibility onto the council.

During Brunton's mayoralty, metropolitan growth and the increasing number of motor vehicles presented new problems; while city planning and public works were gravely hindered by the division of authority into some two dozen municipalities and other bodies with limited powers. In 1925, on the suggestion of the minister for public works, the Melbourne City Council convened a conference on the subject of a Greater Melbourne council, with Brunton as chairman. He also chaired the thirteen-man committee that prepared a draft report, which recommended that a federal scheme, like the London County Council, be adopted, with a new metropolitan body co-ordinating and controlling essential services. The report was adopted with amendments by the conference in June and was referred to constituent councils. The city council considered the report in September and rejected it, Brunton himself voting against the scheme. The proposal lapsed, but the 'Brunton Report', as it became known, remained for many years the basis for Greater Melbourne projections.

On 14 February 1894 Brunton had married Jessie Wray of Carlton, who became noted for her philanthropy; she died in 1927. On 16 November 1932 in Sydney he married a lifelong friend, Christine Martha McFadden. Brunton had no children but took a great interest in child welfare, particularly the playgrounds movement. He was a Presbyterian and a prominent Freemason, a keen supporter of the Carlton cricket and football clubs, and for thirteen years president of the Victorian Bowling Association. He was a Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiast.

Brunton died of cancer on 13 April 1938 at his home, Selkirk, Malvern, predeceased by his second wife. He was buried in Melbourne general cemetery and his estate, valued for probate at £184,367, was largely left to charities. Brunton Avenue, Melbourne, is named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. F. Davies, Local Government in Victoria (Melb, 1951)
  • Australian Hardware and Machinery, 1 Sept 1903
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Nov 1923, 8 Dec 1936, 14 Apr 1938
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 4 Feb 1926
  • Melbourne City Council Archives.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Brunton, Sir William (1867–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brunton-sir-william-5407/text9123, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 1 October 2016.

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

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