Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Buckland, William Lionel (1899–1964)

by Carole Harris

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

William Lionel Buckland (1899-1964), businessman and philanthropist, was born on 11 December 1899 at Mansfield, Victoria, son of Frederick John Buckland, a stock and station agent from England, and his Victorian-born wife Maria, née Meader; he was a nephew of (Sir) Thomas Buckland. Educated at Mansfield Agricultural School, Bill was employed as a junior clerk by the Bank of New South Wales in Melbourne. In 1919 he opened a bicycle shop at Armadale, sold it for a small profit a year later and sailed for San Francisco, United States of America, where he found work with a motor-accessory firm. Aged 21, he returned to Melbourne with goods valued at £200 which formed the basis of the chain of Buckland wholesale motor-accessory and spare-parts companies. Working a ninety-hour week for many years, by the early 1950s he owned twenty-five companies which included service stations, insurance and finance organizations, and large pastoral properties in most States.

In 1952 Buckland sold his thirteen Southern Cross service stations to Ampol Petroleum Ltd for shares in Ampol Exploration, a deal which netted him more than £500,000 by 1953. He sold most of his motor interests in 1957 to Siddons Industries Ltd for a directorship of that firm and shares worth £663,000; he distributed thousands of these shares to his past employees. In 1960 he sold 11,000 sq. miles (28,490 km²) of property, including the world-renowned Victoria River Downs cattle-station, Northern Territory, to L. J. Hooker Investment Corporation Ltd for £5 million. He gave his only newspaper interview after the Hooker transaction. To Buckland, work was to be turned into assets and assets into money: in 1953 he had bought Windlesham Moor, a mansion in England, with the thwarted intention of starting a merchant bank and world insurance company.

Opinions about Buckland were deeply divided. With a brilliant financial mind, he was meticulous, competitive and arrogant. At times, he skated close to the business edge. Because he liked to be in control, he preferred private to public companies. Yet, many people found him shy and amicable. He inspired loyalty from employees, gave donations to charities throughout his life and was intense in his patriotism.

A close person who was difficult to know, Buckland was naive about the cost of everyday living. While never discussing business at home, he allowed his preoccupations with control and parsimony to carry over into the private sphere. He had married Enid Maud Mellington Darby on 13 April 1921 in the district registrar's office, Waverley, Sydney. The early financial struggle and his nature contributed to an unhappy home life. He gave little time to his family, but was aware of and upset by their image of him. Marred by arguments about money, the union ended in divorce in 1947. His marriage to 29-year-old Patricia Adams on 16 July 1951 at John Knox Presbyterian Church, Gardenvale, Melbourne, saw him more content.

Survived by his wife, and by the son and daughter of his first marriage, Buckland died of a coronary occlusion on 22 November 1964 at his Toorak mansion and was cremated. His Victorian estate, sworn for probate at £924,537, was part of a gross estate of £4,829,644. The family contested his will in three highly-publicized court cases and in 1967 he was posthumously named for tax evasion (in 1947-49 and 1957-59). The bulk of his estate was dedicated to setting up a charitable trust, the William Buckland Foundation. Its income was to be divided equally between public benevolent institutions in Victoria and scientific or educational applicants. The foundation, administered by the Trustees, Executors & Agency Co. Ltd, has made annual distributions since December 1966.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Corbett, Politics and the Airlines (Lond, 1965)
  • S. Brogden, Australia's Two-Airline Policy (Melb, 1968)
  • K. A. J. Buckland, 'Few Gods—Some Heroes—Many Warriors' (privately published, 1977)
  • J. Siddons, Spanner in the Works (Melb, 1990)
  • Victorian Law Reports, 1966
  • Australian Financial Review, 5 May 1960
  • Herald (Melbourne), 25, 26 Nov 1964, 1 Mar 1965
  • Age (Melbourne), 26, 28 Nov 1964, 9, 10, 11, 27 Nov 1965, 5-7, 9 Apr, 19 May 1966, 22-23, 26 Sept 1967
  • private information.

Citation details

Carole Harris, 'Buckland, William Lionel (1899–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buckland-william-lionel-9615/text16953, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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