Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Catt, Alfred (1833–1919)

by Gordon Buxton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Alfred Catt, by Terence McGann, c1900

Alfred Catt, by Terence McGann, c1900

State Library of South Australia, B 5622/28

Alfred Catt (1833-1919), store-keeper and parliamentarian, was born on 19 December 1833 at Newington, Kent, England, the third child of Charles Catt, carpenter, and his wife Sarah, née Knott. He was educated at the Commercial School, Brompton, and arrived in South Australia in 1849. He farmed for some time near Balhannah and Strathalbyn and then spent two years on Victorian goldfields. Later as a store-keeper he served on the Strathalbyn District Council and was mayor. He was also president of the Literary Institute and lieutenant in the Volunteer Corps. At Strathalbyn he left the Church of England and became a Wesleyan Methodist.

In 1874 after the northern areas were opened to selectors he moved to Gladstone where he established a store, became justice of the peace and chairman of the district council, founded the Mechanics' Institute and established the Volunteer Corps, serving as captain. His activities and interest in this corps reflect his keen study of military history and detailed knowledge of the campaigns of Marlborough, Wellington, Napoleon and Lee. In 1881 he defeated five other candidates for the Stanley seat in the House of Assembly. After a month in parliament he was appointed commissioner of crown lands and immigration in the Bray ministry, though his manner of speech, 'short, rapid, nervous utterances', precluded his success as an orator. His term as minister in 1881-84 coincided with the distress and withdrawal of farmers from the drought-stricken lands north of Goyder's line. Selectors who had agreed at auction to pay up to £6 6s. an acre were allowed to surrender and select the same or other land at £1 0s. 6d. an acre, resulting in a vast loss of revenue. When farmers holding good land in other areas took advantage of these concessions, Catt was criticized for his liberality in administering the admittedly difficult surrender clause. He held the Stanley electorate until 1884 and represented the reconstituted Gladstone electorate in 1884-1902 and again, when it reverted to Stanley, in 1902. In 1906, tall, thin and grey, he retired defeated. In 1887-89 he had been commissioner for public works in the Playford ministry and in 1887 was gazetted Honorable. In 1890-1905 he was chairman of committees of the House of Assembly. A strong farmers' representative, he advocated water conservation and irrigation, railway extension, the reduction of education standards and, somewhat surprisingly in view of his Methodist connexions, the establishment of a central wine depot.

Though he showed broad sympathies with all Christian denominations his major interest remained in the Methodist Church. In country districts and later at Pirie Street and Parkside he served as circuit steward, lay reader, Sunday school superintendent and president of the Sunday School Union; twice he represented South Australia at the Methodist Australasian General Conference. Kindly but earnest, he was generally acknowledged to be conscientious, energetic and impartial. Within the framework of 'liberal principles' he led what the Christian Weekly and Methodist Journal, 13 June 1890, described as the 'white flower of a blameless life'.

On 30 April 1856 Catt married Mary, only daughter of Richard Martin of Helston, Cornwall; they had four children. After her death on 30 October 1896 he married the widow, Emily Chanter, on 8 June 1898; she survived him by three years. Of his three surviving children, Alfred Clifford managed the firm of Alfred C. Catt & Co., Catherine Helen married Rev. W. A. Langsford and Isobel Clifford was unmarried when Catt died at his home in St Peters, Adelaide, on 28 October 1919. His funeral service, at which his favourite hymns were sung, was conducted by the president of the Methodist conference.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of South Australia, vol 1 (Syd, 1890)
  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1908)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 17 Dec 1887, 1 Nov 1919
  • Australian Christian Commonwealth, 14 Nov 1919.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Gordon Buxton, 'Catt, Alfred (1833–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/catt-alfred-3181/text4769, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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