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Clark, Alfred Thomas (1845–1888)

by Deirdre Rofe

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

Alfred Thomas Clark (1845-1888), politician and businessman, was born in London, the elder son of Thomas Clark and his wife Jane, née Clarkson. The family migrated to Victoria probably in October 1852. Clark received little formal schooling and later boasted that he had educated himself from his own earnings. He was apprenticed a seaman and made several voyages, including one to the Port Curtis gold rush in Queensland in 1858. He then worked in H. B. Donaldson's ship chandlery business at Port Melbourne, and in 1870 transferred to the Customs as a tide waiter. Next year he resigned and in the general elections stood for Williamstown where he lived. His radical policy drew support from the working classes and public servants, and he was returned as an independent member opposing the McCulloch ministry. From the beginning he supported Berry's policy, was a leading member of the National Reform and Protection League and, in the third Berry ministry from 3 August 1880 to 9 July 1881, was commissioner of trade and customs. In this office he improved the lighting on the Victorian coast and Bay channels, established the same hours for the water police as for those on shore, and secured the passage of the Passengers, Harbours and Navigation Laws Amendment Act.

In his seventeen years as member for Williamstown he pursued a radical, protectionist policy and strongly supported the 1872 Education Act and Berry's dismissal of the civil servants in 1878. At the height of that struggle Clark referred to the proposal that the banks issue paper money: 'Let the banks be the victims for they are virtually the Council'. After the fall of the second Berry ministry Clark adopted a more independent line. In 1874 he had founded the Williamstown Advertiser with the purpose of giving vigorous and independent expression to local issues. Although he came to take a less active part in its production, he remained its guiding spirit. His association with the newspaper laid him open to a charge of disloyalty because Queen Victoria had been described as 'an obese, not overburdened with brain, old woman dubbed “Empress”.' Clark disclaimed any knowledge of the article but his conduct in this affair aroused much heat within parliament and outside, where Clark's position as an officer of the volunteer forces caused some consternation.

Clark served on the royal commissions on local government legislation in 1873 and closed roads in 1878. In Williamstown, where he was highly respected and always polled far ahead of any opponent, he was partner in an auctioneering firm. He was also a director of several insurance companies, including the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society. He was involved in two building societies and head of a land syndicate which was speculating at Laverton; he arranged for a railway station to be built there, largely at public expense, on what was then a 'miserable, desolate, windswept plain'. Always interested in local affairs at Williamstown, he was a justice of the peace and president of the Football Club. He resigned from the Legislative Assembly in 1887 to contest the Legislative Council seat of North Yarra, but was defeated. The property qualification had been met by the fortune he had made on land speculation.

He died near Colombo in the Oceana on 19 May 1888, on his way to London where he was to put a South Australian mining venture on the market. His wife Alexandrina Dickson, née McGregor, whom he had married on 1 July 1874, and three children returned to Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • W. H. Elsum, The History of Williamstown: From its First Settlement to a City, 1834-1934 (Williamstown, 1934)
  • Age (Melbourne), 23 May 1888
  • Williamstown Advertiser, 26 May 1888.

Citation details

Deirdre Rofe, 'Clark, Alfred Thomas (1845–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clark-alfred-thomas-3210/text4831, 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

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