This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981
George Frederick Earp (1858-1933), merchant and importer, was born on 24 January 1858 at Nottingham, England, son of George William Earp, railway clerk, and his wife Priscilla Martha, née Shelton. Educated at Derby Grammar School and Beaufort House Collegiate School, London, he was employed as a railway clerk when he decided to visit Australia for his health.
Reaching Western Australia in 1883 Earp saw the possibilities of trade in bunker coal. He formed a partnership with W. J. Gillam of Albany, then went to Newcastle, New South Wales, and bought a ship for £1100. He gradually extended his interests to include the export of coal, coke and timber and the import of timber and general merchandise. The partnership was dissolved in 1900 and in 1903 Earp Bros & Co. Ltd was incorporated with Earp as managing director. The firm helped open the South Maitland coalfields and he became a director of the East Greta Coal Mining Co. Ltd.
Earp visited England in 1893 and on 6 May in London he married Gertrude Mary Saddington; in 1903 he again went overseas, this time for health reasons, and attended the Congress of Chambers of British Empire; in 1908 he was a commissioner for the Franco-British Exhibition. On his return in 1904 he had formed Earp, Woodcock, Beveridge, & Co. Ltd by amalgamating three leading timber and joinery firms. Hardware, at first a sideline, became the main business of Earp Bros after they sold their coal interests to the John Brown firm in 1931 to concentrate on the supply of tiles and bathroom fittings.
A director of the Central Trading Co. and of Edward Chapman & Co., Earp was president of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce in 1899-1901. In his annual address in February 1900 he praised the Protectionist Lyne government for improvements to Newcastle harbour, and in November, despite his free trade views, was nominated to the Legislative Council; he was later a Nationalist. An infrequent speaker, he was keenly interested in matters affecting Newcastle and the coal trade. He supported female suffrage in 1901 because he believed women to be a conservative influence, but was willing to try industrial arbitration despite obvious qualms. In 1912 he opposed an eight-hour day in mines but supported a more practicable bill three years later.
In 1905 Earp moved to Sydney, leaving day-to-day management of his companies to his brother Charles. Support and fund-raising for charities was claiming more and more of his time: he was a director of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales, president of the Health Society of New South Wales and a vice-president of the National Association for the Prevention and Cure of Consumption; he was also a vice-president of the Geographical Society and president of the Association for the Protection of Native Races. He was a member of the Church of England Sydney Diocesan, General and Provincial synods, and served on the Council of The King's School, Parramatta, and the Home Mission Society (Church Society from 1911). During World War I he was active in many patriotic associations and was joint honorary treasurer of the Polish Relief Fund. In 1919 he was appointed honorary consul-general for Poland—he did not treat the position as a sinecure—and in 1921 knight of the Order of Polonia Restituta. He was a founder of the Empire Literature Society and vice-president in 1929.
In his prime Earp was described as 'tall, spare and aristocratic-looking'. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1920. Survived by his wife, three daughters and two sons, he died on 12 March 1933 at his home at Edgecliff. His estate was valued for probate at £44,144.
L. E. Fredman, 'Earp, George Frederick (1858–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/earp-george-frederick-6078/text10407, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 2 August 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981