Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Emery, George Edwin (1859–1937)

by E. A. Beever

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

George Edwin Emery (1859-1937), bank officer, was born on 15 November 1859 at Castlemaine, Victoria, son of Francis Emery, carpenter, and his wife Fanny, née Hancock, both natives of Somerset, England. Emery was educated at Castlemaine, at the National School and privately. In July, 1874 he began work in Castlemaine as a clerk with the Commissioners' Savings Bank and in June 1879 moved to the head office in Melbourne. On 5 May 1880 with Baptist forms, he married Ada Heley at Castlemaine. He was promoted chief clerk in January 1886, accountant in June 1892 and secretary in January 1893. In 1897 when the Commissioners' Savings and Post Office Savings banks amalgamated as the State Savings Bank of Victoria, Emery became its first administrative head, and was formally appointed in January with the title of inspector-general.

Emery's leadership of the bank at only 37 reflected a combination of total dedication to the savings bank cause, enormous capacity for hard work, and an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit that was relatively rare in a savings bank officer. As secretary in the troubled years of the 1890s, he was in close touch with the Victorian government and other colonial banks, and contributed significantly to his institution's successful weathering of the storm. More important in the long run, he saw that savings banking in Victoria could play a key role in assisting agriculturalists, upon which general economic recovery largely depended. With others, notably the Austrian consul, Carl Pinschof, he was an enthusiastic advocate of crédit foncier, in essence long-term low-interest loans on the security of land. In May 1894 he instituted a pilot scheme in Victoria, which proved to be the forerunner to the more general and permanent system of crédit foncier provided for under the Savings Bank Act of 1896. Although significantly different from such schemes operating in Europe, notably in using depositors' funds for loans, the Victorian scheme became one of the key sources of farm finance in the State, and overall was highly successful.

Retaining his enthusiasm for this type of finance throughout his life, Emery extended it in 1910 to loans on houses and shops. In 1920 largely through his efforts, the Victorian parliament legislated to liberalize the terms on which such loans could be made to low-income earners. In 1926 he visited England to study low-cost housing, and there became a convert to garden and model city schemes. On his return to Melbourne, he recommended the purchase of some forty-five acres (18 ha) of crown land at Fishermans Bend. This became the basis for the bank's own semi-detached garden city, in which the houses built by the bank were sold on liberal credit terms to less affluent members of the community.

Emery retired in 1929 after thirty-two years as head (the title of inspector-general was changed to general manager in 1923) and is rightly regarded as the most influential figure in its history. He was fortunate both in leading the bank during the long upswing in Victoria's economic fortunes when there was so much scope for successful innovation, and in having an exceptionally able deputy in Alexander Cooch.

Emery was a prominent Freemason. He was grand master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria in 1907-08 and was deeply involved in the higher branches of the craft and Christian degrees. A devout Anglican, he was a lay canon at St Paul's, and also member of the vestry at St Andrew's, Brighton. Particularly after his retirement from the bank, he served on the boards of several companies, including Colonial Mutual Life Assurance, Brighton Gas, and the Mutual Store of which for a time he was chairman of directors. Among his physical recreations were bowls and gardening. He was an active Rotarian. In 1924 he was appointed C. M. G. He died on 18 February 1937 at his home in Middle Brighton after a long illness and was buried in St Kilda cemetery. His wife, four daughters and three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Grant, 500 Victorians (Melb, 1934)
  • T. Craddock and M. Cavanough, 125 Years
  • the Story of the State Savings Bank of Victoria (Melb, 1967)
  • Age (Melbourne), 19 Feb 1937
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 Feb 1937
  • R. F. Middelmann, Victoria's Credit Foncier and Rural Lending on Long Term Mortgage (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1971).

Citation details

E. A. Beever, 'Emery, George Edwin (1859–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/emery-george-edwin-6112/text10477, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 31 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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