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Fisher, Charles Brown (1818–1908)

by J. M. Main

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Charles Brown Fisher (1818-1908), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co.

Charles Brown Fisher (1818-1908), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11339

Charles Brown Fisher (1818-1908), grazier, was born on 25 September 1818 in London, the second son of James Hurtle Fisher and his wife Elizabeth, née Johnson. He spent two years on his uncle's farm in Northamptonshire before sailing with his parents in the Buffalo. He arrived in South Australia in December 1836, served briefly as a clerk to his father and then joined his elder brother James in Adelaide as merchants and carriers. In 1838 the brothers sought another partner and occupied their first pastoral lease, Little Para, a few miles north of Adelaide. The run was sold in 1840 but the Fisher brothers soon acquired other pastoral leases from which they supplied Adelaide with sheep and cattle. Such leases were then issued on condition that they were stocked within three months with 16 cattle or 100 sheep to the square mile. In 1844 the Fisher brothers were charged by the commissioner of crown lands with understocking their holdings or moving stock from run to run in order to establish occupancy. The charge was not denied but the Fishers do not appear to have lost their leases. In the early 1850s they sent large numbers of sheep and cattle to the Victorian goldfields and used the profits to expand their landholdings. In 1854 they bought Bundaleer for £31,000 and in 1855 Hill River, near Clare, for £160,000; they then claimed 800 square miles (2072 km²) under pastoral leases and were again accused of moving stock between their runs to establish occupation. Charles was also buying freehold land including the Levels, near Adelaide, where he started a merino stud. In 1856 he wrote to James in England estimating that they would shear 115,000 sheep that year: 'Such a state of things, I venture to say is unexampled even by golddiggers'.

A noted sportsman, Fisher had ridden at the first race meeting in Adelaide in 1838 and helped to organize the first steeplechase over four miles (6.4 km) of stiff country. In the 1850s he imported several thoroughbreds and after he moved to Melbourne in 1865 bought most of his brother Hurtle's Maribyrnong stud in April 1866 and made his début racing under his own colours at the spring meeting of the Victoria Racing Club. He retired from the turf as an owner and sold his stud for a sensational total of £64,376 but continued to import blood sires. Well known at Flemington for his courtly manner and English dress, he was vice-president of the V.R.C.

Fisher became one of the biggest pastoralists in Australia. In Victoria he bought Cumberland, near Melbourne, and Pirron Yallock, near Colac, for breeding from imported Lincoln sheep and stud Shorthorns: one bull cost him £4000. In South Australia he sold most of his land including Bundaleer and Hill River where he had 50,000 sheep and some 4000 acres (1619 ha) under wheat. He bought Yanga near Balranald, Gunbower near Echuca and Thurulgoona on the Warrego River. In 1868 he began to take up leases in Queensland; by 1877 he had sixteen runs but lost them when the Supreme Court ruled that his claim to qualify as a resident was fraudulent. After his appeal to the Privy Council failed he turned with great enterprise to the Northern Territory. With J. C. Lyon as partner he took Victoria River Downs and other leases, stocking them with some 30,000 cattle overlanded from south Queensland. The partners also attempted to cultivate coffee and rubber near Darwin but without success. By 1887 they held in the territory about 34,000 square miles (88,060 km²) much of which they stocked and extensively improved. In 1884 Fisher & Lyon sent a trial shipment of cattle to south-east Asia with little profit and in 1890 Goldsbrough Mort took over some of their leases. Overcapitalization, falling prices and six bad seasons forced Fisher into bankruptcy in 1895. His liabilities were nearly £1,500,000 against assets of £786,000. Destitute, he retired to Melbourne where in November 1896 friends took up a subscription which Franc Falkiner headed with £500. Later Fisher moved to Adelaide and died at Glenelg on 6 May 1908. Predeceased by his wife Agnes Louisa, whom he had married in 1855, and survived by their only son, he left an estate valued at £1600.

Select Bibliography

  • H. H. Peck, Memoirs of a Stockman (Melb, 1942)
  • G. C. Morphett (ed), C. B. Fisher (Adel, 1945)
  • Australasian, 16 Mar, 11 May 1895, 6 Nov 1896
  • Argus (Melbourne), 31 Aug 1895
  • Register (Adelaide), 7 May 1908
  • CSO letter books, 1844, 1855 (State Records of South Australia).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. M. Main, 'Fisher, Charles Brown (1818–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fisher-charles-brown-379/text5415, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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