Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fraser, Sir Simon (1832–1919)

by Elizabeth M. Redmond

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

Simon Fraser (1832-1919), by unknown photographer

Simon Fraser (1832-1919), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23389727

Sir Simon Fraser (1832-1919), contractor, pastoralist and politician, was born on 21 August 1832 at Pictou, Nova Scotia, the youngest son of William Fraser of Inverness and his wife Jane, née Fraser. He was educated at the Pictou Academy and worked on the family farm and flour-mill.

In 1853 Fraser arrived in Australia and after two years at Bendigo had enough capital to move into business. From his shop in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, he traded in horses and produce from Sydney and soon began tendering for bridge, road and then railway construction. He helped to promote the firm of Collier, Barry & Co. which completed the Sandhurst-Echuca railway in September 1864; Fraser's suggestion to use Bendigo gravel as ballast instead of the blue metal specified in the contract enabled the company to clear £100,000, of which Fraser's share was £30,000. With William McCulloch, Fraser was later a director of the Deniliquin-Moama railway built in 1876. Next year with Barry and Brookes he contracted to build a section of the line from Port Augusta to Farina in South Australia. In 1865 he went to Queensland where with George Simmie, Thomas Craig and William Forrest he formed the Squatting Investment Co. and bought properties on the Dawson River which were later consolidated under the name of Mount Hutton. The company also held Thurulgoona in the Warrego district where in 1886-87 Fraser engaged the Canadian J. S. Loughead to drill for artesian water. Fraser's True Story of the Beginning of Artesian Water Supply of Australia was published in Melbourne in 1914. He became a partner in Collins, White & Co. which also had Queensland properties. Later he bought Nyang near Moulamein in New South Wales. In 1869 he returned to Melbourne and next year with Simmie and Craig bought stations near Echuca.

In 1874 Fraser was elected for Rodney in the Legislative Assembly but did little for Echuca in parliament, confining himself to such metropolitan affairs as the Chamber of Commerce. In 1883 after helping to arrange the Service-Berry coalition he toured Europe and America. On his return in 1885 he was defeated for the seats of West Melbourne in the assembly and Northern Province in the council, but in August 1886 won South Yarra Province in the council. In 1890-92 he was minister without portfolio in James Munro's cabinet. He was a Victorian representative at the Ottawa Conference in 1894 and at the Australasian Federal Convention in 1897-98. In 1901 he topped the Victorian poll for the Senate where he opposed Labor attacks on private enterprise and stood for re-election in 1906 as an anti-socialist. He supported the Canberra site for the federal capital and advocated private ownership of railways. His term expired in 1913. As grand master of the Grand Lodge of Port Phillip he often defended the Orange cause in parliament.

Fraser was a director of the Australian Widows' Fund Life Assurance Society and of the Melbourne Evening Standard. A shrewd judge of men and affairs, his common sense and vigour brought him success in business, not least in the 1890s when Fraser & Co. survived despite the crash of the City of Melbourne Bank, of which he had been a director. After 1885 Fraser lived at Norla, Irving Road, Toorak. In 1862 he had married Margaret Bolger; she died in 1880 survived by two daughters. In 1885 he married Anna Bertha Collins; they had three sons. Fraser was knighted in 1918. On 30 July 1919 he died of bronchitis in Melbourne, survived by his wife, a daughter and two sons.

His portrait, painted by Millais in 1885 for 3000 guineas, is held by descendants at Mundoolun, Tamborine, Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Cannon, The Land Boomers (Melb, 1966)
  • Table Talk, 13 Sept 1889
  • Punch (Melbourne), 17 Dec 1903
  • Age (Melbourne), 31 July 1919
  • Pastoral Review, 16 Aug 1919.

Citation details

Elizabeth M. Redmond, 'Fraser, Sir Simon (1832–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fraser-sir-simon-399/text5523, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 19 December 2014.

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

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