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Hagelthorn, Frederick William (1864–1943)

by J. W. Graham

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Frederick William Hagelthorn (1864-1943), stock and station agent and politician, was born on 23 January 1864 at The Whim Holes, Ballarat, Victoria, son of Frederick Hagelthorn, a Swedish seaman who had jumped ship in Melbourne to head for the Ballarat diggings, and his Irish wife Mary, née Robertson. She brought her son up in the Catholic faith. After attending the Sebastopol State School Hagelthorn worked for several years at mining until the family moved to Allendale. He welcomed the opportunity for further education and spent a year at Creswick Grammar School where (Sir) Alexander Peacock was an assistant teacher.

Matriculating in 1880, Hagelthorn found employment in stores in the Stawell and Horsham districts. Briefly, he had his own general store. Then, after managing a store at Portland for several years, he set himself up as a stock and station agent. The business prospered and by 1900 the firm of F. Hagelthorn & Co. had substantial property holdings. About 1904 Hagelthorn formed a partnership with a banker, W. C. Bolton, and, operating from Horsham, launched into larger enterprises, particularly the purchase, subdivision and sale of land near the Murray. At 40 Hagelthorn was wealthy, respected and well known throughout the Mallee and Wimmera. He helped to found the Horsham branch of the Australian Natives' Association and the Horsham Working Men's College; he endowed scholarships for schoolchildren and awarded prizes for educational attainment. On 9 February 1905 at the Horsham Catholic Church he married Sarah Newton.

In 1907, standing as a Liberal for the North-Western Province, Hagelthorn was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council. In his maiden speech he advocated the opening for settlement of Crown lands, particularly in the Mallee, water conservation schemes and construction of railways. Reforms to the education system and establishment of agricultural high schools were also part of his platform. In June 1909 he was appointed honorary minister in charge of immigration in the Murray government and held this post in the succeeding Watt ministry until June 1913 when he was made minister of public works and of public health and vice-president of the Board of Lands and Works. Following the short-lived Labor ministry in December, Hagelthorn resumed the vice-presidency of the Board of Lands and Works and was also commissioner of public works in the second Watt and the Peacock ministries until his appointment as minister for agriculture in November 1915.

Hagelthorn was a man of great persuasive influence who sought not plaudits but results. During his ministerial career, which lasted until November 1917, he steadily championed farming interests and steered bills dealing with closer settlement, railways, water distribution and education through the ponderous deliberations of the Legislative Council whose members objected to his barn-storming tactics. He worked closely with departmental heads, encouraging new ventures, and particularly promoted the work of Elwood Mead of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, William Calder of the Country Roads Board and Drs Thomas Cherry, Samuel Cameron and Arnold Richardson of the Department of Agriculture.

The establishment of the Commonwealth Advisory Council of Science and Industry in March 1916 owed much to Hagelthorn's efforts. Inspired by a British White Paper of July 1915 on the national organization and development of scientific and industrial research, he brought together an influential lobby to gain the support of Prime Minister Billy Hughes for a similar venture in Australia. Earlier in 1915 Hagelthorn had persuaded Hughes to adopt his wartime plan for marketing wheat. The Australian Wheat Harvesting Scheme, which came into effect on 1 December, set up State and Commonwealth wheat boards; growers pooled their wheat and the Commonwealth arranged for its shipping and sale. Hagelthorn, aptly termed 'Minister for Wheat' by Melbourne Punch, during this period was vice-president of the Commonwealth Wheat Board. Under his careful nurture the scheme prospered and the Victorian pool continued after the war as the Victorian Wheat-Growers' Corporation.

However, following criticism of the operations of the wheat-pooling scheme by a small but significant minority of wheat-growers, Hagelthorn declined to stand for the North-Western Province in the 1919 council elections. Instead he contested the South-Eastern Province and was defeated with only one-fifth of the electors voting; he retired bitter and broken to lose again in 1924 when he stood for the Legislative Assembly seat of Mornington.

In his remaining years Hagelthorn campaigned actively for tariff reforms and against socialism. He became a trustee of the Henry George League in 1922 and was subsequently vice-president and president: free trade formed part of the single-tax doctrine. In 1925 he helped found the Town and Country Union of Victoria, a non-political organization whose objectives were the reduction of customs duties, opposition to socialism and the development of 'national efficiency'; as vice-president he issued over the secretary's name a spate of leaflets on tariff anomalies. In 1931 he formed the Tariff Reform League which called for a return to the 1912 tariff. The union and the league shared the same office and secretary and survived through the 1930s; they had little impact on government policies.

Hagelthorn died at East Melbourne on 21 July 1943 and was buried in Brighton cemetery. He was survived by four of his five daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Scott, Australia During the War (Syd, 1936)
  • G. Currie and J. Graham, The Origins of CSIRO (Melb, 1966)
  • W. S. Robinson, If I Remember Rightly, G. Blainey ed (Melb, 1967)
  • L. F. Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger (Syd, 1979)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 8 Apr, 18 Nov, 9 Dec 1915, 6, 27 Jan, 3 Feb 1916, 22 May 1919
  • Horsham Times, 23 May 1943
  • Herald (Melbourne), 21 July 1943
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 July 1943
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 July 1943
  • F. Pilgrim [Hagelthorn], The Beloved Minister (typescript, c1950, National Library of Australia).

Citation details

J. W. Graham, 'Hagelthorn, Frederick William (1864–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hagelthorn-frederick-william-6517/text11187, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 13 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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