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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hemmant, William (1837–1916)

by H. J. Gibbney

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

William Hemmant (1837-1916), draper and politician, was born on 24 November 1837 at Kirkgate, Yorkshire, England, son of Thomas Hemmant, linen draper, and his wife Isabella Elisabeth, née Richmond. At 21 he migrated to Victoria, worked as a miner at Ballarat and in 1860 moved to Brisbane where he established a drapery shop in partnership with Alexander Stewart. The premises were destroyed in December 1864 by a fire which engulfed a whole city block. After completing the arduous task of rebuilding, Hemmant left for England in November 1865.

At Coates, Cambridgeshire, on 20 September 1866 he married Lucy Elizabeth Ground. He sailed for Queensland on 2 January 1867, leaving his wife to follow. Turning to politics, he led an attack on the Brisbane City Council for financial mismanagement and was elected an alderman in 1868, but in August 1870 lost South Brisbane to Thomas Stephens. In September he joined the committee of a political reform association pledged to defeat the squatting oligarchy and with its backing defeated John Douglas in a by-election for East Moreton in November 1871. As treasurer under Arthur Macalister from January 1874 to June 1876 Hemmant was described as the most influential minister after (Sir) Thomas McIlwraith retired. His tariff policies introduced moderate protection in Queensland.

Hemmant resigned on 5 June 1876 and went to England as resident partner for his firm but corresponded with (Sir) Samuel Griffith and served as commissioner for Queensland at several exhibitions in Europe. Early in 1880 he wrote to Griffith alleging scandals in the purchase of railway lines and in contracts for the conveyance of immigrants. Inquiry by a select committee and a royal commission found little substance in the allegations but, when Griffith became premier, Hemmant acted as agent-general in 1885 and represented Queensland at the International Postal Union Congress.

As an investor and client of the Australian Joint Stock Bank, Hemmant was appointed to its London board in 1876. In August 1893 he sold out of Stewart & Hemmant but continued to serve the firm as a commission agent until 1900 while devoting himself mainly to the bank. In 1897 he chaired the London meeting which accepted a new reconstruction scheme and in 1911 was commended for his service in transforming the Australian Joint Stock Bank into the Australian Bank of Commerce. He was a director of the new bank until he died on 20 September 1916. Of his ten children, a daughter married Sir James, son of Robert Atkin, an old parliamentary colleague; his son George was chief secretary in Nigeria and retired in 1934.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • G. Greenwood and J. Laverty, Brisbane 1859-1959 (Brisb, 1959)
  • Brisbane Courier, 6 Dec 1864, 10 Aug, 7 Sept 1870, 30 Oct 1871, 12, 13 Jan 1893
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 19 June 1897
  • Draper of Australasia, 27 May 1902
  • P. D. Wilson, Political Career of Hon. A. Macalister (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1969)
  • Griffith papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Bank of New South Wales Archives (Sydney).

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Hemmant, William (1837–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 September 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 4

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