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Illingworth, Frederick (1844–1908)

by G. C. Bolton

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

Frederick Illingworth (1844-1908), speculator and politician, was born on 24 September 1844 at Horton, Yorkshire, England, son of James Illingworth, woolcomber, and his wife Sarah, née Irving. He migrated to Victoria with his parents in 1848 and as a youth worked in the ironmongery trade in Melbourne and Brighton. There he developed what became a lifelong advocacy of the temperance movement. He married Elizabeth Tarry at Carlton on 5 September 1867; they had one son and one daughter. In the late 1870s he became an estate agent in partnership with John R. Hoskins, a former mayor of Bendigo, and prospered enough to acquire a pastoral property at Yalook. Bad seasons ruined him and in 1883 he opened an ironmongery business, specializing in electroplated goods, in Melbourne.

In 1888, with support from his fellow teetotaller James Munro, Illingworth became a founder and major shareholder in the Centennial Land Bank. Having purchased suburban land at inflated prices and relied on further inflation to maintain profits, the bank was in serious difficulties when land values collapsed at the end of 1890. Illingworth had also been indulging in heavy private borrowing for speculation and by early 1891 his personal liabilities were estimated at £283,000. A member of the Legislative Council for Northern Province from July 1889, he obtained parliamentary leave of absence for a business trip to Europe in March 1890. On his return in November he settled in Western Australia as a land and estate agent; his council seat was declared vacant in 1891. The liquidation of his assets produced £600 to meet debts of nearly £300,000 but it was not until 1897 that a Melbourne court order resulted in his appearance before the Western Australian Bankruptcy Court. In December 1903 his remaining creditors agreed to release him from sequestration. None of this prevented him from pursuing an active and prominent career in Western Australian politics.

Making his way to the Murchison goldfield, Illingworth invested in several mines, including the Rose Pearl at Mount Magnet. On 18 November 1896 in Adelaide he married Jane McGregor; they had no children. In July 1894 he had been elected to the Legislative Assembly as member for Nannine. When the constituency was subdivided he represented Central Murchison from June 1897 and Cue from April 1901. He soon made a reputation as a tenacious if sometimes prolix critic of Sir John Forrest's government, specializing in financial and constitutional questions. When George Leake resigned his seat in parliament in August 1900 Illingworth replaced him as leader of the Opposition and almost immediately moved a motion of no confidence in Forrest's government. It was lost by sixteen votes to twenty-two, but was by far the strongest challenge to Forrest until then.

Following Forrest's departure to Federal politics his party lost office at the 1901 election. Illingworth was invited to form a ministry but stood down in favour of Leake, serving in his two cabinets from May to November 1901 and December 1901 to June 1902 as colonial treasurer and colonial secretary. His only budget, an optimistic performance, summarized in the slogan, 'Go forward; go on and possess the land', earned praise from his old opponent Forrest. At odds with his colleagues over railway administration Illingworth was passed over for the acting premiership when Leake fell fatally ill in June 1902. The new premier (Sir) Walter James excluded him from the ministry. In December 1903 he became chairman of committees, but lost his seat to a Labor candidate in June 1904. He was reappointed chairman in November 1905 after becoming member for West Perth, but resigned his office and his seat because of ill health in August 1907. Despite allegations that, while treasurer, he had authorized the loan of government trust funds to a developer who was dummying for him, the Western Australian government granted him £1000 on the ground that the Victorian proceedings had almost ruined him. While Illingworth went to Melbourne, the auditor-general inquired into the charges but no action was taken against him before he died at Brighton, Melbourne, of arteriosclerotic heart disease on 8 September 1908. He was buried in Melbourne general cemetery with Church of Christ forms.

A diligent local member with a pawky sense of humour, Illingworth might have lived down his Victorian reputation in Western Australia if he had been a politician of sufficient calibre, but he was too much a man of detail to fill the vacuum left by Forrest.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberley (compiler), History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • P. W. Thiel & Co., Twentieth Century Impressions of Western Australia (Perth, 1901)
  • M Cannon, The Land Boomers (Melb, 1966)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Western Australia), 1907, p 207, 514
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 20 June 1901
  • Truth (Melbourne), 18 July 1903
  • West Australian, 28 Oct 1905.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Illingworth, Frederick (1844–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/illingworth-frederick-6789/text11659, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 April 2018.

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

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