Australian Dictionary of Biography

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King, George (1814–1894)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

George King (1814-1894), merchant, pastoralist and politician, was born on 21 December 1814 in Riga, son of Robert King, a partner in the Baltic firm of Balfour & Co., and his wife Caroline, née Babat. Trained in London and on the Continent for a mercantile career, he spent five years in Riga and became a fluent linguist. In 1839 in London he married Jane, née Creighton; they arrived at Sydney on 25 July in the Fergusson. He set up as a merchant in George Street in the firms of Gordon & King and King & Moutry, but in 1843 was declared insolvent. He then became a general commission agent; in 1847 he was secretary to the Sydney Fire Insurance Co. and appointed official assignee. He joined Thacker, Daniell & Co., which in the 1860s became Daniell, King & Co. From the 1850s King served on the board of advice to the Australian Agricultural Co. and was a director of the Clarence and Richmond River Steam Navigation Co., the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney, the London Chartered Bank and was chairman of the Australian Trust Co., the Southern Insurance Co., the Melbourne Marine Insurance Co. and of the Australian Mutual Provident Society for fifteen years. He also served on the committee of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce and his firm was agent for several overseas insurance companies including one based in Canton.

In 1857 King was a founder and member of the first committee of the Union Club. In 1866 with Ernest and Oscar de Satgé he acquired Gowrie and Gonbungee stations on the Darling Downs. Gowrie, 103 sq. miles (267 km²) near Toowoomba, became the sole property of King and his sons. Nominated by Jacob Montefiore he won East Sydney in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1869; he stood as a representative of commerce on a platform of free trade and the abolition of ad valorem duties. He was an independent supporter of Sir James Martin and retired in 1872. In 1865 King had been made consul for Italy, a position he took seriously, and tried to interest James Macarthur in cotton growing. He resigned in 1875 and was appointed a knight of the Crown by Victor Emanuel.

After a visit to England King settled in 1874 at Gowrie where he built a large homestead. He was a Queensland executive commissioner at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. In London in 1881 he chaired the royal commission on the management of the agent-general's office and represented the Queensland government on the royal commission on the purchase of steel rails after Thomas McIlwraith's indictment by (Sir) Samuel Griffith. On King's return in 1882 he was appointed to the Queensland Legislative Council. In 1885 he consulted Sir Henry Parkes on the New South Wales council's power to amend money bills when a similar clash occurred in Queensland. He resigned on 19 March 1890. About 1879 George King & Sons took up ten runs in the Warrego district near Cunnamulla, which were consolidated as Weelemurra in 1885. In the 1877-78 drought Gowrie was invaded by marsupials; some 40,000 wallabies were killed and their skins sold in Japan. While water-divining in 1887 he found coal and in 1889 the Gowrie colliery was opened.

A loyal Anglican, King was largely responsible for building St John's Church at Gowrie Junction. He was a lay reader and his wife gave an organ to the church. Disabled by a stroke in 1889, King died on 22 June 1894 from a cerebral haemorrhage and was buried in the Toowoomba cemetery. He was survived by his wife, to whom he left an annuity of £3000, and by seven sons and three daughters. His New South Wales estate was valued at almost £28,000. His eldest son Robert John represented Paddington in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1889-91.

Select Bibliography

  • T. W. H. Leavitt (ed), Australian Representative Men, 3rd ed (Melb, 1888)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26, 30 Nov, 3, 4, 6 Dec 1869, 15 May 1871
  • Brisbane Courier, 27 June 1894
  • Australasian, 17 July 1894
  • MS cat under George King (ML)
  • insolvency file, 648/1 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'King, George (1814–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/king-george-3953/text6231, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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