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Landseer, Albert Henry (1829–1906)

by A. J. Stimson

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

Albert Henry Landseer (1829-1906), merchant and politician, was born on 10 February 1829 in London, only son of Henry Landseer, soldier, and his Canadian wife Lucy, née Barker. He attended Mr Hill's Academy in Swan Street: 'I hope the improvement I have made this half year will be equal to your most sanguine expectations', he wrote dutifully to his parents at 9. In keeping with family tradition—his cousin was the painter (Sir) Edwin Landseer, and his father was an artist also—Albert studied sculpture before migrating to South Australia in 1848. It was a decision possibly opposed by his parents, for he did not write home for twelve years. By then he was well established in the colony.

After working as a small building-contractor, he was successful on the Victorian goldfields until 1858—Landseer later looked back on this period with considerable affection. He then moved into Murray River shipping, which was opening up. It was a timid venture at first, a small office at Port Elliot with the agency for Francis Cadell's River Murray Navigation Co. But it proved to be a shrewd move. As the river trade boomed in the 1860s and 1870s business grew apace. Hard work, honesty and reliability (he once fined himself £10 for delivering goods a day late) ensured his success. By about 1870 he was one of the colony's principal river merchants whose opinion was sought regularly on the river trade and its future. Steamers and barges carried his name to Bourke, Wilcannia and Hay, New South Wales. Milang, a township on Lake Alexandrina and his base after 1860, was jocularly known as 'Landseer's town' and Landseer as 'the Duke of Milang'. He had large woolsheds at Goolwa and Port Victor and flour-mills at Morgan, Milang and Lake Alexandrina. This massive investment in the lower Murray district in 1875 secured his election as member for the seat of Mount Barker in the House of Assembly. Although he had declared his candidacy late there were distinct advantages, one newspaper noted, in being represented by the owner of 'one of the largest businesses in the colony'. Initially conservative, he grew more liberal with age.

Landseer held the seat continuously till 1899. A member of four royal commissions, he never held ministerial office. The demands of business may have deterred him, though he was 'a most perplexing and prolix speaker'. He was probably too inflexible on matters of principle to succeed in government: his private correspondence reveals distaste for the sharp practices of politics and a refusal to countenance underhand activity on his behalf. His support for Kingston's ministry of 1893-99 was tempered by doubts about the premier's personal integrity. Barely veiled contempt for the landowning gentry of Strathalbyn and Mount Barker almost certainly cost his business dearly.

After Landseer's resignation from parliament in 1899, his health was undermined by rheumatism and, later, heart disease; and his fortune by the decline of the river trade and reckless speculation in the Western Australian gold boom. An Anglican, he had married twice and had eight children: two by his first wife Rosina, née Masson, and six by his second wife Harriett Sarah, née Taylor, whom he married at Goolwa on 15 August 1872. He died on 27 August 1906 and was buried in Milang cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate in Victoria and South Australia at £15,716.

Select Bibliography

  • Quiz (Adelaide), 10 July 1891, 23 June 1898
  • Southern Argus (Strathalbyn), 25 Feb 1875, 31 Mar 1881, 10, 24 Apr 1884
  • Observer (Adelaide), 7 July 1883, 11 Oct 1884, 5 Dec 1885, 10 May 1890, 27 May 1893, 1 Sept 1906
  • Letter-books, 1890-99 and family records.

Citation details

A. J. Stimson, 'Landseer, Albert Henry (1829–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/landseer-albert-henry-7021/text12211, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 November 2018.

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

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