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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lang, Matthew (1830–1893)

by J. Ann Hone

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

Matthew Lang (1830-1893), wine and spirits merchant, was born on 6 May 1830 at Airdrie, Lanarkshire, Scotland, son of Matthew Lang, builder, and his wife Margaret, née London. He was educated locally and then joined Mackie, Gladstone & Co., wine and spirits merchants of Liverpool. He was sent to open a branch in Melbourne where he arrived in February 1854. He started business in Elizabeth Street but soon moved to larger premises and bought out his Liverpool sponsors. Lang sold only imported spirits and objected to the tariff as it tempted him to follow the current practice of mixing colonial with imported spirits. Lang had married Jane Scott in 1857 and in the early 1880s with his brother-in-law, Alexander Scott, as a partner he bought Dixon & Co.'s aerated-water factory and built large cellars under his premises in Collins and Market Streets.

Lang did not confine himself to the wine and spirits trade and the large Mount Poole station near Milparinka, New South Wales, was only one of his many other interests. He was a director of Terry's West End and the Carlton breweries, the National Insurance Co., the Equity Trustees Executors and Agency Co., the National Fire Insurance Co., the Commercial Bank of Australia and Gillespie Bros.

In 1876 Lang was elected to the City Council but resigned in 1881 to visit Britain. In February 1889 he was re-elected and in October became mayor, an office he held for three consecutive terms: he was reputed to hear the Post Office chimes ringing out 'Return again Matthew Lang, thrice Mayor of Melbourne'. Lang arranged for the recruitment of some 2000 special constables during the maritime strike of 1890. He was active in building desiccators, installing food markets in Flinders Street and lighting the city by electricity, though these projects were not finished during his term. He advocated expansion of the rural population for 'at present the head of the colony is too large for the body'. He also struggled for the creation of the Metropolitan Board of Works, became its temporary chairman and in 1891 represented the City Council but declared that he would vote as a free agent or not at all. In 1892 the council celebrated its jubilee and Lang, ably assisted by his wife, a prominent charity organizer, gave a ball for 1700 and a lunch for the surviving citizens of 1842.

At the first annual meeting of the Australian Church in November 1886 Lang was elected to the committee of management. He was a Harbor Trust commissioner in 1886-93 and had a stormy year as president of the Royal Caledonian Society in 1891-92. He was also interested in politics but only entered parliament when it seemed ungracious to continue to refuse the deputation of influential electors for South Yarra Province. He was elected to the Legislative Council in November 1892 and 'quickly gained an insight into all [its] business'. His sudden death at his home in Sandringham on 2 March 1893 caused widespread regret and he was mourned as a 'strong man of sound ripe judgment, commercial knowledge', great integrity and 'warm hearted generosity'. He was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Boroondara cemetery; his estate of £52,800 was left mostly to his family.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • A. H. Chisholm, Scots Wha Hae: History of the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne (Syd, 1950)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10 Oct, 10 Nov 1891, 9, 10 Nov 1892, 3 Mar 1893
  • Age (Melbourne), 3 Mar 1893
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 4 Mar 1893.

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Lang, Matthew (1830–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 9 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 5

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