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Langdon, Thomas (1832–1914)

by Geoff Browne

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

Thomas Langdon (1832-1914), grain merchant and politician, was born on 13 May 1832 at Roadwater, Somerset, England, son of John Langdon, carpenter, wheelwright and innkeeper, and his wife Prudence, née Bindon. Educated at Bristol, he worked for four years in a Bristol solicitor's office before deciding to migrate. He arrived in Melbourne in 1853 and quickly joined the gold rushes, working mainly in the Bendigo district as a carter and miner. In 1858 he took up farming at Laanecoorie, later becoming a grain merchant at Kangaroo Flat and Inglewood. He selected land at Boort in 1874. On 18 July 1855 at St Peter's Church of England, Melbourne, Langdon had married Esther Mary Temlett, also from Somerset. She died in December 1860 and on 29 November 1862 he married Sarah Ann Coventry of Gloucestershire at Dunolly.

Elected to the Marong Shire Council in 1871, Langdon served as president in 1877-79; he also spent three years on the Swan Hill Shire Council. In 1880 he won the Legislative Assembly seat of Avoca. A close friend of (Sir) Thomas Bent, he was a director of Bent's Heights of Maribyrnong Estate Co. Ltd. In 1888 in Melbourne he established T. Langdon & Co., grain merchants and general brokers, but next year his fortunes collapsed. Declared bankrupt, he was defeated for the new seat of Korong and in 1890 for Dunolly.

Ever energetic, Langdon re-established his business and, winning Korong in 1892, retained the seat for the rest of his life. In parliament he was an independently minded member of the 'Country' faction. Although resident in Melbourne he assiduously guarded the interests of his farming electorate: water conservation, closer settlement, road and rail extensions, cheaper grain freights and the establishment of local schools were his main concerns. In 1894-96 he was a member of a royal commission on water supply and in 1905 chaired a royal commission on locomotive construction. His most enduring work was done as president of the Council of Agricultural Education in 1901-14 and as chairman of two royal commissions (1902-03 and 1912-13) on the marketing, transportation and storage of grain. The second royal commission report, written by Langdon, led to the introduction of the bulk-handling system into Victoria.

A short, rotund, bustling figure with a self-important air, likened to 'a football on legs', Langdon reached the zenith of his political career as an honorary member of the Bent ministry in 1904-07. In January 1907, following the resignation of Sir Samuel Gillott, he was appointed chief secretary and minister of labour. However, embittered by his exclusion from the reconstituted ministry in February, he helped to drive Bent from office next year.

In December 1913, aged 81, Langdon was elected chairman of committees on a combination of Labor and 'Country' faction votes. He still held that post when he died at his Albert Park home on 27 May 1914. Buried in Box Hill cemetery, he was survived by his wife and their two sons and three daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £276.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • M. Cannon, The Land Boomers (Melb, 1966)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1907, p 862, 1914, p 20
  • Punch (Melbourne), 22 Nov 1906
  • Age (Melbourne), Argus (Melbourne), 27 May 1914
  • K. Rollison, Groups and Attitudes in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, 1900-1909 (Ph.D. thesis, La Trobe University, 1972).

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Langdon, Thomas (1832–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/langdon-thomas-7028/text12225, 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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