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Lansell, George (1823–1906)

by Suzanne G. Mellor

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

George Lansell (1823-1906), by Foster & Martin, c1880

George Lansell (1823-1906), by Foster & Martin, c1880

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H6398

George Lansell (1823-1906), mining entrepreneur, was born on 24 August 1823 at Margate, Kent, England, eldest son of Thomas Lansell, soap and candle maker, and his wife Elizabeth, née Budds. At 14 he entered his father's business where he worked until a younger brother, Wootten, who had been a sailor on convict ships to Australia, suggested that his brothers George and William migrate to Australia. They went to South Australia in 1853. For six weeks George sought gold at Echunga but returned to Adelaide and worked at his trade. In 1854 the three brothers walked to Bendigo and set up as butchers and soap and candle manufacturers. The business prospered for three years although they had to move the boiling-down works to a less offensive position away from the developing town. In 1855 stockbrokers who met in his shop persuaded Lansell to invest in small quartz-mining companies. He lost heavily but worked and saved; he then put money into other claims and lost again. About 1860 he realized that the methods of quartz-mining were generally inefficient but he continued buying, increasing his own expertise and knowledge, though losing money through company crashes.

The tide turned in 1865, a disastrous year for Bendigo, when Lansell bought many shares in the old Advance Co. and the Cinderella mine. Now able to dictate policy he instructed his miners to 'keep sinking'; both mines rewarded his persistence with new-found reefs. Most of his large profits were returned to the mines which he pushed ever deeper, and though costs were crippling his determination, common sense and shrewdness usually paid off. In the early 1870s he won a fortune from the Garden Gully mine and then, for £30,000, bought the 180 mine which had already revealed a fortune in gold. He pushed the shafts down to over 3750 feet (1143 m), found lode after rich lode and became a millionaire. Proud of being a 'Bendigonian', he was largely responsible for introducing the diamond drill to quartz mining in Australia. He was famous in Bendigo, not so much for his fortune but for his tireless efforts to maintain the mining industry and thereby to provide employment. Under his influence other companies expanded and he constantly urged his miners to invest in mining stock themselves. 'Buy into stock on a good line of reef when they are low-priced, pay calls and wait' was almost his total business philosophy. He was also very generous and a great helper of lame dogs. He enjoyed his paternalism but it was more than lip service and he created a fund for the widows and orphaned children of Bendigo miners.

Lansell was twice married: first, to Bedelia Jarvis Mulqueen; and second, in London on 12 August 1883 to Harriett Edith Bassford by whom he had five sons and a daughter. He had settled in London early in the 1880s but after seven years he was petitioned by Bendigo townsmen to return and help to restore the declining industry. On the tailings of the 180 mine and within hearing of its batteries, he remodelled his villa, Fortuna, a mansion of over forty rooms, lavishly furnished with pieces collected from around the globe. He designed the spacious gardens with walks, lakes and imported plants.

Commonly known as 'Australia's Quartz-King', he was director of thirty-eight mines and had some link with almost every mine in Bendigo. He gave liberal support to local charities but attributed his unwillingness to enter public life to the memory of his father's ruin by politics when fighting for corn law repeal. At his death on 18 March 1906 Lansell was mentioned in all the churches and flags were flown at half-mast. Bendigo's concern over the family's intentions towards mining were swiftly allayed as the eldest son, George Victor, continued his father's policies. In admiration and gratitude for Lansell's 'indomitable courage and persistent enterprise' the community raised a statue in his honour.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly, Bendigo and Vicinity (Melb, 1895)
  • E. J. Brady, Australia Unlimited (Melb, 1918)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 11 Feb 1904
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 Mar 1906
  • Bendigo Independent, 19 Mar 1906.

Citation details

Suzanne G. Mellor, 'Lansell, George (1823–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lansell-george-3992/text6313, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 May 2018.

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

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