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Matheson, Sir Alexander Perceval (1861–1929)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Alexander Perceval Matheson (1861-1929), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

Alexander Perceval Matheson (1861-1929), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23356343

Sir Alexander Perceval Matheson (1861-1929), businessman and politician, was born on 6 February 1861 in Mayfair, London, second son of Sir Alexander Matheson, 1st baronet of Lochalsh and Liberal member of parliament, and his second wife Eleanor Irving, née Perceval, a descendant of Spencer Perceval, the prime minister who was assassinated in 1812. Educated at Harrow, Alexander spent two years travelling, during which he married Eleanor Money, an Englishwoman, at New Gisborne, Victoria, on 18 October 1884. He then entered a London commercial house. In 1894 he migrated to Western Australia and next year established a store and commercial agency in Bayley Street, Coolgardie. From this base he managed branches in Perth, Fremantle, Kalgoorlie, Cue, Menzies and Lawlers, providing finance, in association with Bewick Moreing Ltd, for the development of mines, and selling mining machinery.

Matheson had brown hair with a gingery tinge and violet-blue eyes; he wore a full moustache and clipped beard. Well-groomed, he was popular on the goldfields despite his upper-class accent and, in 1897, was elected to the Legislative Council for North-East Province on an advanced or 'experimental' democratic policy. Probably about this time, he brought his family to Western Australia and settled, in style, in Perth; he became a sought-after member of society with regular social entry to Government House. He had been active in the political reform movement on the goldfields and became president of the Eastern Goldfields Reform League which helped to force a reluctant Western Australian government into Federation. In 1897-1900 he was a member of the Federal Council of Australasia. He was also an urban investor in Perth and was responsible for the subdivision of Applecross.

Matheson won a Senate seat in 1901 with a policy which included absolute free trade, industrial arbitration, old-age pensions, uniform franchise and White Australia. He did not join the Australian Labor Party, although he supported much of its policy, but had many friends in its ranks and corresponded with King O'Malley for many years. His wife had spent very little time in Western Australia and at the end of his first parliamentary term he resigned, returned to England to rejoin his family, and resumed his business career.

Matheson's three sons were killed in action in World War I. Although four daughters survived, the loss, following a financial disaster due to unwise speculation, contributed to breaking the marriage which was probably legally dissolved. He succeeded his half-brother as 3rd baronet in 1920 but soon left for New Zealand where he was a correspondent for The Times. He lived in Wellington and planned to marry again, but the engagement was terminated. In 1927 he settled in a Monaco flat. He died at Queens Gate, Kensington, London, on 6 August 1929.

Select Bibliography

  • P. W. H. Thiel & Co., Twentieth Century Impressions of Western Australia (Perth, 1901)
  • Kalgoorlie Miner, 24 May, 8 July 1897, 16 Mar 1901, 16 Aug 1929
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 2 Apr 1901
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 8 Aug 1929, p 12
  • J. S. Bastin, The West Australian Federation Movement (M.A. thesis, Melb, 1952)
  • D. Mossenson, Gold and Politics (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1952)
  • King O'Malley papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Matheson, Sir Alexander Perceval (1861–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/matheson-sir-alexander-perceval-7515/text13107, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 18 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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