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Molineux, Albert (1832–1909)

by Marie Mune

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

Albert Molineux (1832-1909), by unknown photographer

Albert Molineux (1832-1909), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 16260

Albert Molineux (1832-1909), farmer, editor and promoter of agriculture, was born on 11 July 1832 in Brighton, Sussex, England, eldest of the four sons of Edward Molineux, shoemaker and farmer, and his wife Martha. With free passages the family sailed for South Australia in the Resource and arrived on 23 January 1839. His father suffered from tuberculosis and became a turnkey at Adelaide jail. Albert went to school and then worked on a farm at Klemzig but left to become a printer's apprentice. In 1851 he joined the gold rush to Victoria and returned in 1855 with modest success. He worked with his father on a farm at Gilbert River and then became a compositor with the Adelaide firm, Vardon & Pritchard. On 7 March 1861 at Adelaide he married Mary Ann Harris; they had one son.

In 1875 Molineux decided to produce an agricultural journal and with a fellow compositor, Samuel Richards, as his partner borrowed type from Vardon & Pritchard and on 10 August produced the first edition of the Garden and Field. Richards resigned after six months but Molineux continued the journal in his spare time. He also wrote for the Observer in 1875 and was later its agricultural editor. With these positions and his own journal he exerted great influence on South Australian agriculture.

From 1875 in the Garden and Field Molineux had advocated the establishment of experimental farms, the appointment of a professor of agriculture and the creation of a department of agriculture. To the select committee on vegetable products in 1887 he outlined a proposal which with little variation became the Agricultural Bureaux system with a Central Bureau of nine members and branches limited to twelve members. The bureaux were not only recipients of information; they kept data on crops and fodder, supplied insects and weeds for identification and established experimental plots. In 1888-1902 Molineux was secretary of the Central Bureau. In 1894 he incorporated the Garden and Field with the Journal of the Bureau of Agriculture; this connexion was severed in 1897 when the South Australian Journal of Agriculture was published for the bureaux.

In private enterprise Molineux was managing director of the South Australian Fishing Co. until it failed and as the chief advocate for settlement of the Ninety Mile Desert was involved in the financial disaster of the Emu Flat settlement. He was more successful with voluntary organizations. Through the Garden and Field he published material from the Chamber of Manufactures, the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society as well as various specialist groups. As a committee member of the Field Naturalists Society he was indefatigable in seeking specimens, made the first trawling nets and obtained many specimens of fish hitherto unknown. He acquired a pygmy whale skeleton for the Adelaide Museum and examined a specimen of marsupial mole (notoryctes typhlops) discovered by his nephew. For these services he was nominated to the Linnean Society by Ferdinand Mueller and Charles French and elected a fellow. He also wrote pamphlets on bees, forest culture and Handbook for Farmers and Gardeners in Australia (Adelaide, 1893).

Molineux insisted that the exploitive wheat monoculture in South Australia be displaced by diversifying agriculture with scientific methods. He focused on the need for improved fertilisers and was an early protagonist for the use of superphosphate. He was also responsible for spreading information to fruitgrowers about insecticide and fungicide sprays. Seeking to diversify agriculture, he advocated experiments with a wide variety of products, including such wildly optimistic suggestions as growing taro in the Port River and sowing agave americana in Ninety Mile Desert. As new crops grew, their manufacture became important and he was instrumental in establishing butter factories, obtaining information and encouraging the pickling, canning and drying of fruit and vegetables. Above all he wanted to increase communication between farmer and scientist. The bureaux system was ideal for this need and changed only when the Department of Agriculture professionalized many of its functions and dispensed advice.

After Molineux retired as secretary of the Central Bureau he became a life member of the Council of Agriculture which in 1902 replaced it. He died of peritonitis on 6 June 1909 at Semaphore, survived by his second wife Eliza, née Ingham, whom he had married at Norwood on 21 August 1897. From investments in land he left her over £5500.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1887 (90), 1890 (96)
  • Journal of Agriculture (SA), July 1909
  • Garden and Field, 1 May, 1 Aug 1870, 1 Aug 1891, Dec 1893
  • Register (Adelaide), 7 June 1909
  • Observer (Adelaide), 10 June 1909
  • M. E. Mune, Information and Extension Services Among Farmers of the Partially Developed Lands of the Upper South East of South Australia (M.A. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1962).

Citation details

Marie Mune, 'Molineux, Albert (1832–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/molineux-albert-4218/text6799, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 16 November 2019.

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

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