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Muecke, Hugo Carl Emil (1842–1929)

by Joan Hancock and Eric Richards

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

Hugo Carl Emil Muecke (1842-1929), customs and shipping agent, was born on 8 July 1842 at Rathenow, near Berlin, eldest son of Dr Carl Wilhelm Ludwig Muecke and his first wife Emilie. The family arrived in Adelaide in 1849. Educated at Tanunda High School, at 16 Hugo joined John Newman's commercial and shipping agency, which required a German-speaking clerk. In 1866 he became a partner, and also a naturalized British subject. On 2 April 1863 at Tanunda he had married Margaret Elisabeth Julia Le Page from Guernsey, Channel Islands; they had four daughters and four sons.

After Newman's death in 1873, Muecke took over the business, renamed H. Muecke & Co. It owned large bond stores at Port Adelaide, handled consignment and customs business, acted as agent for Norddeutscher-Lloyd and other steamship lines, and owned and operated small coastal vessels. In 1877 Muecke became vice-consul for Germany, and was consul in 1882-1914, an honorary position (apart from occasional fees). He was also a justice of the peace. First elected to the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce committee in 1880, he served almost continuously until 1915, including terms as deputy chairman (1884) and president (1885-86). A successful and highly respected member of the business community, Muecke became a director of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd in 1892. He joined the boards of the Bank of Adelaide, Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd and Executor Trustee & Agency Co. of South Australia Ltd and the local boards of South British Fire & Marine Insurance Co. and National Mutual Life Association of Australasia (1878-1915). He served as warden of the Marine Board and on the Port Adelaide, Rosewater and Walkerville municipal councils. In 1900 he became a member of the Adelaide Club; he was active in the German Club and a prominent Freemason. In 1903 he entered the Legislative Council for the Central District as a conservative; he was defeated in 1910.

In April 1914 Muecke became chairman of B.H.P. When war came, this key role in the steel industry nourished suspicion generated by his German birth and trade activities, despite his long residence in South Australia, his naturalization, and his assurance to the governor of 'good and loyal citizenship in this State'. In November B.H.P. offices were raided by 'defence authorities'; no evidence of any offence was found. After asking the board in January 1915 to release him from the chairmanship and to grant six months leave of absence as director, Muecke resigned his directorship in October. Already in May he had relinquished involvement in the Chamber of Commerce.

In November he nevertheless sought re-election as director of the Executor Trustee & Agency Co. He published advertisements repudiating Germany's war conduct and countering 'disparaging remarks' about his loyalty. He protested that his family was 'enthusiastically British' and did not speak German; his youngest son, a surgeon wounded at Gallipoli, was then serving with the British in France. Muecke's re-election campaign succeeded, but Defence authorities were not persuaded. He was interned in April 1916 at Fort Largs and, following appeals on his behalf by local businessmen, from May at his own home in Medindie, 'in charge of one man stationed in the house'. This military custody ended in October. Two sons carried on the business, which is still conducted by descendants.

Muecke died at Thorngate on 6 June 1929, and was buried privately with Anglican rites. His estate was valued at about £100,000.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Trengove, "What's Good for Australia...!': The Story of BHP (Syd, 1975)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1900 (135)
  • Quiz and the Lantern (Adelaide), 29 Apr 1904
  • Register (Adelaide), 21 Sept 1903, 6, 7 Aug 1914, 19, 30 Nov 1915
  • Observer (Adelaide), 10 July 1915
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 8 June 1929
  • Daily Commercial News, supp, 2 May 1980
  • records of Adelaide Chamber of Commerce (SRG 78, State Records of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Joan Hancock and Eric Richards, 'Muecke, Hugo Carl Emil (1842–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/muecke-hugo-carl-emil-7674/text13427, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 28 July 2017.

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

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