Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nathan, Sir Charles Samuel (1870–1936)

by David Mossenson

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

Sir Charles Samuel Nathan (1870-1936), businessman and government adviser, was born on 23 July 1870 in South Melbourne, second of six sons of Solomon (Sathiel) David Nathan, auctioneer, and his wife Flora, née Levy, both English born. He attended the Normal School at Christchurch, New Zealand, and was articled to solicitors before becoming a commercial traveller at Dunedin. He moved to Sydney in 1890 and Perth in 1894. On 15 June 1898 at the Fremantle synagogue Nathan married Bessie Lichtenstein; they had a daughter, who died at 16, and two sons.

In 1901 Nathan joined the South Australian firm, Charles Atkins & Co. W.A. Ltd, at Fremantle; it dealt in abrasives, pulleys and other commodities for gold-mining. Later he bought the branch and, about 1911, transferred it to Perth. Atkins Pty Ltd (W.A.) became a leading mercantile and engineering enterprise that handled a diverse range of tools, machinery, electrical household goods, radios, and automotive supplies and parts.

Nathan devoted himself to a broad range of public activities, including membership of the East Fremantle Municipal Council (1902-05) and the Fremantle Tramways and Electric Light Board. In 1914 he was mayor of Perth. During World War I he was a co-founder of the State branch of the Australian Red Cross Society, and also belonged to the Trench Comforts Fund, the War Loan Campaign and the Young Men's Christian Association.

Nathan possessed generosity, organizing ability, and a capacity to deal with people. His long relationship with the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia culminated in his wardenship of the State War Memorial in 1932. In 1920-23 he had chaired the Western Australian Council of Industrial Development and in 1921 led a State trade delegation to Malaya and Java. In 1918 he was appointed to the executive committee of the Advisory Council of Science and Industry and in 1927-28 was an executive-member of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; he was also a committee-member of the Commonwealth Forest Products Laboratory. As an Australian commissioner for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, London, he spent two years in England in the mid-1920s. In 1926-27 he was a 'meticulous and methodical' vice-chairman and financial adviser of the Commonwealth Development and Migration Commission; he waived a salary. Appointed C.B.E. in 1926, he was knighted in 1928. He had retired the previous year.

In London in 1928 Nathan was negotiating improvement schemes for Australia's beef cattle industry with the British firms, Vestey Bros and Bovril Ltd. He acted as unofficial adviser to the Bruce-Page government on northern development.

In the post-war period Nathan had organized fund-raising for the National Party; he chaired the Westralian Consultative Council in 1925. In 1930-34 he held the Metropolitan Suburban seat in the Legislative Council. An individualist, he attracted animosity because of his stand against secession, which partly reflected his merchandising interests; in 1931 he was president of the Federal League and in 1933 led the referendum fight against separation from the Commonwealth. He was a member of the Perth Club.

Nathan played a major part in reducing the indebtedness of the Perth synagogue. Integrity, modesty and acumen had characterized his career, and his contribution to Western Australian and Australian economic planning in the decades between the wars was notable.

From 1933 Nathan was unwell. Survived by his wife (d.1948) and sons, he died of cerebro-vascular disease on 5 June 1936. He was buried in the Jewish section of Karrakatta cemetery and his estate was sworn for probate at £14,698. His son Lawrence became managing director of Atkins Pty Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • Westralian Judean, 1 July 1936
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 6 (1964-69), no 7
  • West Australian, 6 June 1936
  • Nathan papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Sir G. F. Pearce papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

David Mossenson, 'Nathan, Sir Charles Samuel (1870–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nathan-sir-charles-samuel-7727/text13537, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 2 August 2014.

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

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