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Officer, Charles Myles (1827–1904)

by J. Ann Hone

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

This is a shared entry with Suetonius Henry Officer

Charles Myles Officer (1827-1904) and Suetonius Henry Officer (1830-1883), pastoralists, were born at Hall Green, New Norfolk, Van Diemen's Land, sons of Robert Officer, and his wife Jamima, née Patterson. Charles was born on 14 July 1827 and Suetonius on 4 January 1830; they moved with the family to Hobart Town in 1835 and attended local schools until 1841 when they went to Scotland to the Edinburgh Academy. Charles had begun his medical studies and Suetonius had entered the Military Academy when in 1844 they were recalled to Van Diemen's Land.

Charles was trained in pastoral pursuits in the Bothwell district and for a time grew hops at New Norfolk. In 1848 he moved to the Wimmera in the Port Phillip District to his father's run, Mount Talbot, managed by his eldest brother Robert. In 1852 Charles went to the goldfields where he had little luck but enjoyed himself, and in 1854 with Suetonius took over the management of Mount Talbot. The run of 100 sq. miles (259 km²) was some of the best merino country in Victoria, with 15,000 sheep and 500 cattle. In 1856 the brothers took over the 25,000-acre (10,117 ha) Lingmer station acquired by their father in 1849. By 1859 they were able to buy Mount Talbot and continued as partners, though Suetonius soon went north to manage their Riverina holdings.

In 1866 Mount Talbot was thrown open for selection and Charles moved his family to Melbourne. Soon back at Mount Talbot he remained until 1873 when he moved permanently to live at Landcox, Brighton, instructing his land agent to buy the necessary sections of Mount Talbot as they came up for sale. He had trouble with various 'sharks' who bought lots crucial to the squatter and forced him to pay dearly for them. Officer finally gained freehold of 16,756 acres (6781 ha).

The political instability of 1878-79 worried Officer and only the inability to realize on his Victorian property prevented him from transferring to New South Wales where he had large interests. However, in 1880 he was persuaded to contest Dundas seat in the Legislative Assembly. Elected in the anti-Berry interest he supported the O'Loghlen ministry. In February 1883 Officer was returned unopposed and served on the royal commission on lunatic asylums in 1884-86. In that year he was again returned and continued to support the coalition ministries but was defeated in 1892. In his last term he had voted against the stock tax, was dissatisfied with the railway construction bill and helped to organize a group of forty dissatisfied country members.

Officer's business sense was highly valued and he was generally respected. He was one of the first directors of the Australian Frozen Meat Export Co. formed at meetings in 1879-80, chairman of the board of advice of Dalgety & Co. in 1885-94 and a director of the Trustees and Executors Association. He was a commissioner for Tasmania at the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880 and treasurer for a decade of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum. A lieutenant in the Field Artillery Brigade, he was appointed aide-de-camp to Governor Loch in May 1887. A councillor of the Zoological and Acclimatisation Society for ten years and president in 1887, he was also a member of the Protection of Animals Society and of the Central Board for Protection of the Aborigines. He had learnt the language of the Mount Talbot tribe and was a justice of the peace. A Presbyterian, Officer supported the Ormond College scholarship fund for some years but in 1884 was unable to continue. The financial strain of acquiring the freehold of Mount Talbot and losses from drought on his West Darling holdings gave him a worrying time. On 25 June 1897 he was declared bankrupt in New South Wales.

Officer died at Landcox on 1 February 1904, predeceased by his first wife Christina Susannah, née Robertson, whom he had married on 24 January 1854, and by four of their eleven children. He was survived by his second wife Ellen Agnes, née Besnard, whom he had married on 28 November 1876, and by seven of their eight children.

Suetonius left the Wimmera in 1862 and bought the rights of Mellool station in the Riverina. He sold it and with Charles acquired Murray Downs, Willakool and the 998,000-acre (404,000 ha) Kallara station on the Darling River. On the river frontage of Murray Downs Suetonius installed pumps worked by horse, windmills and later steam, and irrigated large paddocks for lucerne and maize as well as orchards and groves of Jaffa oranges.

An avid reader, Suetonius had scientific interests. In November 1878 he read a paper to the Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria on the ostriches he had introduced at Murray Downs. He was also interested in astronomy and had a good telescope. A member of the Darling District Pastoral Association, a magistrate and a leader in the religious and philanthropic development of the Swan Hill district, he helped to finance the Presbyterian Church and at the school awarded prizes for scripture. On 13 December 1866 he had married Mary Lillias Rigg, daughter of Dr Adam Cairns; she laid the foundation stone of the Swan Hill Presbyterian Church and was its first organist. In 1881 Suetonius moved to Melbourne for the education of his four sons and two daughters. He bought Leighwood, Toorak, where after a long illness he died on 26 July 1883. He was widely mourned and left much of his pioneering irrigation unfinished. His estate was valued for probate at £59,000, of which he bequeathed some £8000 to twelve educational and philanthropic institutions.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • Riverine Herald, 26 Nov 1878
  • Australasian, 7 May 1887
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Feb 1904
  • Pastoral Review, 16 Feb 1904
  • Horsham Times, 26 Sept 1947
  • Armytage papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • Letters (Ormond College Archives, Melbourne).

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Officer, Charles Myles (1827–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/officer-charles-myles-4323/text7015, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 October 2014.

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

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