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Ord, Harrison (1862–1910)

by Raelene Frances

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Harrison Ord (1862-1910), public servant, was born on 15 August 1862 at Kennington, London, son of Harrison Ord, engine fitter, and his wife Susannah, née Robinson. Educated at a grammar school in London and by a private tutor, in 1877 he migrated with his family to Geelong, Victoria. In March 1878 he passed the civil service examination and was admitted to the Crown Lands Department, in the clerical division. Transferred to the chief secretary's office when the Factories and Shops Act (1885) was brought into operation in 1886, he served as a clerk under D. J. Goodser, the first chief inspector of factories, and his successor J. A. Levey. He was promoted to senior inspector of factories in July 1890 and was subsequently appointed acting chief inspector in March 1891 and again in May 1893. In January 1894 he became chief inspector of factories, workrooms and shops, sub-department of labour.

As chief inspector Harrison Ord took a keen interest in the legislation he administered. It was said that he felt a 'glowing enthusiasm' for the 1896 Factories and Shops Act, and he significantly contributed to its refinement and consolidation in amending Acts between 1897 and 1905. In 1900 he compiled a guide to factory legislation in a pamphlet entitled The Law Relating to Factories, Work-rooms and Shops in Victoria.

During harrowing days of economic depression, mechanization of factories and the growth of outwork were accompanied by falling wages and increased unemployment. There was ample scope for what contemporaries saw as Ord's fullness of energy and indomitable courage, and his 'ardent desire to right the wrongs of the poor and helpless and downtrodden'. He pursued his anti-sweating policies with an unusual disregard for red tape, anxious as he was to interpret the spirit rather than the letter of the legislation. Perhaps because of his zeal, he incurred the wrath of many employers. He confessed: 'There have been bitter complaints about myself'. On the other hand his faith in the virtues of the existing legislation led him to exaggerate its effectiveness, blinding him to the poor conditions which continued to prevail in many factories. His paternalistic attitude to women workers also created frictions.

Temperamentally, Ord was considered 'naturally nervous, often irritable, sometimes provokingly petulant, but also courageous, conscientious and chivalrous'. He never married and lived in lodgings at St Kilda. His main interest outside his work was his country house and orchard at Kangaroo Ground. He died from head injuries received after a fall from his horse at South Yarra on 10 July 1910, and was buried in Brighton cemetery. He left no will and his estate was valued at £1060. Three sisters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1895-96, 3 (44), 1902-03, 2 (30, 31)
  • Southern Sphere, 1 Aug 1910
  • Punch (Melbourne), 22 Mar 1906
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 July 1910
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 16 July 1910
  • history files of Victorian Wages Board (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

Raelene Frances, 'Ord, Harrison (1862–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ord-harrison-7914/text13767, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 19 April 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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