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Pratten, Herbert Edward (1865–1928)

by David Pope

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

Herbert Edward Pratten (1865-1928), by May Moore, 1923

Herbert Edward Pratten (1865-1928), by May Moore, 1923

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23352247

Herbert Edward Pratten (1865-1928), manufacturer, mining entrepreneur and politician, was born on 7 May 1865 at Mangotsfield near Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, son of Herbert Graham Pratten, baker, and his wife Ann Rebecca, née Vowles (d.1870). Herbert Edward attended the Merchant Venturers' Technical College and the Trade and Mining School, Bristol. At 15 he joined the Bristol ironworks of John Lysaght which produced galvanized iron and wire-netting, much of it destined for Australia. When his health began to worry him, Lysaght sent him as a clerk to the firm's new branch, opened by William Sandford in 1884 at Five Dock, Sydney.

About 1888 he set up as a manufacturer of soft drinks at Ashfield. In 1889 he started a print and advertising business and arranged for his half-brother Frederick to join him. Pratten Bros, printers, subsequently became one of the largest of its kind in Australia. When Taylor Bros, an Ashfield firm of jam-makers, became deeply indebted to Pratten, a partnership was arranged in liquidation of the debt and around 1895 he became sole owner. On 29 May 1891 at Ashfield Pratten had married Agnes, daughter of boot manufacturer, John Wright, who co-operated in the early development of the jam business. Pratten was also an innovator. A director of Stanmore Preserving Co., he sent supplies in cold storage to Europe and was one of the pioneers of the fruit-pulp shipping business. Pratten's jams and canned fruits won many prizes at Sydney's annual Easter Show. After making a fortune he sold out a few years before World War I.

Pratten already knew something of mining, or at least of the 'chase for glitter', having formed the Hargraves Consolidated Goldmining Co. in 1911 with the help of a government subsidy to rework a gold-mine. During a business visit to India via Penang he was struck by the prospects of profit in tin-dredging. With A. W. Freeman he set up the Austral-Malay Tin Mining Co., first of a string of syndicates and companies consolidated as Larut Tin Fields Ltd in 1926 with a capital of £600,000, and which at one time included Ambrose Pratt as a director.

Pratten was three times president of the New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures and an alderman of Ashfield (mayor, 1909-11). He unsuccessfully contested the Federal seat of Parkes as an Independent in 1910 and stood for the Senate as a Liberal in 1914. Then followed a stint in England with the British Parliamentary Munitions Committee (1915). When he was elected to the Senate in 1917 as a Nationalist, he gave up his business interests as incompatible with politics. In 1921 Pratten, considered a party-machine man, resigned his Senate seat to stand successfully for Parramatta. A redistribution in 1922 made him the first member for Martin.

That year when W. M. Hughes was denied the Country Party support he needed to form a government, Pratten was a power broker in the alliance between the Country and National parties that brought S. M. (Viscount) Bruce to power in February 1923. The Brisbane Sun had predicted that Pratten himself would be the new prime minister. Ambitious to be treasurer, he was dismayed when he was omitted at first from Bruce's ministry. Strong party support—he was deputy president (1920-27) of the New South Wales National Association—brought him the trade and customs portfolio (1924-28) and the health portfolio (1924-25).

A prodigious worker, of small build, neat in dress as in speech, but no orator, Pratten was described as 'more than a pea shooter among the big guns'. He believed that government should offer incentives to private enterprise but should not operate businesses, as politics inhibited the application of proper business principles. He opposed budget deficits, especially when funded by foreign borrowing which used increased credit in London only to buy imports. He was a passionate protectionist. When a new tariff schedule was introduced by Massy-Greene, Pratten oversaw amendments to the 1921 schedule. The first Pratten amendment (1925) gave additional protection to the textile industries; the second (1926) increased import duties on iron and steel and gave added protection to heavy engineering industries. Pratten was not opposed to foreign manufacturers so long as they set up business in Australia, as had Lysaght. On a recuperation trip to Britain, Europe, Canada and the United States of America in 1927, during which he negotiated trade treaties and concessions, he busily canvassed for multinational investment with some success. His personal knowledge of China and Japan found expression in two booklets, Asiatic Impressions (1908) and From Orient to Occident (1911).

On his birthday in May 1928, while addressing a meeting at Turramurra, he died of cerebral haemorrhage. Survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters, he was buried in the Methodist section of Northern Suburbs cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £64,300. A park at Ashfield is named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Bookfellow, Dec 1924
  • National Review (London), 21 May 1928
  • D. Pope, ‘Protection and Australian Manufacturers' international competitiveness: 1901-1930’, Australian Economic Historical Review, Mar 1986
  • Ashfield Advertiser, 21 Oct 1905
  • Sun (Brisbane), 28 Jan 1923
  • Kuring-Gai News, 7 June 1924
  • Evening Sun (Melbourne), 13 June 1924
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 June 1924
  • Brisbane Courier, 16 June 1924
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 9 Feb 1926
  • Argus (Melbourne), Sydney Morning Herald, 8 May 1928
  • Herald (Melbourne), 8 May 1928
  • G. Manger, The Australian Industries Protection League, 1919-1951 (M.Com (Hons) thesis, University of New South Wales, 1976)
  • H. G. Pratten, recollections of the mining activities of father, H. E. Pratten and uncle, Frederick Graham Pratten (typescript, 1974) and H. E. Pratten newsclippings book, 5 vols (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

David Pope, 'Pratten, Herbert Edward (1865–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pratten-herbert-edward-8100/text14139, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 15 October 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 11

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