Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Prowse, John Henry (1871–1944)

by Betty Carter

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

John Henry Prowse (1871-1944), insurance agent, farmer and politician, was born on 16 June 1871 at Adelong, New South Wales, fifth of fourteen children of James Prowse, miner and farmer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Wylie. He was educated at Adelong Public School and King's College, Melbourne. On 6 April 1896 he married Edith Jane McNeilance at Clifton Hill, Melbourne.

Prowse worked for twenty-five years with the United Insurance Co., moving to Western Australia as State manager in 1903. Energetic and enterprising, he was soon 'counted as a decisive acquisition to the business life of the community'. In 1905 he was mayor of Subiaco and in 1913 mayor of Perth, re-elected unopposed in 1914. During these two years the municipalities of Perth, North Perth and Leederville merged to form the city of Perth.

Prowse was actively involved with the West Australian Temperance Alliance of which he was president in 1905-11, and was a staunch member and lay preacher of the Wesleyan Church. An imposing figure, well over six feet (183 cm) tall, he regularly attended services wearing, regardless of temperature, 'a full suit of black with a silk hat'. His two sons were foundation pupils of Wesley College in 1923.

In partnership with his brother Albert, Prowse acquired Wallatin station at Doodlakine in 1910. He was a foundation director of the co-operative, Westralian Farmers Ltd, established in 1914, and chairman of the Discharged Soldiers' Land Settlement Board in 1919. Endorsed by the Farmers' and Settlers' Association and helped by recently introduced preferential voting, Prowse in 1919 retrieved the Federal seat of Swan lost to Labor in 1918. In 1922 he convincingly won the new division of Forrest and held it, twice unopposed, until defeated in 1943.

He supported the formation of the Federal Country Party in 1920, and after indicating his willingness to act as 'temporary leader or chairman, also secretary or whip' was appointed secretary and government whip in February 1923. Responding to the negotiations for a coalition with the Nationalists, Prowse urged the removal of W. M. Hughes as prime minister and advocated tariff reductions for primary producers as a major condition for co-operation. He strongly opposed the 1924 Bruce-Page electoral pact, preferring an arrangement based on 'the silken threads of friendship' to 'tying the Parties up with a hawser', and resigned as secretary and whip in August. This action possibly cost him a place in the ministry left vacant by P. G. Stewart's resignation over the same issue.

The positions Prowse occupied during his long parliamentary career reflected his early reputation as a firm and able chairman. He chaired the select committee, and subsequent 1923 royal commission, on the operation of the Navigation Act upon Australian trade, industry and development. He was chairman of committees and deputy Speaker in 1934-43 and a member of the joint committee of public accounts (1920-23, 1925-29).

Prowse retired to his farming property, Bangadang, at Donnybrook, keenly feeling his narrow failure to attain twenty-five years in parliament. He died at Donnybrook of cerebral haemorrhage on 20 May 1944 and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery, Perth. He was survived by his second wife Jean Germaine, née Murdoch, whom he had married at Toorak, Melbourne, on 5 April 1941, and by two sons and four daughters of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • ‘Truthful Thomas’, Through the Spy-Glass (Perth, 1905)
  • J. G. Wilson (ed), Western Australia's Centenary, 1829-1929 (Perth, 1929)
  • B. D. Graham, The Formation of the Australian Country Parties (Canb, 1966)
  • West Australian, 13-16 Dec 1919, 1 Jan 1920, 7 Aug 1924, 21 Aug 1943, 22 May 1944.

Citation details

Betty Carter, 'Prowse, John Henry (1871–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/prowse-john-henry-8125/text14193, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 16 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018