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Rason, Sir Cornthwaite Hector (1858–1927)

by G. C. Bolton

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

Cornthwaite Rason (1858-1927), by unknown photographer, c1910

Cornthwaite Rason (1858-1927), by unknown photographer, c1910

State Library of Western Australia, 008873D

Sir Cornthwaite Hector William James Rason (1858-1927), premier, was born on 18 June 1858 at Cleve Yatton, Somerset, England, son of Cornthwaite Hector Rason, navy surgeon, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Linington. After education at Brighton and Reading, he was a railway clerk before migrating in 1881 to Western Australia where his father (d.1873) had practised. Young Cornthwaite became a partner with C. E. Dempster as storekeeper at Newcastle (Toodyay), returning to England to marry Mary Evelina Terry on 6 February 1883 in dutiful fulfilment of an earlier understanding.

Back in Western Australia, Rason became senior partner in a Guildford store and in 1886-87 speculated enthusiastically in the Kimberley gold rush. In 1891 he retired from the firm; next year Rason, Webster & Co. were bankrupt, paying their creditors one shilling and a penny three-farthings in the pound; Rason was held partly liable. His financial difficulties had cut short his political career as member of the Legislative Council for Swan (1889-90). Undaunted, he followed more gold rushes. In 1893-95 he was a mining agent and auctioneer at Coolgardie, first secretary of the Coolgardie Club, and a prominent founder of the National Liberal League. He went to Mount Magnet in 1896 and, although a newcomer, became the first member of the Legislative Assembly for South Murchison in May 1897. He also became mayor of Guildford that year. Affable, softly spoken and dapper, he was described by a journalist as a 'well preserved little masher'. His finances were still precarious, and his loyalty to the Forrest ministry was secured by a paid appointment as Alexander Forrest's assistant whip in 1899.

In 1901 Rason shifted his seat to Guildford and in December was one of several members who left the remnants of their party and joined George Leake's second ministry. Minister for works when (Sir) Walter James became premier in July 1902, Rason added railways to his portfolio and efficiently presided over the completion of the Coolgardie goldfields water scheme and the erection of the first rabbit-proof fence. In April 1904 he became treasurer; and when the James ministry was defeated in August, took over as leader of the Opposition to the Daglish Labor ministry. In this role he was credited with a suave and polished sarcasm and a shrewd eye for an inexperienced ministry's administrative gaffes. When Daglish's government fell through internal dissensions in August 1905, Rason became premier, treasurer and minister for justice. He called an election in October-November, and was overwhelmingly confirmed in power. Only six months later he resigned, on 7 May 1906. He cited poor health—others alleged family trouble, coupled with financial embarrassment—and accepted the post of agent-general in London. His unexpected abdication aroused criticism not only from opponents, but from some colleagues, who feared for the newly won stability which Rason's victory had promised after nearly five years of shifting faction politics.

By being agent-general in 1907-11, Rason no doubt hoped to secure his future; he was again bankrupt in 1912. In 1909 he received the knighthood he craved. That year he helped to interest Bovril Ltd in buying cattle stations in the Kimberley and the Northern Territory in the expectation that the firm would start a meatworks at Wyndham. After retiring from office he became secretary and director of Bovril Ltd, and chairman of Bovril Australian Estates Ltd, in which capacity he toured the Kimberley in 1915.

Rason died from cancer at Beckenham, Kent, on 15 March 1927; intestate, he was survived by his wife and two sons and two daughters; two children had predeceased him. One of Australia's most lightweight premiers, Rason was an amiable careerist who rendered competent ministerial service, made few enemies, gave little cause for public scandal, and feathered his nest in decent comfort: as he commented, 'I'm not a model of virtue and fine feeling by any means old man'.

Select Bibliography

  • ‘Truthful Thomas’, Through the Spy-Glass (Perth, 1905)
  • R. Erickson, The Dempsters (Perth, 1978)
  • G. S. Reid and M. R. Oliver, The Premiers of Western Australia 1890-1982 (Perth, 1982)
  • British Australasian, 30 Sept 1915
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 5 Oct 1912
  • West Australian, 21 Apr 1915
  • Times (London), 16 Mar 1927
  • Bulletin, 24 Mar 1927
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia)
  • W. H. James papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Rason, Sir Cornthwaite Hector (1858–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rason-sir-cornthwaite-hector-8159/text14259, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 April 2019.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

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