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Snowden, Sir Arthur (1829–1918)

by Bernard Barrett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Arthur Snowden (1829-1918), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., 1895

Arthur Snowden (1829-1918), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., 1895

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN01/06/95/22

Sir Arthur Snowden (1829-1918), lawyer and politician, was born on 29 July 1829 at Dartford, Kent, England, son of James Snowden, saddler, and his wife Harriet, née Durling. Educated in Dartford and London, he worked for seven years in a law stationery business in London. Migrating to Victoria in the Great Britain in 1852, he spent two years on the Fryers Creek and Bendigo goldfields. In 1854 he went to Melbourne and was a conveyancing clerk for Bennett & Taylor, solicitors, for twelve years. He entered into articles in 1866 and was admitted in 1867 as a practitioner under the Conveyancing Act. After practising alone for ten years, he joined (Sir) Samuel Gillott in 1877 in a law partnership which in 1886 became Gillott, Croker, Snowden & Co. In 1894 he formed the firm of Snowden, Neave & Demaine.

On 26 June 1856 Snowden had married Elizabeth Jarvis (d.1900) at St Peter's Anglican Church, Eastern Hill, and in 1858 they settled in a four-roomed cottage beside the Yarra River in St Hellier's Street, Collingwood, a swampy outer suburb. Here he began his involvement in community affairs. In 1864, when Collingwood was dotted with shacks erected for Melbourne's poorest tenants, he participated in establishing St Philip's Anglican Church, a substantial edifice designed to inspire the residents to drain and cleanse the district. Snowden remained an office-bearer of this parish until 1918. In 1868 he was elected to the East Collingwood Borough Council on a reform platform.

Concerned about untenanted cottages, the councillors had been encouraging the development of abattoirs, sheep-skin yards, wool-washing works, tanneries, breweries, night-soil dumps and other industries to attract workers to the district. Appalled by council's disregard of health regulations, Snowden tried to revive the defunct health and sanitation committee; he also supported complaints about local pollution. When the council decided to encourage further industrial development on the River Yarra, he was the only dissentient. His alternative proposal that existing anti-pollution laws be enforced, with compensation for the factory owners, was supported by the Melbourne City Council and the daily press, but, hopelessly outnumbered in the Collingwood council, he resigned after a year.

Snowden became prominent in Melbourne legal and business circles and in 1891 was elected to Melbourne City Council, representing Lonsdale Ward. Immediately popular, he was thrice elected mayor of Melbourne (1892-94) and knighted in 1895. Elected to the Victorian Legislative Council for Melbourne province in 1895 and 1902, he resigned in 1904.

He was regarded as the 'father of the city council' and served it as a vigorous debater until his death. A stickler for propriety, he always insisted that the council should conduct its business 'strictly according to the act' and was quick to seize on any action of which he disapproved. In 1902 he revived the use of the council's Protest Book, a journal enshrined in standing orders but unused since 1876. For the next fifteen years he seemed to make the Protest Book his personal diary, constantly condemning various decisions and procedures. In his late eighties he was still a member of the town hall committee and the baths and parks committee, a council representative on the board of the Melbourne Sailors' Home and one of four managers of the Melbourne general cemetery.

Snowden became a commissioner representing the city council on the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, the body responsible for sewage and water supply. He was a member of the committee of the Austin Hospital for Incurables and various other community committees, of the Church of England diocesan synod and the diocesan council, and of the executive committee of the Australasian Federation League. A keen gardener, he had many rare plants in the garden of his gracious home, St Helliers, and he occasionally contributed specimens to Melbourne parks. He died at his Collingwood home on 18 June 1918 and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. Two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 Sept 1868, 19 June 1918
  • Australasian, 12 Nov 1892
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 12 Nov 1892, 1 June 1895
  • Illustrated Australian News, 1 June 1895
  • Age (Melbourne), 19 June 1918
  • Punch (Melbourne), 10 Mar 1904
  • A. H. B. Barrett, The Making of an Industrial Environment, Collingwood, Victoria, 1851-91 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1970)
  • Protest Book (Melbourne City Council Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bernard Barrett, 'Snowden, Sir Arthur (1829–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/snowden-sir-arthur-8573/text14965, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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