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Vickery, Ebenezer (1827–1906)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Ebenezer Vickery (1827-1906), merchant, manufacturer and philanthropist, was born on 1 March 1827 in Oxford Street, London, son of Joseph Vickery (d.1892), boot and shoe manufacturer, and his wife Mary, née Burgess. The family arrived in Sydney in the Richard Reynolds on 14 August 1833. Educated at W. T. Cape's Sydney College, Ebenezer left school at 16 and was apprenticed to T. Bowden, ironmonger. In 1849 he joined the mercantile firm of Richard Fawcett. His father concentrated on squatting in 1851 and Ebenezer took over the boot factory in George Street. On 28 February he married Jane Begg (d.1904).

In 1860 Vickery moved to larger premises in Pitt Street, adding general trading and importing. He became chairman of the Fitzroy Ironworks Co. in 1864 and though he reorganized the company financially, it failed for other reasons: this was Vickery's only business set-back. Fitzroy iron was used the same year in the construction of his new chambers in Pitt Street, the first building in the colony to utilize structural iron. Next year his Sydney factory, associated with J. E. Begg's Glenmore tannery, employed twenty-five persons on the premises and about seventy-five outworkers. He visited England in 1866 and became interested in the shipping trade; he had the Parramatta built there and became part-owner of the Sobraon, Hawkesbury and La Hague. He was executive commissioner for Fiji at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition.

Vickery gradually built up a vast empire by hard work and sound business acumen. He acquired an interest in seven coal-mines; he owned two colliers and a colliery at Mount Keira, was chairman of the South Greta Coal Co. and of the Mount Kembla Coal and Oil Co., and in 1896 took over the Coal Cliff Coal Co. from the estate of Sir Alexander Stuart. He was one of the largest station-owners and property speculators in the colony: among the runs he held was Munyer near Moree, which in 1884 covered 170,000 acres (68,797 ha) and carried 2800 cattle and 9600 sheep. He had much real estate in Sydney and Waverley and was a director of the City Bank of Sydney, the Pacific Fire and Marine Insurance Co., the Perpetual Trustee Co. and the Mutual Assurance Society of Victoria. He also was a member of the general committee of the New South Wales Free Trade Association and chairman of the New South Wales Trade Protection Society. In 1881 he took his sons Ebenezer and Joseph into partnership and on 31 January 1902 his entire business was incorporated as a public company under the style of E. Vickery and Sons Ltd; it became a proprietary company in May 1937.

Appointed to the Legislative Council of New South Wales in 1887, he confined his speeches to social and mining matters. He opposed the cremation bill but supported Sir Alfred Stephen's radical divorce bill in April; speaking on the coal-mines regulation bill in October 1894 he strongly defended capitalism, attacked 'union leaders and socialistic agitators' and opposed the eight-hour clause and the proposed minimum age of 14 for boys in mines.

A staunch Methodist, Vickery made lavish donations to the Church. In 1901-02 he spent £10,000 on tent missions throughout New South Wales. He bought the Lyceum Theatre in Pitt Street in 1905, spent £27,000 on alterations and gave it to the Church: it was opened in September 1908 as 'The Vickery Mission Settlement'. A founder and honorary treasurer of the Sydney Young Men's Christian Association, he also gave money and help to the Young Women's Christian Association and was a benefactor to Sydney public charitable institutions. Self made and self contained, Vickery cared little about society or culture: his business, his family, his Church and his philanthropic work were his absorbing interests.

On 5 May 1905 at Camden Park, Menangle, Vickery married Deborah Louise Ellis, a teacher, with Church of England rites; they visited the United States of America and England for him to study modern evangelistic methods. He survived the great Californian earthquake, but died after an operation at Leeds, England, on 20 August 1906. He was buried in Waverley cemetery, Sydney, not far from his fine residence, Edina, now the War Memorial Hospital. His estate was sworn for probate at £483,354, of which £11,000 was willed mainly to Methodist charities.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine Centennial History of New South Wales, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 2 (Syd, 1889)
  • W. G. Taylor, The Life-Story of an Australian Evangelist (Lond, 1920)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1883-84, 11, 223
  • Sydney Mail, 1 Apr 1865
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22, 23 Aug 1906
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 24 Aug 1906, p 3
  • 'The Late Ebenezer Vickery', Town and Country Journal, 29 Aug 1906, p 23
  • J. Colwell, The Passing of a Great Philanthropist (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Vickery, Ebenezer (1827–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vickery-ebenezer-4779/text7953, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 27 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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