Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Waite, Peter (1834–1922)

by Marjorie Findlay

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

Peter Waite (1834-1922), pastoralist and benefactor, was born on 9 May 1834 at Pitcairn near Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, son of James Waite, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Stocks. Left fatherless, Waite trained and worked as an ironmonger in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. On 8 June 1859 he arrived in Melbourne in the British Trident and went to his brother James's station, Pandappa, near Terowie, South Australia. In 1862 with (Sir) Thomas Elder Waite bought the adjoining Paratoo run, and he took over Pandappa's lease when his brother died in 1863. On 21 November 1864 Waite married his first cousin Matilda Methuen (d.1922) at Woodville; they had eight children.

Drought beset the north in 1864-66 but from 1869 Elder, Waite and N. E. Phillipson accumulated sheep and cattle runs from Beltana to the Queensland border, though after 1880 resumptions caused some loss of profits. In 1883 Waite became chairman of Elder's Wool & Produce Co. Ltd, a subsidiary of Elder Smith & Co.; in 1888 they were amalgamated and he became chairman of directors of Elder Smith & Co. Ltd, displaying remarkable ingenuity and initiative. After Elder's death in 1897 his interests and those of Waite and Phillipson were merged in the Beltana Pastoral Co. Ltd; Waite was its managing director, and also of the Mutooroo Pastoral Co. Ltd, in 1898-1911. He had directorships in the Commercial Union Assurance Co. Ltd, the British Broken Hill Co. Ltd, and the S.A. Woollen Co. Ltd. He held Momba station in New South Wales.

Waite gave leads to pastoralists with his improvement and management of semi-arid salt bush country. By poisoning vermin, fencing paddocks and providing permanent water he achieved larger sheep numbers; he emphasized breeding, flexible stock movement and the rotation of paddocks. A member of a railway extension committee, in 1874 he had pressed for a northern rail link with Adelaide. He advocated large leases of long tenure and close personal supervision, and he gave useful evidence to the 1897-98 pastoral lands commission. An exacting, energetic employer, Waite lived at Paratoo until he bought Urrbrae, near Adelaide, in 1874. He was a member and vice-president of the Pastoralists' Association of South Australia and West Darling and the Federated Employers' Council of South Australia. In 1875 he was chairman of the Stockbreeders' Association.

In the 1870s Waite was a patron of the arts and later became a benefactor to the pastoral and agricultural industry, donating Urrbrae Estate to the University of Adelaide in 1913, subject to life tenancy for himself and his wife; half was to be for agricultural studies and the rest for a park. A further 114-acre (46 ha) site nearby was given to the South Australian government for an agricultural high school. In 1915 Claremont and part of Netherby, also near Urrbrae, were bought and given to the university, followed in 1918 by 5880 shares in Elder Smith & Co. Ltd to enable the land to be used as intended. The total value of his gifts to the university was estimated at £100,000; in 1923 the Waite Agricultural Research Institute was established.

Waite retired in 1921 and died of heart failure on 4 April 1922 at Victor Harbor; he was survived by his wife and four children and a memorial service was held at St Michael's Anglican Church, Mitcham. His state was sworn for probate at £160,000. His family continued the tradition of generous gifts to the university and the institute.

Select Bibliography

  • Elder Smith & Co. Limited: The First Hundred Years (Adel, 1940)
  • The Mutooroo Pastoral Company Limited After Fifty Years (Adel, 1951)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1898-99, 3 (77)
  • Register (Adelaide), 15 Dec 1874, 5 Apr 1922
  • Observer (Adelaide), 15 Apr 1922
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Marjorie Findlay, 'Waite, Peter (1834–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/waite-peter-993/text7959, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 20 September 2014.

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

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