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Waterhouse, George Marsden (1824–1906)

by Jean F. Tregenza

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

George Waterhouse, by Stump & Co.

George Waterhouse, by Stump & Co.

State Library of South Australia, 11140

George Marsden Waterhouse (1824-1906), merchant, pastoralist and politician, was born on 6 April 1824 at Penzance, Cornwall, England, sixth surviving son of Rev. John Waterhouse and his wife Jane Beadnell, née Skipsey. He was a brother of Jabez Waterhouse. Educated at Kingswood School, a Wesleyan college near Bristol, he accompanied his family to Hobart Town in the James, arriving on 1 February 1839. After working for a brother in Manchester House, Hobart, he moved to Adelaide in 1843 and soon prospered as a merchant. On 5 July 1848 he married Lydia, daughter of William Giles.

Elected member for East Torrens in the Legislative Council in 1851 on a liberal platform, Waterhouse resigned in 1854 because of ill health and visited England. On his return in 1856 he was appointed to the Adelaide Water-Works Commission. Next year he was elected member for East Torrens in the new House of Assembly; in August the first ministry under responsible government resigned and the governor sent for him, but he declined office and resigned from the assembly next month. In 1860 he won a seat in the Legislative Council, insisting that tariff duties be 'repealed on unenumerated articles to allow traders to compete on equal terms'. From 10 May to 5 February 1861 he held office as chief secretary and in March became honorary chairman of a commission on the Real Property Act. Convinced that Judge Benjamin Boothby was unjustified in his refusal to recognize the validity of this and other Acts, Waterhouse proposed and then chaired a select committee of the Legislative Council on the matter. In the council debate on the committee's report he seconded a successful motion that the House should submit an address to the Crown seeking the judge's amoval; he warned that Boothby 'with one fell swoop would clear away the legislation of ten years'.

On the resignation of the premier T. Reynolds, a Boothby supporter, Waterhouse reluctantly formed a government specifically for transmitting the address and a similar one from the assembly; he recruited his attorney-general from outside parliament. Nine days later he was persuaded to form a new ministry on a wider basis 'to carry out those [measures] which had already been introduced'; it lasted from 17 October 1861 to 4 July 1863, when he resigned after his treasurer (Sir) Arthur Blyth had been attacked in the assembly for alleged misappropriation of the immigration fund. In the previous month his own interest in the Tipara (Moonta) mine had come under the scrutiny of an assembly select committee that concluded that the Tipara company, of which Waterhouse had been an original director, had no legal right to the mine. He was evasive in replying to some questions and had probably made the large personal profits alleged by F. S. Dutton, but no clear evidence emerged for Dutton's further claim that Waterhouse had been bribed with shares. He did not scruple to resume his directorship after it was clear that the assembly would take no action on the mine's ownership.

After another visit to England Waterhouse migrated to New Zealand in January 1869 and purchased for £21,000 cash the original Huangarua station, together with 18,000 sheep. Member for Wellington in the Legislative Council in 1870-90, he was minister without portfolio in the Fox ministry in 1871, premier in 1872-73, and Speaker of the Legislative Council in 1887. He visited England several times before retiring to Torquay, Devon. Survived by his wife and two adopted daughters, he died at his home on 6 August 1906, leaving an estate sworn for probate at £69,000.

A successful capitalist with a variety of investments in several countries, Waterhouse was interested above all in economic development and the freeing of trade; these objectives led him to advocate a uniform tariff for Australia and shaped his views of Judge Boothby. Although reluctant to hold office he proved a lucid exponent of legislation and a capable administrator. His portrait is in Parliament House, Wellington, New Zealand.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Scholefield (ed), A Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 2 (Wellington, 1940)
  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1957)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1861-63
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1863, 2 (51)
  • South Australian Almanack, and General Colonial Directory, 1844-63
  • S. M. C. Kelly, Wheels Within Wheels (manuscript, National Library of Australia)
  • Moonta Mines, deed and settlement, and Proprietors' minutes (State Records of South Australia)
  • letter, F. S. to F. H. Dutton, A740/A2, and research notes no 16 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Jean F. Tregenza, 'Waterhouse, George Marsden (1824–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/waterhouse-george-marsden-4806/text8011, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 October 2014.

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

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