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Webster, Alexander George (1830–1914)

by Peter Chapman

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

Alexander George Webster (1830-1914), merchant, was born on 3 December 1830 in London. He spent two years at Cape of Good Hope with his mother and sister before they sailed to Sydney in the Roxburgh Castle; they arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1840. Educated at the Melville Street school in Hobart Town and at a private boarding-school at Kempton, he was also a pupil of the artist Thomas Evans Chapman. Later, as an amateur he exhibited both water-colours and pencil drawings of the Tasmanian landscape.

At 14 Webster began work with Thomas Lowes, the Hobart auctioneer. He moved to Degraves Bros, who then combined sawmilling with the proprietorship of the Cascade Brewery, and in 1850 he joined the wool and grain store of C. T. Smith, his uncle. After Smith retired in 1856 Webster ran the business in partnership with his relation John Tabart, trading as Tabart and Webster. At St David's Anglican Cathedral, Hobart, on 30 November 1859 he married Louisa Harriett Turnley; they had eight children.

On the retirement of Tabart in 1879, Webster retained the sole interest in the firm but immediately brought his son Charles into the business which became known as A. G. Webster & Son Ltd. From 1888 it published the colony's first agricultural journal, the monthly Webster's Tasmanian Agriculturist and Machinery Gazette, which contained reprints from various journals, including reports of Lawes's Rothamstead experiments, extracts from the Scientific American and informed articles on Tasmanian farming. By 1906 the firm had grown from a small wool and grain store on Hobart's Old Wharf to a large business employing over 100 men, with branch offices in Launceston, Devonport, Huonville and Burnie. Initiating wool auctions in Tasmania, the company handled most of the Tasmanian clip for the London market. It also imported a large range of agricultural implements and steam-motors. The name was changed again when the firm was registered as an incorporated company in 1910, and his other sons Edwin and Arthur became directors.

Webster was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Tasmania in 1865 and a member of its council in 1871; in 1905, as chairman, he read an address of welcome to the new governor Sir Gerald Strickland. He was also a justice of the peace, chairman of directors of the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Co. and the South British Fire and Marine Insurance Co. of New Zealand, and chairman of the Perpetual Trustees Co. State trustee of the Tasmanian Museum and Botanical Gardens, Webster was also a master warden of the Marine Board, Hobart, and American consul in 1877-1907. He was a commissioner of fisheries; as chairman in 1903 he visited the Baird Hatchery in California, from where he successfully supervised the dispatch to Tasmania of some 500,000 Quinnat salmon ova. He was congratulated by Robert Mackenzie Johnstone for his 'unremitting attention' to this task.

In the 1850s Webster had been well known as an oarsman and yachtsman and on one occasion with Mathew Seal, Henry Smith, John Swan and Henry Boar, rowed a five-oared whale-boat through D'Entrecasteaux Channel and across Storm Bay. He maintained his connexion with yachting and in 1890 was commodore of the newly formed Derwent Sailing Boat Club.

Predeceased by his wife and survived by three sons and two daughters, Webster died of chronic bronchitis on 4 December 1914. His estate was valued for probate at £24,427. His son Charles E. (1861-1936) became a vigorous managing director of the company which continued to expand until the present day when it is one of the largest in the state, with a variety of interests. Webster's grandson G. F. T. Webster is one of its directors.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • H. Allport, Early Art in Tasmania (Hob, 1931)
  • E. H. Webster and L. Norman, A Hundred Years of Yachting (Hob, 1936)
  • P. Bolger, Hobart Town (Canb, 1973)
  • Hobart Town Courier, 28 Jan 1857
  • Tasmanian Mail, 24 Jan 1903, 4 Aug 1910, 10 Dec 1914
  • Mercury (Hobart), 8 Sept 1908, 13 Jan 1911, 10 Feb 1922, 23 Sept 1936, 31 July 1947
  • A. G. Webster papers (University of Tasmania Archives).

Citation details

Peter Chapman, 'Webster, Alexander George (1830–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/webster-alexander-george-4825/text8049, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 20 November 2017.

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

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