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Webster, Edwin Herbert (1864–1947)

by Peter Chapman

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

This is a shared entry with Charles Ernest Webster

Charles Ernest Webster (1861-1936), merchant and businessman, and Edwin Herbert (1864-1947), businessman and yachtsman, were born on 21 October 1861 and 20 June 1864 in Hobart Town, second and fourth sons of Alexander George Webster, merchant, and his wife Louisa Harriett, née Turnley. Educated at The Hutchins School, in 1879 Charles joined the family's wool and grain store on Hobart's Old Wharf. The firm became known as A. G. Webster & Son Ltd. He enthusiastically promoted the import of agricultural implements and machinery, including fan winnowing mills, the Reid and Grey double-furrow plough, the Hornsby steam plough and the Wolseley sheep-shearing machine. By 1889 the business had opened machinery branches at Launceston, Devonport and Burnie, and had published Webster's Tasmanian Agriculturalist and Machinery Gazette which provided information on scientific farming. In its capacity as a general agent, the firm also imported the first motor car to Tasmania—a Reo—which it assembled locally. In 1916 it organized the introduction of the Boving turbines for the hydro-electric station at Waddamana.

The collapse of the Van Diemen's Land Bank on 3 August 1891 had threatened Webster & Son, a major shareholder, with financial catastrophe. Charles replaced his father as general manager that year and presided over a period of steady growth. In 1910, when the firm was registered as an incorporated company, Charles was managing director; on his father's death in 1914, Charles became chairman of directors and retained that post until 1936, save for an interval in 1924-30 when (Sir) Alfred Ashbolt filled it.

A fine gymnast in his youth, Charles also hunted, played polo and was an amateur comedian. He took a keen interest in yachting and, with H. W. Knight, had founded the Derwent Sailing Boat Club in 1880. On 9 August 1899 at the Church of the Epiphany, Mandeville, New Zealand, he married Louisa Margaret Bell, a grazier's daughter; they were to remain childless. President of the Hobart Amateur Horticultural Society, Charles was an expert in the hybridization of daffodils. He rented and managed Glen Lynden, an orchard at Glenorchy, and was also president of the local Royal Agricultural Society and the Kingston Beach Golf Club. He was esteemed for his charity. Survived by his wife, Charles Webster died at Potts Point, Sydney, on 23 September 1936 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate was sworn for probate at £71,204.

Edwin was also educated at The Hutchins School and entered the family firm where he distinguished himself in its mercantile and financial affairs. On 10 February 1904 in Hobart he married Edith Maud Hudspeth, an Anglican clergyman's daughter. Edwin became a director of the family company in 1910. Responsible for the marketing of wool, he has been credited with organizing the first international wool auctions in the State. He also played a significant role in exporting Tasmanian apples which led to his appointment as director of the Tasmanian Stevedoring Co. Edwin contributed to the growth of the family firm into a State-wide pastoral and merchant company with offices in the major towns of Tasmania, as well as in Melbourne, Sydney and Hong Kong. In 1920-21 he served as an alderman on Hobart City Council. He was, as well, a prominent exhibitor at the Hobart Amateur Horticultural Society's functions.

An enthusiastic yachtsman and first-class helmsman, he promoted the design and building of a Tasmanian yacht class and in 1911 collaborated with the shipbuilder Alfred Blore. In 1925-29 Edwin helped to develop the Derwent class yacht. With Leslie Norman, he compiled A Hundred Years of Yachting (1936), a valuable guide to boating and recreation on the Derwent River. Survived by his wife and three sons, Edwin Webster died on 31 July 1947 at Greystanes, his home at Sandy Bay, Hobart, and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £20,568.

George Alexander (1860-1911), A. G. Webster's eldest son, became a qualified doctor and practised in England and Victoria; injured en route to the South African War, he specialized in treating consumptives in Hobart.

Select Bibliography

  • Webster Limited, Tasmania's Pioneering Company (Hob, 1981)
  • Tasmanian Mail, 13 Feb 1904, 21 Jan 1931
  • Mercury (Hobart), 13 Dec 1911, 11 Feb 1922, 25 Sept, 2 Oct 1936, 1 Aug 1947
  • Webster papers (University of Tasmania Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Chapman, 'Webster, Edwin Herbert (1864–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/webster-edwin-herbert-9281/text15905, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 August 2017.

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

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