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Wettenhall, Marcus Edwy (1876–1951)

by Geoff Browne

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

Marcus Edwy Wettenhall (1876-1951), fruit-grower, farmer and politician, was born on 26 January 1876 at Carrs Plains, near Stawell, Victoria, sixth child of Holford Highlord Wettenhall, pastoralist, and his wife Mary Burgess, née Dennis. Roland Ravenscroft was his brother. Educated at the local state school, and at Toorak and Geelong colleges, Marcus matriculated in 1893. He was an outstanding athlete who won 29 of his 35 starts, including the Victorian Amateur Athletic quarter-mile championship (1896) and the open half-mile (1896, 1897). On 27 January 1903 he married Leila Ashton Warner at St David's Anglican Cathedral, Hobart.

While managing his father's orchard, Glen Holford, near Pomonal, Wettenhall patented a grading machine for apples and was president (1902) of the Central Fruitgrowers' Association of Victoria. In 1909 at Mernong he took up a 3000-acre (1214 ha) subdivision of Carrs Plains which, though he moved to Melbourne in 1917, he continued to farm until 1923. He was a member (1926-35) of the Federal Council of Woolgrowers and Victorian delegate to the Wool Research Conference in London in 1930.

Having joined the anti-socialist People's Party in 1912 to fight 'tooth and nail' against the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank, by 1920 he had become the bank's supporter and regarded the 'Socialist bogy' as a 'flabby golliwog'. In October 1920 Wettenhall won the Legislative Assembly seat of Lowan for the Victorian Farmers' Union. Although he did not live in his electorate, he won six elections and from September 1923 to March 1924 was honorary minister assisting the minister of agriculture in the Lawson-Allan government. Of middle height and medium build, with brown hair, pale complexion and sharp features, Wettenhall was a 'straight shooter' who was described in 1924 as 'a man of punch who does not ask for leave to use it'. His speeches in the assembly were frequent, vigorous and well argued: they focused on agriculture, the development of Portland harbour, transport and education.

A pioneer of the bulk handling of wheat in Victoria, he had designed and built his own silos at Mernong in 1919. He was convinced that Portland could become 'the Odessa of Australia', and his persistent arguments helped to bring about a royal commission on Victorian outer ports in 1923. Anticipating the event by ten years, in 1924 Wettenhall advocated the creation of a ministry of transport. He insisted that closure of the local state school had changed 'the whole trend' of his life by compelling him to move to Melbourne for the sake of his children's education. Thereafter, he worked tirelessly to improve educational opportunities in rural areas. A member (1924-40) and chairman (1938-39) of the Council of Agricultural Education, he was also a councillor (1925-40) of the University of Melbourne.

Wettenhall served on the statute law revision committee and was parliamentary representative on the sports committee of the Victorian Centenary Council (1934-35). In 1935 he lost his seat when the Country Party allowed two candidates to contest it. Finding defeat incomprehensible, he again stood for Lowan as an Independent in 1940, but forfeited his deposit. Survived by his wife, three sons and a daughter, Wettenhall died on 25 January 1951 in East Melbourne and was buried in Brighton cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • C. E. Sayers, Shepherd's Gold (Melb, 1966)
  • Farmer's Advocate, 6 June 1924
  • Countryman (Melbourne), 15 Feb 1935
  • Wettenhall papers (Victorian Parliamentary Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Wettenhall, Marcus Edwy (1876–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wettenhall-marcus-edwy-9056/text15959, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 December 2014.

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

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