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Wilson, Alexander William (1870–1949)

by Greg S. J. Brinsmead

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

Alexander William Wilson (1870-1949), dairy industry manager, was born on 20 March 1870 at Goldie, Lancefield, Victoria, son of Joseph Wilson, farmer, and his wife Prudence, née Robinson, both Irish born. Educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, Alexander spent a year at the city headquarters of the Bank of Victoria. In 1889 he joined the Colonial Bank and the following year was appointed accountant at its Camperdown branch. He resigned in 1899 to begin dairy-farming on Glenora, his newly acquired 314-acre (127 ha) property at Mirboo North. In 1901 he became secretary of the Mirboo North Dairy Co. Ltd, a small co-operative butter factory which, like others at the time, was struggling to survive: Wilson's banking experience helped to put the company on a sound financial basis. In 1902-05 he was a member of the Mirboo Shire Council.

Having represented the Mirboo North co-operative before a royal commission on the butter industry (1904-05) which exposed unscrupulous practices by marketing agents, Wilson became an advocate of a co-operative selling company. When the Gippsland Butter Factories Co-operative Produce Co. Ltd (later Gippsland and Northern Co-operative Co. Ltd) was formed in 1905, he was appointed its secretary. On 10 June 1908 he married Marion Ferres Ogilvy at Christ Church, St Kilda. That year he became general manager of the Gippsland co-operative.

Under Wilson the company expanded to encompass the sale of grain, seed, livestock and land; it established its own butter-box factory, its own insurance company and, after 1920, its own weekly newspaper, The G & N Co-Operator. Arguing that, by co-operation, farmers and graziers could retain control of their industry and maximize their returns, Wilson wrote in 1912: 'Co-operation in its many forms is one of the greatest social movements in active operation in the civilized world today'. He was active in the formation of the Australian Producers Wholesale Co-operative Federation Pty Ltd, a federation of distributing co-operatives formed in 1918, of which he remained chairman until his death. A director of Empire Dairies Ltd, London, he had instigated the formation and was a director of The Overseas Farmers' Co-operative Federation Ltd, a London-based distributor for Australian co-operatives. Wilson was also a member of the Australian Dairy Produce Board from its inception in 1924 until its restructuring in 1948, having the distinction of moving its first and last motion.

A dynamic personality, he was widely respected for his knowledge of the dairy industry and of agricultural marketing; Smith's Weekly commented in 1939 that Wilson attracted directorships and chairmanships 'as naturally as a magnet picks up steel'. He was very tall and walked with a slight stoop; though appearing aloof, he was fond of congenial company and made himself accessible to those seeking advice. He enjoyed tennis and motoring. Deeply religious, he was an elder of the Hawthorn Presbyterian Church. Wilson died on 10 December 1949 at his Woodend home and was buried in Box Hill cemetery. His wife and two sons survived him; his estate was sworn for probate at £17,473.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 3 (Melb, 1905)
  • G and N Co-Operator, 5 Feb, 29 Apr 1948, 15 Dec 1949
  • Gippsland and Northern Co-operative Co Ltd, Annual Report, 1905-55.

Citation details

Greg S. J. Brinsmead, 'Wilson, Alexander William (1870–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilson-alexander-william-9131/text16107, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 17 August 2019.

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

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