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Winchcombe, Frederick Earle (1855–1917)

by G. P. Walsh

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

Frederick Earle Winchcombe (1855-1917), woolbroker and politician, was born on 26 April 1855 at Brunswick, Melbourne, second son of John Phillimore Winchcombe, a quarryman from Wales, and his English wife Julia Sophia, née Earle. In the 1860s the family moved to the Young and Yass districts of New South Wales. Educated at Christ Church St Laurence School, Sydney, Frederick joined the woolbroking firm of Mort & Co. and gradually became a wool expert and auctioneer. In his youth he played cricket for South Sydney club. At Christ Church St Laurence he married Annie Amelia Henson (d.1952) on 25 September 1878.

After Mort's firm amalgamated with R. Goldsbrough & Co. Ltd, Winchcombe resigned in 1888 and next year joined Duncan Carson, C. L. Wallis and E. J. Turton to form Winchcombe, Carson & Co., woolbrokers, stock and station agents; he was its chairman. In September 1899 the firm was incorporated with a nominal capital of £150,000. Winchcombe, Carson & Co. Ltd became Winchcombe, Carson Ltd in 1910. Its large woolstores in Wattle Street, Pyrmont, begun in 1893-94, made effective use of the local terrain for easy handling; Winchcombe, Carson's turnaround of 86,000 bales in 1905 was claimed as an Australasian record; it soon became one of the best-known pastoral firms in eastern Australia with over thirty branches in New South Wales and twenty-five in Queensland.

A lean man of middle height whose close-cut hair emphasized the triangular shape of his face, Winchcombe was prominent in the public and business world of Sydney. He was a commissioner for the 1893 Chicago exhibition, an executive member of the Patriotic Fund for the South African War and an active vice-president of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales. Three times president of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce (1907-08, 1909-10, 1914-15), he was a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, Atlas Assurance Co. Ltd and James Martin & Co. Ltd, and chairman of Ruthven Ltd, a Queensland pastoral company.

Winchcombe represented Ashfield in the Legislative Assembly from November 1900, but resigned in August 1905 due to business pressures. On his return from Europe, he was nominated to the Legislative Council on 24 September 1907 and was a member of the Board of Health (1907-10). In parliament he generally adopted a conservative stance on industrial and rural issues, but he agreed in principle with women's franchise, closer settlement and the eight-hour day, and supported the wages board system for dealing with industrial disputes. He strongly opposed the fair rents bill (1913) and the Workmen's Compensation Act (1916), arguing instead for a 'national insurance scheme' to which employees would contribute.

A councillor of the Liberal and Reform (later National) Association, Winchcombe outlined his political views in a series of articles in the Brisbane Monthly Record which were republished under the title As it Strikes Me (1916). Maintaining that there were no 'classes' in Australia, he attacked labour's 'go slow policy' and the tactics of the Industrial Workers of the World; he praised the qualities of the Australian bushman and advocated better worker and technical education, 'bonus-giving' and easier access to the land; he urged employers to study workers' literature and to look at industrial questions from the workers' point of view.

A sincere Christian, Winchcombe was a parishioner of St Mark's, Darling Point, and a member of the Christ Church Improvement Association. Although neither 'a temperance reformer nor a total abstainer', he favoured early closing in 1915 as a necessary act of self-denial during 'the stress of a great and serious war'. He organized the Chamber of Commerce War Food fund, helped to establish the State Wool Committee, and was a foundation member of the Universal Service League, trustee of the Regimental Comforts Fund and vice-president of the Soldiers' Club.

In 1917 he went to England to visit his two sons on active service with the Australian Imperial Force. On his way back to Australia, the Mongolia struck a mine and sank in the Indian Ocean: Winchcombe was among those rescued, but died of pneumonia on 29 June 1917 in the military hospital at Bombay and was buried in Sewri cemetery. He left an estate valued at £56 109. His wife, two of their four sons and two daughters survived him. His youngest son Kenneth joined the firm in 1907, becoming a director in 1926; his daughter Edyth married (Sir) Thomas Bavin.

Select Bibliography

  • Pastoral Review, 15 Nov 1906, 16 Feb 1911, 15 Feb 1913, 16 Sept 1914, 16 July 1917
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21 July 1917
  • Town and Country Journal, 13 Oct 1900, 4 July 1917
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2, 9 July 1917
  • Fighting Line, 21 July 1917
  • Australian Worker, 5 July 1917
  • Carruthers papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Winchcombe family letter books, 1913-17, and newsclippings, 1906-57 (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Winchcombe, Frederick Earle (1855–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/winchcombe-frederick-earle-1054/text16151, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 31 August 2014.

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

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