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Wittenoom, Sir Edward Charles (Horne) (1854–1936)

by Wendy Birman and G. C. Bolton

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

This is a shared entry with Frederick Francis Wittenoom

Sir Edward Charles Wittenoom (Horne) (1854-1936), pastoralist, politician and company director, and Frederick Francis Burdett Wittenoom (1855-1939), pastoralist, mine and business manager, were born on 12 February 1854 at Fremantle and 17 December 1855 at Gwambygine, near York, Western Australia, sons of Charles Wittenoom (d.1866), grazier and bank director, and his wife Sarah Elizabeth (d.1861), née Harding, and grandsons of John Burdett Wittenoom. Both boys were educated at Bishop Hale's school. At 15, Edward went jackarooing on Bowes station and Frank joined him in 1874 after working in the Western Australia Bank.

Together they leased Yuin station and lived rough while they explored and opened up the Murchison, east along the Roderick and Sandford rivers, to Nookawarra. Eventually they acquired over two million acres (809,380 ha) in crown leases and set up Murgoo, Boolardy, Nookawarra, Mileura and Belele stations. They trained Aboriginal shepherds and kept vigilance for stock thieves. Having collared, weighted and chained one offender before walking him 125 miles (201 km) to the Bowes lock-up, at the age of 22 Frank submitted to Commissioner Fairbairn that settlers should be allowed to deal with Aborigines 'in their own way'. On 23 August 1878 at St George's Anglican Cathedral, Perth, Edward married Laura Habgood. In 1881 he acquired White Peak station where he produced fine wool and established a notable sheep stud; five years later the brothers formed a stock and station agency at Geraldton and then added Day Dawn to their holdings. Their Murchison properties were dispersed after 1891 to meet debts of £25,000 due to drought and to a pastoral and pearling folly at La Grange, but Frank retained Boolardy and Nookawarra.

Already involved in local government, Edward was elected to the Legislative Council for Geraldton in 1883. Next year he went to England, but served again in 1885-86. Elected under responsible government as council-member for Central Province, in December 1894 he unexpectedly entered Sir John Forrest's ministry as government spokesman in the council and minister for mines and education; he also had charge of posts and telegraphs. All these facilities were under strain because of gold-rush expansion, public service reorganization and technological changes in telegraphy; as 'a man of considerable independence of character … accustomed to having his own way', he left a distinctive, autocratic mark on each. Although he survived criticisms about the telegraph service, he lost the education ministry in May 1897 following a head-on clash with the inspector-general of schools (Sir) Cyril Jackson. In 1897 Wittenoom was a competent acting premier during Forrest's absence. Next year 'Ten Foot Ned's' unpopular dual-title mining regulations, allowing alluvial and reef mining on the same ground, were defied. Some miners were gaoled, but, after Wittenoom's effigy was paraded and Premier Forrest was mobbed at Kalgoorlie, the regulations were rescinded. Wittenoom resigned to become agent-general (1898-1901) in London.

In England he blossomed into Edwardian elegance: he gave parties, entertained at Henley and was knighted in 1900—the last K.C.M.G. to be personally invested by Queen Victoria at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. Back in Perth in 1901, he succeeded Frank as local managing director of Dalgety & Co. and accepted directorships with Millars Karri & Jarrah Co. Ltd, Western Australia Bank (president 1917-27), Commercial Union Assurance Co., Amalgamated Collieries, the West Australian Trustee, Executor & Agency Co. Ltd and Bovril Australian Estates. He was president (1912-15, 1917) and chairman (1931) of the State Pastoralists' Association; he was also consul for France. Wittenoom had re-entered the Legislative Council in 1902 for North Province and, after an unsuccessful bid in 1906 for the Senate, returned to the council in 1910. President (1922-26), he remained there as the doyen of colonial conservatism until his retirement in 1934. During the Depression, Wittenoom was smartly lampooned by (Sir) Walter Murdoch for advocating the closure of government high schools.

Sir Edward was of medium build, with a heart-shaped face and dark, curly hair which, as it greyed, gave him a distinguished demeanour. He dressed well. Wealth enabled him to live 'at ease'; when 'his bump of self esteem was not crossed', he was affable and hospitable. He enjoyed reading, horse-riding, cycling, bowls, motoring and the Weld Club. Widowed in 1923, he married 28-year-old Isabel du Boulay on 22 December 1924 in the Anglican archbishop's chapel, Perth. Survived by his wife and two daughters, and by a son and two daughters of his first marriage, he died in West Perth on 5 March 1936 and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £36,735.

Frederick Francis Burdett Wittenoom, named after his grandfather and Murchison explorer F. T. Gregory, was a good bushman and a shrewd, versatile investor who survived in the outback and socialized in style. He visited England in 1887 to solicit funds for the Midland railway scheme and returned with several commercial commissions, including the local management of Dalgety's, on whose account he toured fifty-four stations in the north-west in 1888. Afterwards he embarked on a world trip. In the mid-1890s he settled in a bush camp at Boulder where he was engaged by Z. B. Lane as joint general manager of Great Boulder, Perseverance and Great Boulder South mines. Wittenoom was simultaneously involved with activities as diverse as sawmilling, quarrying, stockbroking, the Boulder Progress Association and the Kalgoorlie race club. Fraternal contact was provided by the first telephone connexion between Boulder and Kalgoorlie which Frank installed in 1896.

Heavier in the jowls, he was more thick-set and portly than Edward. An inveterate traveller who belonged to the New York Circumnavigators Club, Frank was gregarious and entertaining. When abroad, he enjoyed shooting parties and social gatherings; when later afflicted by gout, he took thermal baths at Piest'any, Austria (Czechoslovakia). By 1903 he was living in Mount Street, Perth, where he grew prize carnations. Colonial director for mining companies like Fingal and Wallal, and a partner in three pastoral runs, he developed Cranmore Park, some 10,000 acres (4047 ha) at Walebing, for agriculture and stock-breeding. He was a committee-member of the Western Australian Pastoralists' Association for thirty-four years and presided over complex negotiations with shearers in 1917. A keen photographer and motorist, he was a founder of horse-racing clubs at Murchison and Kalgoorlie, and a committee-member (1910-39) of the West Australian Turf Club. Wittenoom died, unmarried, on 11 September 1939 in Perth and was buried with Anglican rites in Karrakatta cemetery. His portrait hangs in the Wittenoom room in the Weld Club over which he presided in 1919-20. Through a legacy, he is commemorated by a floral clock in Kings Park. His estate was sworn for probate at £204,170.

Select Bibliography

  • ‘Truthful Thomas’, Through the Spy-Glass (Perth, 1905)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1913)
  • F. K. Crowley, Australia's Western Third (Melb, 1960)
  • C. W. M. Cameron, Frederick Francis Burdett Wittenoom, Pastoral Pioneer and Explorer 1855-1939 (Perth, 1979)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Council, Western Australia), 1882 (3)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Council, Western Australia), 31 Aug 1881
  • Dalgety's Review (Australasia), Oct 1936
  • West Australian, 9 Nov, 9 Dec 1887, 18, 26 Apr 1890, 5, 20 Jan 1910, 12 Feb 1922, 6 Mar 1936, 12 Sept 1939
  • F. F. B. Wittenoom, Reminiscences: 1855-1939 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Wendy Birman and G. C. Bolton, 'Wittenoom, Sir Edward Charles (Horne) (1854–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wittenoom-sir-edward-charles-horne-9166/text16185, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 August 2014.

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

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