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Wynne, Agar (1850–1934)

by Darryl Bennet

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

Agar Wynne (1850-1934), by T. Humphrey & Co., 1906-14

Agar Wynne (1850-1934), by T. Humphrey & Co., 1906-14

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23529428

Agar Wynne (1850-1934), politician, was born on 15 July 1850 in London, son of Edward Agar Wynne, builder, and his wife Sarah Maria, née Palmer. The family migrated to Victoria in his boyhood. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Agar represented the school in football and matriculated in 1868. Having completed the articled clerk's course at the University of Melbourne, he was admitted as an attorney on 7 July 1874 and entered a succession of legal partnerships, initially with (Sir) Henry Cuthbert. In Melbourne on 10 November 1886 he married with Australian Church forms a widow with two children, Mary Jane Robertson, née Smith (d.1889). On 21 February 1896 at the Collins Street Independent Church he married a widow with three children, Annie Dudgeon, née Samuel.

Both a 'country-man and city man', in politics Wynne was not exactly a tory and not exactly a liberal. In 1888 he was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council as a member for Western Province. He held this seat until he resigned in 1903, serving as postmaster-general and solicitor-general in 1893-94 in (Sir) James Patterson's administration, and as solicitor-general in 1900-02 in Sir George Turner's and (Sir) Alexander Peacock's ministries. Wynne's outlook changed little: his early commitment to small government, national development, decentralization, and the promotion and proper regulation of business and industry remained prominent themes in his parliamentary speeches; more liberal in complexion were his support for old-age pensions and his advocacy of women's suffrage.

In 1906 Wynne won the Federal seat of Balaclava as an Independent Protectionist. He gave most of his attention in the House to issues involving commerce and economic development, often citing his legal and business experience in support of his arguments. Swept up in the Fusion of 1909, he became postmaster-general (June 1913–September 1914) in (Sir) Joseph Cook's ministry, but, by mid-1914, had decided to retire. Melbourne Punch attributed his decision to frustration with his inability to make his department run on sound business lines.

For Wynne, another three years out of parliament was enough. In 1917 he stood successfully for the Victorian Legislative Assembly seat of St Kilda. Once more, his energy and competence elevated him to ministerial rank, but no further. Reputed to have been a contender for the premiership, he was attorney-general, solicitor-general, minister of railways and a vice-president of the Board of Land and Works during the four months in office (November 1917–March 1918) of (Sir) John Bowser's 'economy' government. The need for restraint in public spending exercised Wynne's mind more as he aged; before his final retirement from politics in 1920, he warned of dark days ahead.

His long-standing commitment to breaking up the great estates and seeing 'bone and sinew settled on the country' did not prevent Wynne from acquiring Nerrin Nerrin, a 7297-acre (2953 ha) property near Streatham. There he established his country home, ran merinos, raised thoroughbreds and created a sanctuary for wildlife. He had other pastoral interests in Victoria and Queensland. In the city he was a founder of the Argus and the National building societies, chairman of the Colonial Mutual Fire Insurance Co. Ltd, Dennys Lascelles Ltd and Melbourne Electric Supply Co., and had interests in mining and real estate. He had practised law until 1910.

Some 5 ft 6 ins (168 cm) tall, fine-featured and balding, Wynne sported a bushy moustache, kept dark at the tips by cigar smoke. Occasionally severe in manner, he was a tolerant Anglican who valued friendship and enjoyed life to the full. His first love was racing and from 1905 he was a committee-member of the Victoria Racing Club. His horses won the Australian Cup in 1903 and 1908, but his hope for a Derby winner at Flemington was never realized. He was sometime president of the Melbourne Swimming and St Kilda Yacht clubs, and of the Melbourne and Athenaeum clubs.

Late in life a series of strokes robbed Wynne 'of the power to move or speak'. He died on 12 May 1934 at Nerrin Nerrin and was buried in Camperdown cemetery. The daughter of his first marriage survived him and was the principal beneficiary of his estate, sworn for probate at £105,803. His portrait by W. B. McInnes is in the Athenaeum Club, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Loveday et al (eds), The Emergence of the Australian Party System (Syd, 1977)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1934, p 18
  • Punch (Melbourne), 2 Nov 1911, 2 July 1914
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 May 1934
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 May 1934
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 14 Oct 1933
  • G. A. Richardson, Personal Reminiscences (notes, held on ADB file).

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Wynne, Agar (1850–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wynne-agar-9208/text16267, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 October 2018.

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

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