Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Yates, Arthur (1861–1926)

by Victor Crittenden

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Arthur Yates (1861-1926), seedsman, was born on 10 May 1861 at Stretford, Lancashire, England, one of six sons of Samuel Yates, seed merchant, and his wife Mary, née McMullen. Arthur's grandfather George Yates had started as a grocer and seed merchant in 1826. Three years later he opened a separate seed shop and put his eldest son Samuel, aged 15, in charge. Within a few years Samuel's firm outstripped that of his father; in 1855 he joined his father in partnership and in 1888 acquired the whole business. All Samuel's sons joined the firm.

An asthmatic with a weak chest, Arthur was sent to New Zealand for his health, arriving on 23 December 1879 in the Auckland. He worked on the land near Otago for two years before opening a small seed shop in Victoria Street West, Auckland, in 1883. He also travelled on horseback selling seeds and taking orders from farmers.

In 1886 Yates visited Australia and on his return sent a commercial traveller to Sydney to take orders for seeds, and leased premises in Sussex Street. After his younger brother Ernest joined him in New Zealand in 1887, Arthur decided to move to Sydney, where the climate suited him better, leaving Ernest to manage the New Zealand business. Arthur visited England in 1888; on 13 November that year in the parish church, Wellington, Shropshire, he married Caroline Mary Davies (d.1918). After a honeymoon in Italy the couple came to Australia.

In 1893 Yates launched his profitable range of packet seeds for suburban home gardeners in Australia. Two years later he set about writing a gardening book. This became Yates' Gardening Guide for Australia and New Zealand: Hints for Amateurs, directing its instructions to home gardeners rather than to professionals, as many previous gardening books had done. The ninety-page Guide had black and white illustrations. It became an annual publication and contained information on new seeds and varieties as well as the planning and management of gardens and care of shrubs, flowers and vegetables. Still produced more than a century later, it has been the most useful and popular of the relatively inexpensive garden books available.

Yates's seed business had soon become the largest such firm in the colonies. He built an office and warehouse in Sussex Street in 1896, travelled to Europe in search of quality seeds and established seed farms elsewhere in Australia. About 1907 the two brothers decided to operate separate enterprises, Arthur in Australia and Ernest in New Zealand; both businesses were named Arthur Yates & Co. and each maintained close links with their father's business at Manchester. Arthur Yates & Co. Ltd was incorporated in New South Wales in 1910. Arthur's sons Harold, Arthur, Guy and Philip all joined the firm. As was then the custom, his daughters Vera and Maud did not.

Yates lived at Didsbury, Shaftesbury Road, Burwood, worked for St Paul's Church of England and liberally supported the Boys' Home, Millewa, at Ashfield, and the Farm Home, Windsor. He died of cancer on 30 July 1926 at his home, survived by his six children, and was buried in Enfield cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £48,686. The firm operated as a family company until 1951 when it became Yates Seeds Ltd. Later it merged with Hortico to become Arthur Yates & Co. and in 2001 Yates Ltd, which in 2003 was purchased by Orica Ltd for $45 million.

Select Bibliography

  • Yates Garden Guide: Centennial Edition 1895-1995 (Syd, 1995)
  • R. Aitken and M. Looker, The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens (Melb, 2002)
  • Carcoar Chronicle, 10 Apr 1908, p 4
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Aug 1926, p 12, 4 Sept 1926, p 19
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 Aug 1926, p 8
  • Australian, 27 Oct 2001, p 36
  • Australian Financial Review, 25 Sept 2003, p 19
  • Business Review Weekly, 30 Oct 2003, p 11
  • W. H. Ifould statutory declaration re origin of Yarraura Spencer Sweet Peas (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Victor Crittenden, 'Yates, Arthur (1861–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/yates-arthur-13259/text4509, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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