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Young, Edmund Mackenzie (Edmond) (1838–1897)

by Jill Eastwood

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Edmund Mackenzie (Edmond) Young (1838-1897), financier, was born in Coleraine, Londonderry, Ireland, fifth son of William Mackenzie Young, a banker. He became a clerk in the Coleraine branch of the Belfast Banking Co. Ltd in 1853 and accountant in 1856. He arrived in Melbourne in June 1857 in the War Spirit and joined the Union Bank of Australia Ltd, transferring to the National Bank of Australasia as assistant accountant in February 1859. Acting manager in 1860, he was accountant till 1863 when he became manager of the South Australian branch. On 10 October 1864 in Trinity Church, Adelaide, he married Fanny Elizabeth Colley.

In 1866 Young and his board financed pioneer farmers through a period of drought and depressed prices, at serious risk to the bank and in defiance of repeated instructions from Frederick Wright, the Melbourne general manager. Young returned to Melbourne in 1870 to replace Wright who had been sent back to London over a minor indiscretion. He returned to Australia next year and published a vindication in which he attacked Young, who was then dismissed, but who refused to go. Supported by the South Australian shareholders in February 1872 Young negotiated a resignation with compensation of £2400. He spent the next year in Europe.

In 1874 he returned to Melbourne as colonial manager of the Australian Mortgage (Mercantile), Land, and Finance Co. In the next few years he expanded the company's business into the Riverina, financing pastoralists' stock expansion, fencing and freehold purchase to confound selectors. In September 1880 Young was appointed resident London manager of the company, but returned to Australia on inspection tours in 1885-86, 1888, 1890-91, 1892-93 and 1896-97. He dominated the company's policies and management, insisting that it rely on British finance only and refusing to accept customers' deposits; it thus became independent of local money shortages and fluctuating interest rates.

From 1880 Young was reluctant to finance pioneering ventures: he lent only to men of proven ability, watched weak accounts closely and tried to force the Melbourne management into a more restrictive credit policy. As early as 1884 he had noted the effects of the rabbit plague, and from 1890 he forced many pastoralists to accept company controls and economies in their personal and business expenditure. His policies helped to lower the standard of living of many pastoralists and rural workers; by 1892-93 an 8 per cent interest rate on loans had become general, and wages and labour force reduced. In 1890 the A.M.L. and F. was the largest lessee in the Western Division of New South Wales, and Young's conservative and shrewd financing enabled it to survive the pastoral crisis of the decade.

Optimistic and speculative in his personal investments, in 1888 Young was the lessee of Cocopara station, near Narrandera, and he was associated with the Drysdale brothers in the Riverina property, Bynya, and the Pioneer sugar plantation on the Burdekin River, Queensland. Perceiving the need for wider employers' organization, he was influential in the foundation of the Pastoralists' Union of Victoria and at a public meeting in May 1890 he was elected chairman of its first committee. He was a strong critic of W. G. Spence, secretary of the Amalgamated Shearers' Union, but looked forward to 'special legislation, whereby rights would be defined, and disputes arising [between capital and labour] would be finally settled by a court of conciliation'. He was later a member of the union's council and helped to establish the federation of similar employers' bodies. He resigned in February 1891 on his return to England.

Young was a friend of Sir George Dibbs, but his forthright self-confidence made many enemies, especially Sir James MacBain, who queried his policies in 1891. He became 'more suave' with the years, was well liked by his staff and was recognized as 'almost the beau ideal of a powerful and sagacious financier'. Aged 59, he died of pneumonia in Sydney on 23 April 1897 and was buried in the Church of England section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife, then in London, and by two daughters and two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian series, 2nd ed (Melb, 1882)
  • G. Blainey, Gold and Paper (Melb, 1958)
  • R. Connolly, John Drysdale and the Burdekin (Syd, 1964)
  • J. D. Bailey, A Hundred Years of Pastoral Banking (Oxford, 1966)
  • Australasian, 10 Feb 1872
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 May, 21 Aug 1890
  • Pastoral Review, 16 Mar 1891, 15 May 1897
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 19 May 1897.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jill Eastwood, 'Young, Edmund Mackenzie (Edmond) (1838–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/young-edmund-mackenzie-edmond-1071/text8205, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 21 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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