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George Lewis Aitken (1864–1940)

by G. S. Le Couteur

This article was published:

George Lewis Aitken (1864-1940), pastoralist and woolbroker, was born on 4 February 1864 at Langi Willi, Skipton, Victoria, son of James Aitken and his wife Jane (Jeannie), née Lewis. James Aitken owned Langi Willi with Philip Russell of Carngham until 1870, when he acquired Banyenong West, Donald. He was also a partner in Dalgety, (J.) Blackwood & Co., Melbourne; when it was incorporated under the title of Dalgety & Co. Ltd in 1884, he became joint managing director, with A. R. Blackwood, and sole managing director from 1889 until his death in 1905.

George was reared a Presbyterian and from 1875 attended Scotch College, Melbourne, later serving on the school's council. In 1882 he joined Dalgety, Blackwood & Co., managing and developing the extensive stock and station business of Dalgety, Melbourne. Shortly after his father's death he was appointed branch sub-manager, in 1910 joint manager, and in 1915 Melbourne manager.

Active in the Melbourne Woolbrokers' Association he impressed his colleagues with his foresight. He was chairman in 1911-12 and 1917-18, significant years for the wool industry. From 1916 wool disposal was controlled by the Central Wool Committee, and in 1918 contracts were executed to purchase the clip during the war and one year thereafter. The orderly disposal of stocks seriously concerned brokers, who formed the Federated Wool Selling Brokers of Australia. Aitken considered the federation's authority too limited. In July 1919 the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers was constituted and Aitken, its principal architect, was first president, holding office in 1919-24 and 1926-36. He established the council's authority, and emphasized his national approach in discussions with the Central Wool Committee on the power's of the British Australian Wool Realization Association Ltd over disposal of stocks.

Aitken's objective was co-operation between growers, brokers and buyers. He contended that if these interests worked together risks of interference with the industry's organization would be minimized, and he thus consistently opposed schemes to stabilize wool values proposed by growers in 1930 and 1936. In 1932 he established the London committee of the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers to maintain contact with market developments in Europe, and that year he headed a brokers' delegation to a Federal government committee of inquiry into the wool industry.

Aitken's conviction that wool was 'the backbone of Australia's prosperity' motivated his dedicated service to the pastoral industry. Concerned that applied research in the field was inadequate, in 1927 he founded and became chairman of the Australian Pastoral Research Trust, established to promote scientific and economic research into wool production. He stressed the need to reduce costs if competition from artificial fibres was to be effectively countered. Disappointed that the trust failed to attract adequate financial support from woolgrowers, he still persisted with a research programme to demonstrate that costs could be controlled only 'by tackling the task of eliminating stock diseases and thus reducing the cost of handling'.

Aitken was chairman of the Tubbo Estate Co. Pty Ltd, and for many years honorary treasurer of the Australian Sheepbreeders' Association and the Pastorialists' Association of Victoria. As Dalgety's manager he was a member of the local board of the British and Foreign Marine Insurance Co. Ltd, and became its chairman. In the late 1920s he actively supported the Australian Inland Mission in its efforts to establish an aerial medical service based on Cloncurry, Queensland. Donations from the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers assisted the scheme's foundation.

Of powerful physique—in his youth a keen rower and prominent footballer—Aitken had a dominating personality but was regarded as both kindly and just. He was a generous supporter of St George's Presbyterian Church, Windsor, and a member of the Australian and Melbourne clubs. In 1935 he was appointed C.B.E. for his services to research in the pastoral industry. On 28 November 1894 he had married Alice Gorton Burt of Bindi station, Gippsland; when he died of cardiac disease at his home in East St Kilda on 27 February 1940, his wife, his son and two daughters survived him. He left an estate valued for probate at £38,264.

Select Bibliography

  • Dalgety's Review (Australasia), 1 Aug 1910
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, July, Oct 1936, Mar 1940
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 Feb 1940
  • Pastoral Review, 11 Mar 1940
  • Memorandum of Association 1884 (Dalgety & Co. Ltd Archives Melbourne)
  • Presidential addresses, 1921-37 (National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia, Sydney).

Additional Resources

Citation details

G. S. Le Couteur, 'Aitken, George Lewis (1864–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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