Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Samuel Amess (1826–1898)

by J. Ann Hone

This article was published:

Samuel Amess (1826-1898), building contractor, was born at Newburgh, Fife, Scotland, son of Samuel Amess, miller, and his wife Elizabeth, née Fotheringham. On leaving private school he was apprenticed to a stonemason. In 1852 he sailed to Victoria and after some success at the goldfields was able to start as a building contractor early in 1853 in Melbourne. He bought land in William Street and the house he built there remained his home until his death. Amess built the Treasury, the 'Old Exchange', the Customs House, the Kew Lunatic Asylum (a contract of about £120,000), the Government Printing Office and many country railway stations. He was the contractor for the west facade of Parliament House but in 1883 was involved in a dispute over the facing stone and lost the contract. In the 1870s he was regarded as Melbourne's foremost building contractor and in 1873 was the first president of the Builders and Contractors Association.  

In 1864 Amess was elected to the Melbourne City Council. As mayor in 1869-70 he organized and paid for the ceremonies and festivities associated with the opening of the new town hall in August 1870. Amess commissioned Henry Kendall and Charles Horsley to write a cantata for the concert which 4500 people attended, and he gave a magnificent fancy dress ball at which 3000 guests dined on boars' heads, sucking pigs, jellies and champagne. Amess described his 'sparing the corporable funds' as 'a simple act of duty … The contrary course would have left room for cavilling and question, alike humiliating and vexatious to the members of the City Council'.

Amess was an alderman and a justice of the peace and though he grew less active in business he remained a trusted municipal figure. He represented the city council on the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Harbor and Tramway Trusts. He was a member of the West Melbourne Presbyterian Church and Literary Institute. He also spent his retirement in improving his property on Churchill Island in Westernport Bay which he stocked with horses, quail, pheasants, rabbits and Highland cattle. Aged 71 he died on 2 July 1898 after a short illness aggravated by his insistence on attending to his public duties. He was survived by three of his six sons (educated at Melbourne Grammar School) and two daughters. His wife Jane, daughter of Ralph Straughan, whom he had married in 1849, predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian Series (Melb, 1878)
  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10, 12 Aug 1870, 4 July 1898
  • Leader (Melbourne), 9 July 1898
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 Aug 1946.

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Amess, Samuel (1826–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Samuel Amess, 1869-70

Samuel Amess, 1869-70

State Library of Victoria, H29428

Life Summary [details]


Newburgh, Fife, Scotland


2 July, 1898 (aged ~ 72)

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