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Sir William Charles Angliss (1865–1957)

by E. A. Beever

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William Charles Angliss, n.d

William Charles Angliss, n.d

State Library of Victoria, H38849/107

Sir William Charles Angliss (1865-1957), butcher, meat exporter and pastoralist, was born on 29 January 1865 at Dudley, Worcestershire, England, eldest son of William Angliss, tailor, and his wife Eliza, née Fiddian. He was educated at Hawkhurst, Kent. Engaged in the butchering trade from his youth, he worked first in London with an uncle and then, after two and a half years in New York, migrated to Queensland, arriving at Rockhampton in 1884. After working for a year in Brisbane and then in Sydney, he moved to Melbourne where he opened his own butcher's shop in North Carlton in 1886. The business prospered: in 1892 he opened larger premises in Bourke Street in the city and that year began to export frozen meat. Displaying from the start immense capacity for work, intense dislike of waste, attention to detail, flair for exploiting new products and new markets, willingness to gamble, over the next thirty years he became the dominant figure in Australia's highly competitive meat export trade.  

Angliss first exported frozen meat to the goldfields of Western Australia, later to the imperial forces fighting in South Africa and finally to Britain, using freezing facilities provided by the Victorian government. When these proved inadequate he built his own works at Footscray; opened in 1905, they were for many decades the largest in Victoria. By World War I he had begun also to export meat from New South Wales, South Australia and New Zealand, and had opened offices in London and Liverpool to handle his rapidly expanding business. To consolidate his activities in New South Wales, he bought meatworks at Forbes in 1914 and at Riverstone near Sydney in 1920. He extended his operations to the Queensland beef export trade, purchasing works at Brisbane in 1924 and, jointly with his New South Wales rival F. J. Walker, at Rockhampton in 1927. To complement his export activities, Angliss also bought or leased numerous pastoral properties in the three eastern States, including some in partnership with Australia's 'cattle king' Sir Sidney Kidman. The last and largest addition to his pastoral empire, in 1929, was a group of cattle stations previously operated by the Queensland government; capable of supporting 80,000 head of cattle, the leasehold alone of these properties cost him £250,000.

Over the years Angliss established several companies to administer his expanding and diversifying interests. The family, which included his brother Albert Henry, always had a majority shareholding and he himself exercised tight personal supervision of their activities. By the early 1930s it was claimed that his was the largest personally controlled meat enterprise in the British Empire. However by then he was approaching 70, had no prospective successor, and the business was ripe for take-over. In 1933 the large British firm of Vesteys, already active in the Australian trade, expressed interest in acquiring his Victorian business, and after keen negotiation finally bought the whole Angliss meat business for £1½ million early in 1934. Angliss retained his pastoral properties and during his subsequent 'retirement' acquired interests in a wide range of business activities. He was chairman for many years of the Eagle Star Insurance Co. Ltd, Benbow Mills Pty Ltd, Clifton Brick & Tile Co. and Premier Printing Co., and director of the Mutual Store, Davies Coop & Co. Ltd, Australian Cement Ltd, Hume Pipe Co. Ltd, Hume Steel Ltd and several other companies. By 1950 he was reputedly the wealthiest man in Australia. In his later years he also financed the establishment of a food-trades school, named after him, and actively supported various charities including the Salvation Army and movements to settle migrant children in Australia. In 1939 he was knighted.

In 1912-52 Angliss was a member of the Legislative Council of Victoria, representing Southern Province, a predominantly mixed-farming electorate to the north of Melbourne. A conscientious, highly respected but not ambitious parliamentarian, he was usually unopposed at elections. His most important political achievement followed his appointment as official business consultant to the Australian delegation at the Ottawa Imperial Conference in 1932. For Australia, one of the most favourable results of this conference was a system of preferential controls which boosted meat exports; it was generally acknowledged that Angliss, with his unrivalled expertise, had played a major role.

Active and retaining 'freshness of spirit' to the end, Angliss at 92 was still reporting at his desk at 9.30 every morning; he usually sported a flower in his buttonhole and was 'always ready to interrupt his work with a dissertation on the unbounded possibilities of Australia'. A noted freemason, in old age he was a keen bowls and deck quoits player and enjoyed a Saturday night game of draughts. He did not smoke and was a temperate drinker.

On 31 March 1919 Angliss had married Jacobena Victoria Alice Grutzner at St Columb's Church, Hawthorn; they had one daughter. He died at his Auburn home, Benbow, on 15 June 1957, and was buried in Box Hill cemetery after a service at St Paul's Cathedral. His wife and granddaughter survived him. The Angliss estate was valued for probate at more than £4 million, of which £1 million was set aside in his will for the creation of a charitable trust.

Select Bibliography

  • J. V. Angliss, Sir William Angliss (Melb, priv print, 1960)
  • E. A. Beever, A History of the Australian Meat Export Trade, 1865-1939 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1968).

Additional Resources

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Citation details

E. A. Beever, 'Angliss, Sir William Charles (1865–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 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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