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William Munnings Arnold (1819–1875)

by C. J. King

This article was published:

William Munnings Arnold (1819-1875), politician and pastoralist, was born on 26 October 1819 at Ellough, Suffolk, England, son of Rev. Richard Aldous Arnold and his wife Charlotte Elizabeth. He was educated by his parents until he was 12, when his mother died. He then spent two years at Lowestoft School, completing his basic education at Rev. J. C. Williams's School, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. He studied law but soon became dissatisfied, abandoned it as a career and decided to emigrate to Canada. His father intervened and sent him on a tour of Scotland and the northern counties to learn farming. He arrived at Sydney in 1839 with capital of £1200 and invested in livestock but the drought almost ruined him. He had some success in a gold-buying business on the goldfields near Mudgee and returned to the pastoral industry to amass much property on the Paterson River.

Arnold entered the Legislative Assembly in 1856 for the County of Durham. His policies were radical: manhood suffrage, vote by ballot and electoral districts based on population; all were incorporated in the Electoral Law Amendment Act of 1858. In the first election under this Act in June 1859 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly as member for the Paterson, holding the seat until his death. In the assembly of 1858 Arnold had been chairman of committees, for he early made his mark in debates. In 1860 he joined the Robertson ministry as secretary for public works, and was later prominent in the introduction of the Land Acts of 1861. After Robertson resigned in January 1861 Arnold continued in office in the third Cowper ministry until 1863. In 1865 he was secretary for public works and briefly secretary for lands in the fourth Cowper ministry; in November he became Speaker, a position he held until his death. In 1868-74 he served on the senate of the University of Sydney.

Of commanding stature and presence, intelligent, well educated, well read and with considerable powers of satire, invective and ridicule, Arnold was outstanding in parliament. Forceful in debate and with a gift for oratory, especially in opposition, he was an aggressive politician, feared and respected by his opponents but a valuable ally to those he supported. Not an easy mixer, he was uncommunicative and distant with strangers yet had a natural dignity and courtesy which were the distinguishing features of his Speakership. 'An English gentleman of some property who always associated with the swells or aristocracy', according to David Buchanan, Arnold was nevertheless a confirmed Liberal by principle, distinct from those who were Liberals for political or other reasons. As Speaker he conducted affairs with such unfailing impartiality that he was never opposed. Arnold died on 2 March 1875 by drowning in floodwaters near his Stradbroke estate on the Paterson.

On 9 November 1844 Arnold married Ellen Augusta, the second daughter of Rev. J. J. Smith, M.A.; they had six daughters and three sons, one of whom, Richard Aldous, became clerk of the Legislative Assembly in 1904.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Buchanan, Political Portraits of Some of the Members of the Parliament of New South Wales (Syd, 1863)
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 10 Mar 1875.

Citation details

C. J. King, 'Arnold, William Munnings (1819–1875)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 May 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

William Munnings Arnold, n.d

William Munnings Arnold, n.d

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an21224166

Life Summary [details]


26 October, 1819
Ellough, Suffolk, England


2 March, 1875 (aged 55)
Paterson River, New South Wales, Australia

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