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Austin Albert Austin (1855–1925)

by P. L. Brown

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Sidney Austin (1846-1906), Austin Albert Austin (1855-1925), Edwin Henry Austin (1860-1909), and Edward Arthur Austin (1875-1940), were respectively nephew and son-in-law, second son, fourth son, and grandson and great-nephew, of Thomas Austin of Barwon Park, Winchelsea, Victoria. All had a pastoral setting and became minor politicians.

Sidney, seventh and youngest son of John Austin, Thomas's eldest brother, and his wife Eleanor, née Collins, was born at Baltonsborough, Somerset, England, on 16 May 1846. Early in 1864 he followed his brothers Josiah, Benjamin and Albert to Victoria. Trained by the first and third, he became a station-owner in 1870 and from 1874, as part-lessee, managed in succession Avalon for his uncle James Austin and Barwon Park for Thomas Austin's estate. In 1881 his name enlarged the title of the Geelong woolbrokers Dennys, Lascelles & Co. In 1888 he extended his rural interests into New South Wales, through his partnership with his first cousin Frank Mack in Narromine station near Dubbo. His surviving Narromine letter-book (500 pages), although clearly only a fraction of his correspondence, displays his capacity, vision, literacy and professional business standards.

Centred upon Geelong, he combined the functions of pastoral expert and progressive citizen. In 1886 he became a council-member of Geelong Church of England Grammar School; in 1888, a Geelong town councillor and also member for South-Western Province in the Legislative Council. He was mayor in 1896-98 and held his parliamentary seat until 1904 when ill health caused his retirement. After renting Lunan, the mansion of J. F. Strachan, in 1892 he bought a verandahed brick and stone bungalow at Newtown, added a floor and called the result Larneuk. His wife Harriet Mary, Thomas Austin's second daughter, whom he had married in 1871, died there in 1901. He died there also, on 8 May 1906, of chronic nephritis. As chairman of the inaugural council of Geelong Church of England Girls' Grammar School, he had just clinched its foundation and chosen its first headmistress, Elsie F. Morres. In 1922 the school expanded from The Hermitage into Larneuk, and renamed it Austin House. It was demolished when in 1973 the school forsook Newtown for Highton.

Austin Albert and Edwin Henry, whose mother Elizabeth Phillips Harding had married their father Thomas in Melbourne in 1845, were both born at Barwon Park: Austin on 23 November 1855 and Edwin on 23 August 1860. From April 1864 until 1873, when he left as an unofficial prefect and captain of field games, Austin attended Geelong Grammar School. Edwin joined him there in July 1872 from Ballarat College, going on to Scotch College, Melbourne, in 1878. Austin and Edwin both became active landholders and local legislators. Austin was member of the Legislative Assembly for Grenville in 1902-04 and of the Legislative Council for South-Western Province in 1910-25. Edwin was M.L.A. for Ripon and Hampden from 1892 until 1900 as a conservative. In 1906-09 he was M.L.C. for Nelson Province.

Physically short but quick and tough, Austin captained the Geelong Football Club's victorious teams of 1879 and 1881 and then concentrated upon productive activities which stretched from Commeralghip station, Rokewood, as far as the Balmoral, Heywood and Stawell districts, but were centred upon Narmbool and Larundel stations in the timbered hills near Elaine. There he and his wife Winifred, daughter of John Cameron of Morgiana station, near Hamilton, brought up two sons and three daughters as a well-knit family in comparatively primitive country. He was pragmatic, direct and neatly humorous. 'The happiest people', he would tell his family, 'are those who get things gradually. Failure is not a crime, but low aim is'. When a daughter at school in Melbourne wrote for leave to learn fencing, he assented — and added wryly that it might be useful on the property. Austin died at Geelong of cerebro-vascular disease on 29 July 1925 leaving an estate valued for probate at £60,405.

On 10 June 1884 Edwin married Jessie Isabella, daughter of Thomas Shaw, government surveyor and grazier near Ararat. He leased Gorrinn station in that district for some six years from 1883, bought St Enochs, near Beaufort in 1888, but about ten years later sold it and settled on Colvinsby at Dobie. He died of nephritis at Stawell on 30 November 1909, survived by his wife, two daughters, and a son Rex who succumbed to meningitis in 1914.

Edwin and Austin were well informed sheepmen. Edwin established a stud merino flock near Ararat. In 1895 he was president of the Australian Sheepbreeders' Association and at various times served as head of both the Ararat and Beaufort agricultural societies. He was also a Ripon shire councillor in 1888-97 and president there in his turn. Austin's civic emulation was expressed through his youngest brother Herbert Arthur, his partner and afterwards his neighbour, a Buninyong shire councillor for thirty-five years and mayor of Geelong in 1909.

Edward Arthur was Sidney's fourth son. He and his elder twin Arthur Edward were born at Avalon station, near Geelong, on 3 July 1875. Both, like their younger brother Alfred Victor, became staff-members of Dennys, Lascelles, Austin & Co.; but Victor died in 1903 and Arthur in 1910. By 1911 the other brothers, Sidney Augustus Napier and Thomas Phillips, were managing the family's stations in New South Wales (Wambianna and Cobborah, which they bought individually in 1926), and Edward was his firm's secretary. In 1916, however, he resigned to become secretary and bursar of Geelong Grammar School. He had taken his father's place on the school council in December 1906, and became its honorary secretary in 1907.

In 1895 Edward ('Ned') had been school captain and a matriculated athlete. Knee injury failed to impair his interest in balanced development. He contributed business skill and painstaking wisdom; robust, uncensorious sympathy; a knack with the ugly duckling. He gained satisfying momentum through perception of the divine in common experience. The single-seater Swift in which he began his years of daily motoring between Corio and Geelong, where, being single, he lived with his married sister, presaged his ultimate renunciation of salary. Helped by his sister, he had until 1914 continued the tented holiday camps at Lorne which Arthur and he had arranged as leaders of a young men's Anglican group. He became a diocesan councillor, but was a lay reader at Fyansford for thirty-four years, and was president of the Fyansford cricket club until it was dispersed by World War I. He understood small boys and straightforward men, and delighted to be host to congenial company; but at times he became too serious for half-baked youth. Yet critics of his occasional resonant school-chapel sermons seldom if ever doubted Ned's integrity, or accused him of unjustified interference. His unobtrusive but positive Christian faith was influenced by his conception of J. B. Wilson and J. L. Cuthbertson. His Light Blue Days (Melbourne, 1927), a book of seventy-eight poems, deficient in execution but sincere in feeling, defined his motives and loyalties. He held several public offices, and in 1932 won the Legislative Assembly seat of Geelong as a last-minute candidate for the United Australia Party. But politics dismayed him. In 1935 he lost to his Labor opponent without regret.

Ned Austin was middling tall and solidly built, with warm brown eyes, a firm handshake, square features, and a ruddy, weather-beaten look. His bushwhacking elder brothers used to banter him, but with ingenuous gumption he replied in kind. Thomas's ornithological Cobborah collection, now in the National Museum, Melbourne, suggests a common interest. Others were also shared.

Trusted friend and adviser of successive headmasters, still actively employed, Edward died suddenly of hypertension and cerebro-vascular disease at his home, Claremont, Geelong, on 1 May 1940. He left an estate valued for probate at £28,372, with generous bequests to the Church of England and to Geelong Grammar School. Cuthbertson's 'In Memoriam S.A.' could have been written for both father and son:

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust —
Yet his clear spirit lives,
And from the kingdom of the good and just
A benediction gives.

Select Bibliography

  • Geelong Grammar School, History and Register, Jubilee 1907 (Geelong, 1907)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936), and Australian Families, vol 1 (Melb, 1941)
  • Mrs A. S. Gray, Austin Family Tree (priv print, 1948)
  • I. Southall, The Story of The Hermitage (Melb, 1956)
  • Mrs R. A. Austin, ‘The Austin family in Australia’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 36 (1965)
  • Geelong Grammar School, Annual, 1875-76, and Quarterly, July 1906, Oct 1911, and Corian, 1914–May 1940
  • S. Austin letter-book (Geelong Historical Society)
  • rate-books (Geelong and Newtown City councils)
  • records (Geelong Grammar School)
  • private information.

Citation details

P. L. Brown, 'Austin, Austin Albert (1855–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 17 July 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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