Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frederic William Buss (1845–1926)

by J. G. Nolan

This article was published:

Frederic William Buss (1845-1926), merchant, sugar-planter and manufacturer, was born on 2 January 1845 at Faversham, Kent, England, son of Thomas Buss, chemist, and his wife Frances Helen, née Thorpe. Educated at the Grove House, Highgate, London, he left school when young, served a draper's apprenticeship, and in 1863 arrived in Queensland with his father, sisters and brothers including Charles and George, later his partners. He worked in Brisbane for R. A. & J. Kingsford and for William Southerden & Co. in Maryborough, then for ten years ran a drapery shop in Maryborough with Thomas Penny; they also had a Bundaberg branch. After visiting England, Buss established a major department store in Bundaberg in partnership with his brother George and W. H. Williams. The firm became Buss & Turner in 1888 and settled in Bourbon Street.

As the sugar industry gained momentum in the late nineteenth century the store became foster-nurse to half the business houses in the town; one of the most important was Woolley, Bergin & Co., which became significant suppliers of agricultural machinery, occupying shops owned by Frederic Buss on Bundaberg's main street. He may well have been the silent partner who enabled the company to buy out the ironmongery section of Buss & Co. in 1885. Discussing his success in 1888, the Bundaberg Reporter said, 'he touches nothing now scarcely but it turns to gold'.

The opening of Millaquin refinery in 1882 by the Cran brothers of Maryborough facilitated Bundaberg's transition to a premier sugar district in which Buss and his associates built an empire of plantations and mills. In 1881-1918 Buss, his family (particularly his brother Charles) and partners acquired interests in eleven properties, many of them in the rich Woongarra canefields where he lived. He later invested in Mackay sugar and left his shares in Farleigh Estate Sugar Co. to his two sons.

Only Millaquin and the Yengarie refinery at Maryborough extensively practised the system whereby juice was pumped from near-by crushing mills by pipeline. Of sixteen such mills constructed in 1881-85 to serve Millaquin, Buss had interests in three. He joined the Crans in constructing the Duncraggan mill, the refinery's biggest early supplier (absorbed later by A. P. Barton's Mon Repos, Ashfield, and worked by Charles Buss and J. S. Penny from 1882) and the 1000 acres (405 ha) of Pemberton Grange and Glen Morris owned by Frederic Buss and John Ewen Davidson who were white-sugar producers; heavy expenditure on modern machinery designed by the company's own engineer promoted efficiency. Invicta on the Kolan, a highly regarded mill owned by Frederic alone, was sold in 1918. At Knockroe plantation, Buss with his partners T. Penny and Williams followed the lead set by the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. in subdividing for tenant farmers. Although the experiment was not completely successful at first, other family plantations were subdivided.

Frederic Buss was also one of the initiators and directors of the distillery which tided Bundaberg over the crisis years of the 1880s and 1890s. In 1898 his ventures in the sugar industry employed 700 men and produced an output worth £144,000. A member of the Bundaberg Municipal Council in 1891-93, he was active in the chamber of commerce. He was also on the harbour board and a justice of the peace. He declined the offer of a seat in parliament. His donation of £500 for tree-planting in the main streets was a lasting legacy; Buss Park was named for the family.

On 3 October 1870 Buss had married Maria Howard at Maryborough; she and six children survived him when he died at Bundaberg on 20 June 1926. His estate, valued for probate in Queensland at £45,098 and in New South Wales at £62,409, provided bequests for Dr Barnardo's Homes and six institutions in Bundaberg, Maryborough and Brisbane. He was buried in the Bundaberg general cemetery with Anglican rites.

His nephew Garnet Leslie (1886-1973) was born on 2 October 1886 at Bundaberg, son of George Buss and his wife Edith, née Warland. Educated at Bundaberg and at Maryborough Grammar School, he was managing director of Buss & Turner from 1927 and a director of Bundaberg Foundry Co. for many years. Known as 'Mr Bundaberg', he was a leading Rotarian, president of the Burnett Club, an alderman of the Bundaberg City Council and keenly interested in sporting bodies, particularly the golf and surf life-saving clubs. He married his cousin Mabel Howard, Frederic's daughter, at Bundaberg on 30 July 1919 and died there on 21 December 1973, leaving one daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of Queensland (Syd, 1888)
  • J. Y. Walker, The History of Bundaberg (Brisb, 1890)
  • Alcazar Press, Queensland, 1900 (Brisb, nd)
  • Queensland and Queenslanders (Brisb, 1936)
  • H. Turner, Rural Life in Sunny Queensland (Bundaberg, 1955)
  • C. T. Wood, Sugar Country (Brisb, 1965)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1889, 4, 431
  • Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), 1906, 2, 22, Royal Commission on the Sugar Industry, (Commonwealth), 1913, 4, 1169, Evidence, 760, 824, 901
  • Bundaberg Daily News and Mail, 21 June 1926.

Citation details

J. G. Nolan, 'Buss, Frederic William (1845–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 5 March 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 January, 1845
Faversham, Kent, England


20 June, 1926 (aged 81)
Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia

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