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Sir Charles Wellington Connibere (1864–1941)

by Paul H. De Serville

This article was published:

Sir Charles Wellington Connibere (1864-1941), businessman and philanthropist, was born on 6 February 1864 at St Kilda, Melbourne, son of George Connibere, Devon-born draper and later mayor of St Kilda, and his wife Emma Joan, née Richards, from Somerset. Charles and his two brothers Ernest William Richards (1862-1957), and Frederick George (1868-1945) started in a small way as softgoods merchants in 1889, under the name of Connibere, Grieve & Connibere. Their partner, John Grieve (father of Robert Cuthbert), died in 1899.

Charles Connibere went to London as the firm's agent about 1895; when he returned in 1920, the brothers sold the firm to Sargood's, formed Connibere Bros and invested their money in city property. Shrewd businessmen, they always sold out at the top of the market and, as Ernest later acknowledged, worked in great harmony. They were reputed never to make a mistake in a business deal or in a charitable gift. Neither they nor their sister Emma Eliza, married. They lived quiet, abstemious lives in Toorak, 'model bachelors, reserved, correct to the point of austerity'.

Their list of known benefactions was considerable. In 1929 the brothers built three wards at the Orthopaedic Hospital, Mount Eliza. They and their sister paid for the building of the Young Women's Christian Association headquarters as a memorial to their father. Charles supported the Melbourne City Mission, the Victorian Institute of Hospital Almoners, and with George, the Eye and Ear Hospital. At the same time the brothers gave £5000 to the Prohibition League and an unnamed amount to the Sunday Christian Observance Council.

Their gifts rarely took the public eye, one exception being the cheque for £30,000 which Charles Connibere handed W. M. Hughes at a luncheon for the Jubilee Fund in 1935. He stipulated that the money be used to build a maternity wing at the Women's Hospital, and later gave a further £10,000 to ensure that the building opened debt free. In January 1936 Charles Connibere was appointed K.B.E. Both Sir Charles and George were active in church affairs, the first on the council of the Melbourne Diocese, the second a member of synod.

The demands of war increased their philanthropy. They bore the expense of the Young Men's Christian Association restroom in Elizabeth Street, where any man in uniform could have free refreshments, and they built Y.M.C.A. huts at Balcombe and Puckapunyal camps. At the time of his sudden death at Toorak on 25 June 1941, Sir Charles was on the board of numerous hospitals and charities (including the Red Cross). That year Ernest and George gave the Royal Melbourne Hospital £138,860 for a nurses' wing as a memorial to their brother. Two years later they gave £23,750 to St Andrew's Hospital for a similar wing. On 10 August 1945 George Connibere died after a long illness.

In 1945 and 1946 Ernest gave £10,000 to the Food for Britain Fund, and a further £10,000 each to the Melbourne City Mission, Ormond College and St Andrew's Hospital. He put up the money for a kindergarten at Port Melbourne, yet he considered his religious work more important than his charitable interests. He paid for two religious programmes on commercial wireless stations, distributed Sankey's hymn-books and supported schemes for the advancement of religious instruction.

Interviewed when he was 92, Ernest—still a dapper man in frock coat and butterfly collar—declared that his one hobby was 'service to my fellow man'. In pursuit of this aim, he and his brothers had donated well over £750,000 to charity and religion. Ernest died on 12 November 1957, leaving the remainder of his estate, valued for probate at £296,872, to charity.

Select Bibliography

  • Church of England Messenger, 25 July 1941
  • Australian Storekeepers' Journal, July 1899
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1 Jan 1936, 13 Aug 1945.

Citation details

Paul H. De Serville, 'Connibere, Sir Charles Wellington (1864–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 February, 1864
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


25 June, 1941 (aged 77)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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