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Coote, Audley (1839–1915)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published:

Audley Coote (1839-1915), politician and concessionaire, was born on 27 May 1839 at Witham, Essex, England, son of John Coote, cabinet maker and auctioneer, and his wife Mary, née Holland. He was said to have joined the merchant service at 13 and to have traded on the Queensland coast as captain of the steamer Telegraph. At Sydney in 1863 he married Alice Harriett Aaron; they had three sons and four daughters. Coote arrived at Hobart Town in 1867 and settled at Glenorchy. Claiming to be the accredited agent in Australia of English financiers, he proposed to the government in August 1869 that he should be sent without remuneration to England to negotiate funds for constructing the 'Main Line of Railway from Hobart to Launceston'. His offer was accepted but in London he had difficulty in persuading his financiers to take the contract and as their attorney on his return to Hobart faced many problems until the line was completed.

Coote was also interested in financing other large projects. In May 1872 he claimed that he had arranged with two large telegraph companies in England and 'an associated body of the leading financial gentlemen in London' to make and lay a second submarine cable from Darwin to Java to connect the eastern colonies of Australia with England, and that all concessions were granted and the contract signed before he left England. In 1873 as agent for Siemens Brothers of Berlin and the Indo-Australian Telegraph Co. he proposed a telegraph cable to link Singapore with Normanton in Queensland, and Sydney with New Zealand. Delays led to withdrawal of the contractors but in mid-1875 Coote went to England where he attempted to revive the project. On his return to Hobart in November, however, he wrote to (Sir) Henry Parkes, for whom he had tried to arrange finance for his Jervis Bay coalfield, that 'cable negotiations have fallen through for the time, but it was really no fault of ours'.

As early as 1870 Coote had shown interest in the proposed Dalby-Roma railway in Queensland and before leaving Australia in 1875 had approached the Queensland government about it and his intention to tender for the Gulf of Carpentaria railway. His suggestions were brushed aside. He returned to Queensland in April 1876 to persuade the government to take up his cable proposals and then started negotiations with the other colonies. In January 1877 at the cable conference in Sydney he claimed that he held a contract with Siemens Brothers to lay a double-wired line to Singapore. He was then negotiating for a line to Honolulu. At Hobart in 1878 he put forward another proposal, this time to import guns direct from the manufacturers, Siemens Brothers, for the Tasmanian government because war between England and Russia seemed likely.

Coote was elected for George Town to the Tasmanian House of Assembly on 11 January 1879. Two days later the Launceston Examiner commented: 'we should have felt easier had we known that he possessed some pecuniary stake in the colony that would be calculated to unite its interests with his own, and to remove from him the appearance of an adventurer bent only on his own aggrandisement'. He held the seat until 1886 and then represented Tamar in the Legislative Council until he retired in 1895. He was justice of the peace for Tasmania and its dependencies from 1883 until listed as absent after 1898.

Coote approached the Tasmanian government in 1882 when he proposed to form a company to finance a railway to St Mary's. He wanted a guarantee of interest at the rate of 3¼ per cent on the capital of £225,000. However, the government preferred other arrangements and Coote amicably left his offer open. Five years later he was proposing a scheme to settle Scottish crofters on Flinders or Schouten Islands and to form a company for deep sea fishing off the coast of Tasmania. He claimed to have the support of a large body of capitalists but was also in league with Mrs Gordon Baillie, who turned out to be, according to official opinion, a 'designing adventuress'. Nothing came of the project. In 1888 he wrote to Parkes asking where he should apply for the contract to take the Sydney Tramways in hand. He described himself then as the concessionaire for the City of Hobart Tramways and 'interested in building railways and tramways, as well as laying telegraph cables'. Coote represented the French company which laid the cable between Queensland and Noumea. From 1878 he was Hawaiian consul for Tasmania, and in 1887, in recognition of his Pacific services, he was appointed knight commander of the Royal Order of Kalakaua by the King of Hawaii.

In 1898 Coote settled in New South Wales where he became senior consul for Panama. A controversial and elusive figure he died at Rylstone on 4 June 1915. He was survived by his wife, a son and four daughters, and was buried at St Thomas's cemetery, North Sydney. His estate was valued at £80.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Fenton, A History of Tasmania (Hob, 1884)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1872, 1066
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1870 (24), 1881 (110), 1882 (115), 1886 (64) 1889 (94)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1873-74, 3, 329, 1876-77, 5, 511, 529
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1876, 3, 923, 1875, 2, 948
  • W. A. Townsley, ‘The Tasmanian Main Line Railway Co’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 5, no 3, Aug 1956, pp 40-52
  • Bulletin, 23 Oct 1880
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1915
  • Examiner (Launceston), 8 June 1915
  • LSD, 1/112/323 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • correspondence file under A. Coote (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Coote, Audley (1839–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 11 August 2022.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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