Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Davies (1824–1890)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published:

William Davies (1824-1890), storekeeper and parliamentarian, was born in Manchester, England, son of Thomas Davies and his wife Ann Maria. From the merchant marine he went into commerce and about 1849 arrived in New South Wales. At Goulburn he became book-keeper in the Australian stores but soon left for Melbourne where he was shipping reporter for the Argus. In 1852 he joined the Araluen gold rush; on 11 May at Surry Hills he married Maria Cooper, governess to the children of Rev. William Schofield. He returned to Goulburn and by 1856 was managing the Australian Stores. In 1860 he went into partnership with Maurice Alexander and others, and soon had stores throughout the southern districts. In 1877 Alexander sold out, leaving Davies as sole proprietor. At Goulburn in May 1880 Davies opened large new premises in Auburn Street, where he employed seventy hands. He was also a director of the Australian Copper Mining Co., and in 1879 first chairman of the Goulburn Gas Co. In the 1880s he floated the Berrima Coal Mining and Railway Co. and in 1885 the Goulburn Foundry and Engineering Co. Ltd.

Davies was a member of the Goulburn Municipal Council in 1859-87, was responsible for the revival of local government after it lapsed in 1863-68 and served eight times as mayor. Although an excellent speaker his reserved manner, his Wesleyan ties and opposition to horse-racing and other sports brought him into conflict with other aldermen. He helped to form the Goulburn volunteer fire brigade in 1876 and was elected a trustee for the insurance companies. He was also a local magistrate and a trustee of the Mechanics' Institute.

For many years Davies was a steward of the Goulburn Wesleyan circuit. He was prominent in the Home Mission Society from its foundation in 1859 and in the local branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society. For over thirty-two years he was superintendent of the main Wesleyan Sunday school and after 1874 a delegate to the New South Wales Wesleyan Conference. In the 1860s he was a trustee and shareholder of the Methodist denominational school, and strongly advocated conversion of the Methodist and Presbyterian schools into a public school. When (Sir) Henry Parkes opened the public school in the Methodist building in 1868 Davies was chairman of the board. In October 1881 he opened the public school in South Goulburn. His eldest son was the first pupil enrolled at Newington House. In May 1878 Davies helped to lay the foundation stone of Newington College at Stanmore and became a life member of its council.

In 1877-80 Davies represented Argyle in the Legislative Assembly. He supported the Parkes ministry and in 1889-90 was a councillor of the Free Trade and Liberal Association of New South Wales. In 1887 Davies had to assign his estate. His bankruptcy was caused by his debt of £11,000 to the Oriental Bank as chairman of the Berrima Coal Mining Co. and by the costs of buying out his partners and the outlay on his store and large new home, Carrawarra. He sold the store and in May retired to Sydney as manager of the Sydney and Provincial Building Society. He lived at Redfern, was superintendent of the Newtown Methodist Sunday school and continued to be active in Wesleyan affairs. He died aged 66 on 14 August 1890, survived by his widow, two sons and two daughters. His estate was valued at £2627 and heavy life insurance met his creditors.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Wilson, Goulburn and the Southern Highlands (Sydney, 1916)
  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of Goulburn, N.S.W. (Goulburn, 1941)
  • Goulburn Herald, 28 Feb, 18 Mar, 4 Nov 1863, 9 Feb, 22, 25 Mar 1876, 15 May 1880, 16 Aug 1890
  • Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 16, 19 Aug 1890
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Aug 1890
  • Council of Education in-letters (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Davies, William (1824–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Manchester, Greater Manchester, England


14 August, 1890 (aged ~ 66)

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