Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Dobson (1841–1918)

by E. M. Dollery

This article was published:

Henry Dobson (1841-1918), lawyer and politician, was born on 24 December 1841 in Hobart, son of John Dobson, solicitor, and his second wife Kate, née Willis. Like his brother Alfred and his half-brothers William Lambert and Frank he was educated at The Hutchins School. After some time in a merchant's office he commenced legal training with Allport, Roberts and Allport, and was called to the Tasmanian Bar on 30 December 1864. As the partner of William Giblin in 1865-70 and from 1887 as senior partner in the firm of Dobson, Mitchell and Allport he became one of the most trusted family lawyers in the colony.

Elected for Brighton to the House of Assembly in 1891 he was soon chosen as leader of the Opposition, probably because of his family connexions and his wealth at a time when many other prominent politicians were embarrassed by the economic depression. After the Fysh ministry was defeated Dobson became premier on 17 August 1892. His period in office, following the over-spending of previous administrations, was a disastrous one. His policy of drastic retrenchment was rejected, and he obtained a dissolution. With the situation unchanged after the election he resigned on 14 April 1894; he held his seat until 1899. An ardent Federalist, he was a member of the Federal Council of Australasia from 1893 and represented Tasmania at the 1897-98 convention. Elected to the Senate in 1901 he was temporary chairman of committees in 1904-08 and chairman in 1908-09. After his defeat in 1910 he retired from politics.

With Giblin, James Backhouse Walker and others Dobson was a founder in 1864 of the Working Men's Club. In an attempt to relieve the unemployment of the 1890s he gave much personal support to the establishment in 1894 of a partially self-supporting, though finally unsuccessful, village settlement at Southport; his enthusiasm was surpassed only by that of his wife Emily Lempriere whom he had married on 4 February 1868 in the Bothwell Church of England. Keenly interested in education, he earned the hostility of many employers in 1898 by implementing the amendment to the Education Act (1885) which made attendance at school compulsory for five days a week. He also sponsored the introduction of kindergartens. Paramount among his public works was his advocacy of Tasmania as a tourist resort. Founder and president in 1895-1914 of the Tasmanian Tourist Association he worked for the establishment of the official Tourist and Information Bureau and of the Scenery Preservation Board in 1915. He was chairman of the National Park Board in 1917-18. He also supported the developing fruit-growing industry.

A highly cultivated man with a love of good music, literature and sport, Dobson belonged to the Royal Society of Tasmania from 1861, and the Tasmanian Club from 1866, and was president of the Athenaeum Club in 1895-1906. He held tenaciously to views many of which, while not immediately popular, subsequently proved sound. He died on 10 October 1918 at Hobart survived by his wife, four daughters and the elder of two sons, and was buried in Queenborough cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania (Hob, 1900)
  • W. R. Barrett, History of the Church of England in Tasmania (Hob, 1942)
  • F. C. Green (ed), A Century of Responsible Government 1856-1956 (Hob, 1956)
  • Royal Society of Tasmania, Proceedings, 1918
  • P. F. Bolger, ‘The Southport settlement’, Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, 12 (1965), pt 4
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 25 Apr 1901
  • Punch (Melbourne), 7 Dec 1905
  • Mercury (Hobart), 11 Oct 1918.

Citation details

E. M. Dollery, 'Dobson, Henry (1841–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 June 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

Henry Dobson (1841-1918), by J. W. Beattie

Henry Dobson (1841-1918), by J. W. Beattie

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125881284

Life Summary [details]


24 December, 1841
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


10 October, 1918 (aged 76)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.