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Edward Robert Drury (1832–1896)

by M. Carter and A. A. Morrison

This article was published:

Edward Robert Drury (1832-1896), banker and soldier, was born in Brussels, the elder brother of Albert Victor Drury. He arrived at Melbourne in 1852, became a clerk in the Bank of Australasia in 1853 and was appointed manager of the Brisbane branch in 1860. Ten years later he was recalled to Sandhurst (Bendigo) but in May 1872 became general manager of the new Queensland National Bank in Brisbane, an institution which dominated the finances of Queensland until almost the end of the century. Drury followed a vigorous lending policy to assist the rapidly developing primary industries. A complete autocrat, he made advances without consulting his directors or recognizing any limits, sometimes even concealing accounts from the board. Yet the bank had a meteoric rise. As early as 1880 it had over thirty branches and held more than 40 per cent of the total deposits and advances in Queensland. A notable depositor was James Tyson who with £125,000 placed the first deposit in the Sydney branch. In 1881 construction of a new bank in Brisbane was begun; so magnificent were its stained glass and polished cedar that it became known as Drury's temple.

Drury's position was strengthened by his friendship with the new rising political stars, Thomas McIlwraith and Arthur Palmer, and by his brother, Albert Victor, clerk of the Executive Council. In 1879 the premier, McIlwraith, and Drury signed an agreement whereby the Queensland National Bank would for three years transact all government business. Although this monopoly continued until the 1890s it tended to disrupt normal business. Drury maintained his vigorous policy, lending often on name and position alone without collateral, notably to McIlwraith (£328,000) and himself (£67,000). But the strain grew too great, especially after the quarrel in 1891 between the Queensland government and the Bank of England, and on 15 May 1893 the Queensland National had to suspend payment. Drury still retained control and tried to reconstruct the bank but it remained shaky. In 1894-95 he was president of the Australian Association of Bankers. After his death on 3 February 1896 some sensational journals declared that Drury had not died but was living abroad, and that his coffin contained only stones; no proof was ever brought forward. On 19 August 1869 he had married Barbara Jane Grahame of New South Wales; they had four sons and four daughters.

Drury had always been interested in military pomp and in 1854 he joined the New South Wales Volunteer Rifles. He retained this interest in Queensland and strongly supported Governor Sir George Bowen's attempt to establish a colonial defence force. Bowen's plans failed and in 1866 Drury resigned from the forces, but in 1876 was gazetted major in the artillery, rising later to lieutenant-colonel and then colonel; several times he acted as commander of the Queensland Defence Forces and was deputed in 1885 to give evidence before the imperial royal commission on colonial defence. Contemporary evidence suggests that he thoroughly enjoyed appearing in full uniform. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1885. He never forgot his experiences in Belgium, became its consul in Queensland and was created a chevalier of the Belgian Order of Leopold.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Connolly, John Drysdale and the Burdekin (Syd, 1964)
  • J. D. Bailey, A Hundred Years of Pastoral Banking (Oxford, 1966)
  • Queenslander, 8 Feb 1896
  • Town and Country Journal, 15 Feb 1896.

Citation details

M. Carter and A. A. Morrison, 'Drury, Edward Robert (1832–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 July 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]


Brussels, Belgium


3 February, 1896 (aged ~ 64)
Queensland, Australia

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