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Duckworth, Arthur (1861–1943)

by Craufurd D. W. Goodwin

This article was published:

Arthur Duckworth (1861-1943), accountant and economist, was born on 11 February 1861, at Tollington, near Bury, Lancashire, England, son of Zaccheus Duckworth, a cotton-mill manager, and his wife Jane, née Hamer. At 11 he began work in the Manchester office of a Scottish insurance company but in early 1875 he migrated to Victoria with his family. In February Duckworth became a clerk in the Melbourne branch of the Australian Mutual Provident Society and in 1882 was transferred to Sydney. On 9 July 1888 at Richmond, Melbourne, he married Matilda Crowther with Wesleyan forms.

An enthusiastic and energetic amateur economist, Duckworth was a stalwart of the Australian Economic Association, which operated in Sydney in 1887-98, serving briefly as secretary then as editor of its periodical, the Australian Economist. His vigour and business experience help to explain the success and longevity of the journal, one of the first of its kind in the English-speaking world. Like others in the association Duckworth was intellectually eclectic. He could defend tariff protection with arguments from German as well as Anglo-Saxon authorities, and he was a convinced bimetallist. But he was sceptical of land reform, especially along lines proposed by Henry George.

At a time when the rest of the world was watching Australian experiments, at least as much as Australia was looking abroad, Duckworth was an effective communicator in both directions. He regularly commented on Australian affairs for the Royal Economic Society's Economic Journal, which began publication in London in 1890. Appointed correspondent for New South Wales in 1891, he wrote on such subjects of wide interest as labour disputes, changes in the price level, and the growth of protection. His work on Australian demographic change, where his actuarial experience stood him in good stead, attracted the attention of Professor F. Y. Edgeworth of Oxford.

Duckworth was also an active organizer of and contributor to the economic science section of the Royal Society of New South Wales, the social and statistical science section of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Actuarial Society of New South Wales. He was one of the two Australians who addressed the economic science section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science when it met in Australia in 1914. Professor Syd Butlin believed that the strength of Duckworth's writings lay 'in the systematic collection and presentation of data rather than in any profundity of thought'.

After rising to become chief accountant, Duckworth retired in 1925 after fifty years service with the A.M.P. In retirement at Malabar, a seaside suburb of Sydney, he devoted himself to his garden and library, turning towards theology and economic history. Survived by three of his four sons, he died at his home on 22 September 1943 and was buried in Waverley cemetery with Anglican rites. His estate was valued for probate at £20,954.

His combination of a business career with a central place in the early days of economic science in Australia was made possible by the slow professionalization of the subject. The exceptional contributions of a person like Duckworth indicate what may have been lost in this development.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A La Nauze, Political Economy in Australia (Melb, 1949)
  • C. D. W. Goodwin, Economic Enquiry in Australia (Durham, N.C., 1966)
  • C. D. W. Goodwin, The Image of Australia (Durham, N.C., 1974)
  • Royal Economic Society, Economic Journal, 54 (1944)
  • Economic Record, 23 (1947)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Sept 1943.

Citation details

Craufurd D. W. Goodwin, 'Duckworth, Arthur (1861–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 May 2022.

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

View the front pages for Volume 8

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