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David Fell (1869–1956)

by R. G. Dryen

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with William Scott Fell

William Scott Fell (1866-1930), shipping merchant, and David Fell (1869-1956), accountant, were born on 20 July 1866 at Elleray Villa, Rosneath, Dunbartonshire, Scotland, and on 9 March 1869 at Montrose Lodge, Langside, Glasgow, third and fourth sons of John Wilson Fell, ship-broker, and his second wife Jessie McKinley, née Power. They were educated at Dollar Academy and Graham's Academy, Greenock, Scotland. After their father's death, they migrated with their mother, reaching Sydney in the John Elder on 21 March 1879.

William worked for F. Lassetter & Co. Ltd and Potts & Paul, ship-chandlers; he set up as a broker in 1882 and later as a general commission agent. In financial difficulties in 1888 and 1891, he was bankrupted in 1895. He discharged his debts in full on 23 March 1903; meanwhile he had been managing W. Scott Fell & Co. then owned by O. G. S. Lane. In 1903 Fell floated W. Scott Fell & Co. Ltd, shipping and coal contractors, as a public company and was managing director. In 1908 he and the firm were bankrupted. His discharge was suspended for twelve months because he had committed misdemeanours under the Bankruptcy Act. He won an appeal to the High Court. After his discharge in August 1911 Fell chartered coastal ships. In 1914 he formed and was managing director of the Interstate Steamship Co. and was later also managing director of Maitland Main Collieries Ltd. He prospered during World War I.

As an Independent Liberal, Fell had failed in bids for the Legislative Assembly seats of Middle Harbour in 1907 and Mosman in 1913. In 1922 he won North Shore as an independent coalition candidate. In 1926 he slandered a fellow-politician Alfred Reid and had to pay £30. He resigned in 1927 to contest a Federal by-election for Warringah but lost. He was described by the Bulletin (10 September 1930) as 'a go as-you-please Nationalist, with stubborn views of his own on most subjects'.

On 17 September 1889 at Newcastle he had married Emma Catherine Bain. Fell was a Freemason, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London, and president of the British Empire Union in Australia until ousted by Hugh McIntosh in 1928. He died of cerebro-vascular disease on 7 September 1930 at his home in Macquarie Street, Sydney, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Manly cemetery. He was survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £54,601.

On completing his education at Fort Street Public School, David worked for R. Little & Co. Soon he was a clerk with Davenport, Miles & Co., accountants. In 1893 he set up as a public accountant and in 1898, with W. Horner Fletcher as partner, established David Fell & Co. He soon acquired two important overseas clients, Whinney, Smith & Whinney, chartered accountants of London, and the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, and later was attorney for Great Cobar Ltd. Branches of David Fell & Co. were opened in Melbourne in 1907, Brisbane in 1914 and Adelaide in 1920. In evidence before the 1912 royal commission of inquiry as to food supplies and prices, Fell refused to disclose the names of members of a meat cartel or information about the American Beef Trust, despite being threatened with proceedings for contempt of court. He was also chairman of the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Co. Ltd and of Thomas Elliot & Co. Ltd, a director of many companies including Lysaght Bros & Co. Ltd and the Commonwealth Oil Corporation Ltd and auditor of the University of Sydney and the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales. He was a founder, fellow and later vice-president of the Australasian Corporation of Public Accountants.

In the 1890s he helped (Sir) James Graham in his early political campaigns. In 1904-13 as a Liberal, Fell represented Lane Cove in the Legislative Assembly. Although he held some radical ideas, he was staunchly conservative in economic and financial matters, but never achieved his ambition of attaining the treasury portfolio. He did not seek re-election in 1913.

Active in many diverse activities, Fell was honorary treasurer of Sydney Hospital in 1901-12 and vice-president in 1912-15, a founder in 1895 and honorary secretary of the Women's Hospital, Crown Street, a founder of the New South Wales Wine Association and for many years vice-president of the New South Wales Rowing Association. A talented singer, he was vice-president of the (Royal) Philharmonic Society of Sydney, a foundation council-member of the North Sydney Orphans' Society and chairman of the government's advisory committee for the establishment of the State Conservatorium of Music.

Retiring from the active management of his firm in 1914, Fell went to England with his family; he had married Mabel Bryce (d.1915) at Balmain on 18 September 1895. He was asked by Governor Sir Gerald Strickland to explore prospects for State government loans on the London market. During World War I Fell made several visits to Australia and the United States of America where he negotiated war loans. In Sydney in 1916 he was a founder and honorary secretary of the State branch of the Federal National Party. Later at the request of the British government and the Victoria League he lectured to soldiers in France.

After the war Fell lived in England and in 1925 retired as senior partner in David Fell & Co. An ardent supporter of White Australia, Fell was involved in several societies that aimed at settling British ex-servicemen on the land in the Empire. His co-founder in these activities was Alice Florence, daughter of Viscount Elibank, whom he married at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, on 24 July 1919; her first marriage had been annulled in 1910.

Fell devoted his later years to ex-servicemen's organizations from his home at Bledlow, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. He died at Hove, Sussex, on 6 January 1956 and was buried beside his first wife in Kingston cemetery, Surrey. His Australian estate was valued for probate at £21,216. He was survived by two of his four sons, and by two daughters of his first marriage, and by his second wife. His eldest son David, Royal Field Artillery, was killed in action in France in World War I.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1913, 4, 265
  • Commonwealth Law Reports, 13 (1911-12), p 230
  • Scottish Australasian, Nov 1917, p 5905
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 Aug 1904, 5 Apr 1912, 30 Dec 1919, 13 May 1925, 7 Oct 1926
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Feb, 13, 18 Apr 1912, 18 Nov 1916, 6 Nov 1917, 8 Sept, 6 Oct 1923, 13 May, 4 Dec 1924, 23 May 1927, 8 Sept 1930
  • Times (London), 30 Jan 1919, 8 Oct 1921, 9, 16, 18 May 1929
  • Sun (Sydney), 2, 3, Sept 1926
  • Labor Daily, 6 Oct 1926
  • Truth (Sydney), 6 June 1954
  • notes on history of David Fell & Co. (privately held)
  • Fell papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • bankruptcy files 3543, 10, 287/7, 17, 906/11 (State Records New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

R. G. Dryen, 'Fell, David (1869–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 May 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

Life Summary [details]


9 March, 1869
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


6 January, 1956 (aged 86)
Hove, Sussex, England

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