Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Fisher (1834–1907)

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Joseph Fisher (1834-1907), accountant and parliamentarian, was born on 14 September 1834 at Brighouse, Yorkshire, England, the youngest son of Joshua Fisher, merchant, and his wife Hannah, née Mellor. With his parents, brother and two sisters he sailed in the Pestonjee Bomanjee and arrived in South Australia in October 1838. His father opened a grocery in Hindley Street, Adelaide, but died on 3 September 1841, leaving Joseph in Anthony Forster's charge. After five years at the Oddfellows School he entered his guardian's office. In 1848 Forster was offered a partnership in the South Australian Register but soon withdrew; Fisher, who had gone with him, stayed on, graduating from odd jobs to accounts. In 1852 he visited the Victorian goldfields and in May 1853 became a proprietor and commercial manager of the Register and Observer. Intelligent, tactful and firm, he guided the business through many storms, advancing his own interests and those who worked with him. He retired from the Register in October 1865 and sold his share to John Howard Clark. On 10 March 1857 in Melbourne he had married Anne Wood (1834-1917), daughter of Henry Wilkinson Farrar, merchant; they had seven children.

In retirement Fisher travelled widely with his family in the Australian colonies and New Zealand and visited Britain five times. An enthusiastic gardener, his chief delight was to work among his roses and trees in the large grounds of Woodfield, at Fullarton. There he enlarged and renovated his home, built up a fine collection of local art and entertained his friends. In the cricket season he regularly occupied the same front seat in the members' pavilion at the Adelaide Oval and for nearly twenty-five years was vice-president of the Cricketing Association. In 1868-70 he represented Sturt in the House of Assembly and in 1873-81 sat in the Legislative Council. He served on many committees, often as chairman. As an advocate of private enterprise and municipal government he was a sharp critic of parliamentary legislation that he deemed unnecessary and of ministries that ignored the rights of property owners by usurping such irresponsible powers as resuming private land with inadequate compensation. In 1880 when a restrictive Chinese immigration bill reached the council his uncompromising opposition led to its rejection as an unChristian, uneconomic measure that meddled with imperial matters; his firm stand was unpopular and cost him his seat in the 1881 election.

With his integrity, plain speech and geniality Fisher was sought by high and low for advice, and he came to know the ins and outs of every business deal in town. As agent for such colonists as John Ridley who had retired to England he gained further inside information though he rarely used it for personal gain. His own investments, including shares in two large sheep stations and the clipper Hesperus, were varied, safe and seldom changed; he claimed that he rarely went to the races and that even when given a sure tip he never placed a bet. His talents were in great demand and his directorships included the Bank of Adelaide, the Port Adelaide Dock Co., the South Australian Gas Co. as well as insurance, pastoral and mortgage firms.

In his last twenty years Fisher suffered from gout and diabetes. He died at Woodfield on 26 September 1907, survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. His estate was valued at £72,400. On 17 April 1903 he had donated £3315 to institutions in order to avoid the 10 per cent succession duty which to him was 'an unjust and unwise exaction … tending to check the flow of public spirited benevolence'. The list included hospitals, churches, convalescent homes and parks; the largest gifts were £500 for the National Art Gallery and £1000 to the University of Adelaide to provide for the Joseph Fisher medal and every alternate year a lecture in commerce.

Select Bibliography

  • Register (Adelaide), 26 Oct 1865, 15 Apr 1903, 28 Sept 1907.

Citation details

'Fisher, Joseph (1834–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 June 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]


14 September, 1834
Brighouse, Yorkshire, England


26 September, 1907 (aged 73)
Fullarton, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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