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George Parker Fitzgerald (1843–1917)

by John Reynolds

This article was published:

George Parker Fitzgerald (1843-1917), merchant and politician, was born on 13 February 1843 in Hobart Town, son of James FitzGerald (Fitzgerald), a superintendent in the Hobart General Hospital, and his wife Eleanor, née Scott. He was educated at the Hutchins School, and gained experience in Hobart counting houses and shipping offices. At 19 he moved to Sydney and entered Farmer & Co., drapers. His progress was rapid and at 31 he became a junior partner. In Sydney on 28 November 1863 he married Mary Love; they had ten children. After her death on 3 May 1881 he returned to Hobart where he established an agency for Robert Gray & Co., wholesale merchants. On 5 August 1882 at St John's Anglican Church, New Town, he married Emma Caroline Gwatkin Lovett; they had three children.

Boom conditions in Tasmania favoured enterprise and FitzGerald (Fitzgerald) was able to buy his principal's business and set up as a wholesaler. He steadily developed his business even after the boom ended and in 1892 entered the retail trade, founding the house which grew into Tasmania's largest emporium. As an innovator he was recognized throughout the Australian retailing trade; he introduced Father Christmas to his shops and with advancing age was sometimes mistaken for that identity in plain clothes. A fair employer, he never joined in any unworthy victimization of unionists, or shared in the organized boycott of advertisers in the Daily Post, Hobart's Labor newspaper. In 1911 his Hobart premises were completely destroyed by fire but he rebuilt his store and in spite of wartime conditions almost succeeded in re-establishing the business before he died.

FitzGerald (Fitzgerald) was a founding director of the Cascade Brewery Co. Ltd but had few other business associations. However, his involvement in public affairs was unusual for a man so immersed in a demanding business. After returning to Tasmania he became an active supporter of the 'ferocious reformers' who were challenging the insular conservatism which had long dominated Tasmania. In 1886-91 he represented West Hobart in the House of Assembly, serving in the Fysh ministry without portfolio. His radicalism enraged Conservative opponents who saw revolution in his outspoken support of the Trades and Labor Council and Henry George's theories, and near treason in his 'detestation of the Imperial System of Gt. Britain'. He was also an advocate of southern railways but his most constructive work was probably in state technical education; it is recorded that the 'Hobart Technical School was built through his personal exertions'. His least envied public duty was the liquidation of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land, which for years kept him face to face with widespread distress. The rise of the Labor Party disappointed him and by 1904 he was chairman of the National Association dedicated to oppose class legislation. He continued his many public activities until he died after a short illness on 28 March 1917. He left a personal estate of more than £10,000 to his wife, four sons and two daughters, and was buried privately at Cornelian Bay cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Reynolds, ‘Regionalism in Nineteenth Century Tasmania’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 17, no 1, July 1969, pp 14-28
  • Daily Post (Hobart), 29 Mar 1917
  • Examiner (Launceston), 29 Mar 1917
  • Mercury (Hobart), 29 Mar 1917
  • Tasmanian Mail, 29 Mar 1917
  • family papers.

Citation details

John Reynolds, 'Fitzgerald, George Parker (1843–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 25 May 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

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