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Robert Fowler (1840–1906)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Robert Fowler (1840-1906), by unknown photographer, 1901

Robert Fowler (1840-1906), by unknown photographer, 1901

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/351

Robert Fowler (1840-1906), manufacturer and politician, was born on 13 July 1840 in Sydney, the eldest son of Enoch Fowler (1807-1879) and his wife Jane, née Lucas. His father, a native of Tyrone, Ireland, had established in 1837 a pottery on a lease in Parramatta Street West. Robert was educated at the near-by Christ Church School and then entered his father's business.

In June 1844 Fowler's pottery grounds were auctioned and Enoch bought an allotment 208 x 100 ft (68 x 30 metres) at £10 17s. 6d. a foot. In 1848 the pottery was moved to the Glebe, first in Queen Street and then in Bay Street, where a man and four boys were employed making ginger beer bottles and kitchenware. In 1860 he was encouraged by Arthur Holroyd to buy a machine for making four-inch drainpipes which was exhibited at the Parramatta Agricultural Society's show; the manufacture of drainpipes gradually became the mainstay of the works. In 1865 on a five-acre (2 ha) site on Parramatta Road, Camperdown, the firm's twenty-five employees were turning out half a mile (.8 km) of pipes each week. Business expanded rapidly to meet increasing demand; as well as salt-glazed drainpipes and plain bricks, the works made fire bricks, chequered and border tiles, chimney pots and all types of pottery. Robert, who had assisted his father, inherited the firm on his father's death in 1879.

Robert's interests included history, political economy and natural philosophy. He was elected alderman for Cook municipality in 1869 and mayor in 1870; he helped to merge it with Camperdown and became mayor of the new borough in 1870-71. In 1872-84 he was an alderman for Denison ward of the Sydney City Council and was mayor in 1880. In the 1890s he represented Phillip ward. In 1872 he was appointed a justice of the peace and in February 1886 to the royal commission on intoxicating drink. In July 1894 as a free trade and selected local option league candidate he won Sydney-Phillip in the Legislative Assembly. Defeated next year, he was appointed to the Legislative Council. Though inactive as a politician he held enlightened views on many matters including female suffrage.

Fowler was chairman of his district Public School Board and fond of sport, supporting regattas and public school cadet matches. He was a commissioner for New South Wales at the Melbourne Exhibition of 1881 and the Amsterdam Exhibition. Industrious, modest and popular, he was an unostentatious philanthropist and a Freemason as well as a director of Sydney Hospital and the Benevolent Asylum and a governor of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for twenty-four years. He also subscribed to the Irish Relief fund.

He died of cerebral thrombosis after a long illness at his residence, Cranbrook, Australia Street, Camperdown, on 12 June 1906, and was buried in Waverley cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at almost £42,000. About the time of his death an expansion of the pottery was being planned and soon afterwards another plant was opened at Bankstown and an existing pottery at Longueville taken over. By 1912 business had outgrown the facilities of the Camperdown works and they were transferred to a seventeen-acre (6.8 ha) site at Marrickville. Robert Fowler's Potteries became a public company in 1922.

At St Barnabas's Church, Sydney, on 2 October 1867 Fowler had married Jane (d.1923), daughter of Joseph Seale, publican, and his wife Susannah, née Owen; he was survived by three sons and five daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 2 (Syd, 1889)
  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May, 26 June 1884, 17 July 1894, 25 July 1895, 14, 15 June 1906
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 16 Oct 1865, 24 Jan 1880
  • Bulletin, 21, 28 Aug 1880, 26 Nov 1881
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 July 1895
  • Town and Country Journal, 14 Sept 1895
  • Sydney Mail, 20 June 1906
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Fowler, Robert (1840–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 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

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