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Clement Giles (1844–1926)

by Carl Bridge

This article was published:

Clement Giles (1844-1926), pastoralist, merchant and politician, was born on 21 February 1844 in Adelaide, son of William Giles, manager of the South Australian Co., and his second wife Emily Elizabeth, née McGeorge. He was the twelfth of his father's fifteen sons and had six sisters. Giles was educated at John Lorenzo Young's Adelaide Educational Institution. At 15 he went to the South-East to learn sheep and cattle droving on various stations there and in Victoria till, in 1864, he rode alone 500 miles (805 km) to manage Yanyarrie station north of Melrose, South Australia, which was part-owned by his brother-in-law F. W. Stokes. He did well and learned the valuable skills of woolclassing and scouring. In 1866 he rented nearby Haverhill farm from C. H. Pearson and, with two bullock teams, carted chaff as far north as Blinman. He also began a wool-wash and built a flour-mill as a member of his brother's stock and station firm Giles & Smith. In 1871 Giles purchased his own farm near Melrose, which he called Rookwood. On 7 August 1872 he married Isabella Begbie Cockburn of Beaumont, Adelaide, sister of the future premier, (Sir) John Cockburn.

Like his father, Giles's interest was not just in working his own estate; full of intense nervous energy, he itched to be a merchant and developer. So he accepted a partnership in Giles & Smith and moved with his family to Adelaide in 1882, though he kept Rookwood. That year he joined twelve other merchants and farmers to form the Willowie Land & Pastoral Co. which bought J. H. Angas's large Mount Remarkable estate for £310,000.

In 1887 Giles was elected to represent Frome in the House of Assembly; he held it until 1902 when, after a redistribution, he failed to win Burra. Giles was energetic on behalf of his district and spoke often on land and education questions. He had been chairman of a land commission in 1888 which led to considerable modification of the Land Act so that wheat-farmers in low rainfall areas could purchase land at less than £1 an acre and, if necessary, use it for pastoral purposes and not reside on it. He successfully opposed free education for the rich beyond the compulsory standard, but failed to secure grants for private schools. Over probate and succession duties, he was a radical, but he defended the restricted franchise of the Upper House. A careful thinker, he was very much his own man and did not take any party whip.

Costly and unsuccessful litigation with Angas over the Mount Remarkable estate, plus the droughts and bank collapses of the early 1890s, resulted in Giles losing half his assets. Consequently in 1895 he became manager-secretary of the South Australian Farmers' Co-operative Union, formed by mid-northern wheat-farmers in 1888. Giles expanded the union by introducing wool and spread its operations to other parts of the colony. He became a director in 1904. In 1909 he resigned to represent the union's interests in London. He returned after the outbreak of World War I and was elected sole growers' representative on the Commonwealth government's Australian Compulsory Wheat Pool Board in 1917. When compulsory pooling ended in 1921, Giles retired to Chivery Hall, near Tring, in England. He died on 19 July 1926, survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters. One son farmed Rookwood till 1961; another was mayor of Westminster, London, in 1943.

Select Bibliography

  • J. J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • C. Hill, Fifty Years of Progress (Adel, 1938)
  • G. L. Buxton, South Australian Land Acts 1869-1885 (Adel, 1966)
  • J. Faull (ed), Melrose: Child of the Mountain (Melrose, 1979)
  • Pictorial Australian, Feb 1891
  • Observer (Adelaide), 4 Jan 1890
  • Quiz (Adelaide), 25 Sept 1891
  • Register (Adelaide), 28 July 1926
  • Giles papers (privately held).

Citation details

Carl Bridge, 'Giles, Clement (1844–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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