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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Griffiths, George Richard (1802–1859)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

George Richard Griffiths (1802-1859), merchant and banker, was born on 25 March 1802 in London, the third son of John Griffiths, surgeon, of London and County Carmarthen, Wales, and his wife Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of William Neville Hart of London. He was appointed secretary of the London office of the Bank of Australasia in June 1835 and in 1838 inspector or superintendent of all its branches in the Australasian colonies in place of George Kinnear. He arrived in Sydney on 5 June 1839 and lost no time in assessing the opportunities for financial enterprise. The London board had decided upon a branch in New Zealand in 1839 but Griffiths, unimpressed by reports and prospects, advised against it; later he changed his opinion, but the bank hesitated and deferred the opening of New Zealand branches. In February 1840 he wrote to the Colonial Office on the general state and prospects of the Australian colonies; his letter was referred to the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission which reported on it. On being refused an increase in salary he resigned from the bank in 1842 and was succeeded by W. H. Hart.

Griffiths then turned to other enterprises. He began business as a merchant and commission agent under the name of Griffiths, Gore & Co., and later Griffiths, Fanning & Co. He was a candidate for the directorship of the Sydney Alliance Assurance Co. and by 1843 he was a local director of the Union Bank, and had a licence to depasture stock beyond the Portland Bay limits. His firm owned Wooroowoolgen station on the Richmond River and original shares in the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. His opinion was often sought by select committees of the legislature on financial matters, such as the debenture bill in 1841 and in 1843 on the causes of the depression, which he claimed arose from over-speculation through excessive bank loans; his suggested remedies were the decreasing of expenditure to the lowest practicable level, checking of the prevailing lavish system of credit and 'reducing our imports to what we can fairly pay for'. In 1844 he was appointed a justice of the peace for the city of Sydney, but declined nomination to the Legislative Council as representative for Melbourne.

He lived at Orwell, Woolloomooloo, till 1847 when he bought Clarens at Darlinghurst (Potts Point). There he was a friend and host to Thomas Huxley who visited Sydney in the Rattlesnake in 1847; it was in the gardens of Clarens that Huxley became engaged to Henrietta Heathorn whom he later married. On his return to England in 1853 Griffiths lived at Castle Hill, Englefield Green, Surrey. He died on 17 August 1859.

He had married on 10 September 1836 Laetitia, daughter of Samuel Chatfield of Battersea Rise, Surrey. She died on 28 December 1891. They had eight sons and three daughters. Two of the sons, William Russell (1845-1910), and the youngest, Herbert Tyrrell (1853-1905), were educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, and adopted law and medicine as their respective professions; the second son, George Neville (b.1840), was also a Cambridge graduate (Trinity College). The eldest son, Frederick Close (b.1838), married Annette Agnes, daughter of Joseph Scaife Willis (1808-1897), a prominent Sydney commercial figure.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 19, 21, 24
  • S. J. Butlin, Foundations of the Australian Monetary System, 1788-1851 (Melb, 1953)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Mar, 2, 4, 22 Apr 1840
  • Australian, 4 Apr, 3 Dec 1840
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Griffiths, George Richard (1802–1859)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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