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Edward Norton Grimwade (1866–1945)

by J. R. Poynter

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GRIMWADE BROTHERS: Edward Norton (1866-1945), Harold William (1869-1949), and Sir Wilfrid Russell (1879-1955), businessmen, were sons of Frederick Sheppard Grimwade and his wife Jessie Taylor, née Sprunt, of Launceston. Felton Grimwade & Co., wholesale druggists formed in 1867, developed into firms manufacturing acids, salt, glass bottles, fertilisers and eucalyptus oil. Grimwade left a considerable business empire to his sons.

Edward Norton Grimwade, the eldest of nine children, was born at St Kilda on 25 May 1866. After attending Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Norton went 'home' in 1883 to be apprenticed to a firm of London druggists. In 1886, before he had qualified, he was recalled to Melbourne to assist the firm. He completed his apprenticeship in Melbourne, winning the president's prize in his final year at the College of Pharmacy. In 1889 he was admitted partner in Felton Grimwade & Co. On 2 December 1891 at St Mary's Church of England, Caulfield, he married Phelia Whittingham and established a home, Drusilla, at Macedon. A formidable man of business with an easy mastery of financial detail, Norton could be roused to unexpected enthusiasms by travel, photography, the works of Shakespeare, and his family.

Harold Grimwade, born on 18 May 1869 at St Kilda, went from Melbourne Grammar to Queen Elizabeth School at Ipswich, Essex, England, before serving his apprenticeship in London. He returned to Melbourne as a qualified pharmacist and became Felton Grimwade's warehouse manager; admitted a partner in 1893, he showed as much talent for the management of men as Norton for books of account. In 1891 he joined the Victorian forces. On 19 August 1896 at St Paul's Church, Camperdown, he married Winifred Thornton and built Marathon, near Frankston. Yachting on Port Phillip Bay joined golf, shooting and military exercises as his chief diversions.

Wilfrid Russell Grimwade was born on 15 October 1879 at Harleston, the mansion F. S. Grimwade built at Caulfield and which his sons were to present to Melbourne Grammar after their mother's death in 1916. Russell went from Melbourne Grammar to Ormond College, University of Melbourne, graduating B.Sc. in 1901. After a period in London observing recent work in chemistry, he joined Felton Grimwade's in 1903 as director of the new research laboratory. He was admitted a partner in 1907. On 12 October 1909 at Toorak Presbyterian Church he married Mabel Louise, daughter of George Kelly and elder sister of (Sir) George Dalziel Kelly. A year later he bought Miegunyah in Orrong Road as a wedding present for his wife.

On their father's death in 1910 the three brothers inherited the original partnership and substantial interests in Felton Grimwade & Bickford's of Perth, J. Bosisto & Co., Cuming Smith & Co. Ltd, the Adelaide Chemical and Fertilizer Co. Ltd, and the Melbourne Glass Bottle Works Pty Ltd. Norton and Harold were well established as leaders of Melbourne business life, Norton becoming president of the chamber of commerce in 1912. The family's next venture, the establishment of the Australian Oxygen Co. in June 1910, arose from Russell's lifelong interest in industrial gases, and became his particular responsibility; it vied with a new Sydney company as pioneer of large-scale oxygen production in Australia. Russell's interest in forests and their products led him to persuade Bosisto's to experiment with the extraction of oils and compounds from indigenous plants. It proved an interesting failure, though sales of eucalyptus oil sustained the company.

When war broke out in 1914 Harold quit business to become chief embarkation officer for the Australian Imperial Force in Victoria, before forming, in August 1915, the 4th Field Artillery Brigade and taking it to Egypt and France. In 1916 he took command of the 3rd Division Artillery with the rank of brigadier general, and at the end of the war was appointed general officer commanding Artillery, Australian Corps. A forceful leader, he was four times mentioned in dispatches, was appointed C.M.G. in 1917 and C.B. in 1918, and received a Croix de Guerre. He also earned two nicknames: in the army 'Grim Death' and in the Grimwade firms in later years 'the General'. From 1926 to 1930 he commanded 4th Division, Australian Military Forces.

Despite vicissitudes, war strengthened the Grimwade enterprises. Russell took Harold's place on the boards of Cuming Smiths and the Melbourne Glass Bottle Works. In 1915 the latter became Australian Glass Manufacturers Ltd, with Norton as chairman and W. J. 'Gunboat' Smith as managerial genius. Felton Grimwade's itself lost overseas sources of supply, leading Russell to experiment with local production of tar derivatives and with drug-growing. His scientific ingenuity was challenged further by his membership of the advisory council set up in 1916 (forerunner of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) on which he joined Professor (Sir) David Orme Masson and others in some remarkable scientific improvisations.

In 1920 Felton Grimwade and other Grimwade partnerships were reorganized as proprietary companies. Alfred Sheppard Grimwade (1874-1941), a surgeon, joined his three brothers as director of the new Australian Oxygen and Industrial Gases Pty Ltd, with Russell as chairman. A new venture, the Felton Grimwade Scientific Instrument Co., failed within a year; and indeed the new structure of Felton Grimwade's itself was short lived. In 1929 local competition forced a merger with Duerdin & Sainsbury Pty Ltd; in the same year threats from overseas persuaded the Grimwades to take their pharmaceutical and dental companies into a new national structure, Drug Houses of Australia Ltd. Norton became D.H.A.'s first chairman, and Harold a board member; Russell joined the board when Norton retired from it in 1937, he and Harold both serving several terms as chairman. The Grimwades regretted the passing of earlier, more intimate styles of business leadership. Russell celebrated life in the firm's old bluestone headquarters in his Flinders Lane: Recollections of Alfred Felton (1947); five years later he wrote a further nostalgic note when Felton Grimwade & Duerdins Pty Ltd became simply D.H.A. (Vic) Pty Ltd. He did not live to see D.H.A. itself fall prey to international asset-strippers.

The Grimwade brothers were very successful in the new environment. As chairman of Cuming Smiths from 1920 until 1945, Norton helped that remarkable company maintain profitability by shedding functions. He also presided over the opposite process in the glass industry, the conglomerate Australian Consolidated Industries Ltd replacing Australian Glass Manufacturers in 1939. Russell was forced to see his beloved Australian Oxygen merge with British and Sydney interests to form Commonwealth Industrial Gases Ltd in 1935, but he rightly foresaw C.I.G.'s future strength. He consoled himself by nurturing the sickly Carba Dry Ice (Australia) Ltd, formed on his initiative in 1929.

Norton remained chairman of A.C.I. until he died at Macedon on 29 April 1945. Of his five sons, one died as a stretcher-bearer on Gallipoli, another was a prisoner in Germany; Geoffrey Holt Grimwade (1902-1961) was the only one to persist in a business career. Norton provided Melbourne Church of England Girls' Grammar School with Phelia Grimwade House in honour of his wife, and was quietly generous to a number of other causes.

Harold succeeded Norton as chairman of A.C.I. and of Felton Grimwade & Duerdins. He died at Marathon on 2 January 1949, survived by two sons and a daughter. His estate was sworn for probate at £239,381. Russell succeeded Harold as chairman of Felton Grimwade & Duerdins, and continued as a director of C.I.G. until 1953, when he also relinquished chairmanship of Carba. Bosisto's, of which he had long been chairman, at last became a subsidiary of D.H.A. in 1951.

The brothers shared in succession membership of the Felton Bequests Committee. Norton succeeded his father in 1910, and as chairman steered the committee through its frequently turbulent relations with the National Gallery of Victoria, deserving more credit than he was usually given. Harold succeeded him briefly. Russell was chosen to succeed Harold in 1949, and became chairman in 1952. (Sir) Daryl Lindsay, director of the National Gallery, was a close friend and Frankston neighbour, and Russell set out to strengthen both the London and Melbourne operations of the committee, inspired by his personal admiration for its founder.

Russell's other interests and commitments outside business were extraordinarily diverse. Like his brothers he loved travel, and recorded in diary and in photographs the leisurely expeditions undertaken by the rich of his generation. He was an early motoring enthusiast, the first to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide. He financed and organized an expedition to Goondiwindi, Queensland, to observe the eclipse of the sun in 1922 and another in 1947 to follow Edward John Eyre's route across the Nullarbor. His most frequent trips were into the forests; and the development of his remarkable garden at Miegunyah was but part of his life-long passion for plants and trees. He read widely in botanical literature, and published in 1920 An Anthography of the Eucalypts, a survey illustrated with his own photographs. He campaigned tirelessly for the conservation of forests as an office-bearer of the Australian Forest League and a contributor to its journal Gum Nut. He supported the opening of the Australian Forestry School, under his friend Charles Lane Poole, at Canberra in 1927, endowing the Russell Grimwade prize to encourage scientific forestry. At home, in his workshop, he developed cabinet-making skills of a very high order, using native timbers. (In 1939 the workshop became a crutch factory, Russell and his friends producing 3000 pairs by 1941, to his own improved design.) He gave financial support to the forest products division of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, as well as involving himself, for forty years, in C.S.I.R.'s advisory Councils.

Russell's interest in drug growth and manufacture involved him in medical research, and he was a member of the board of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research from 1935 and its chairman in 1942-48. In 1950 the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association admitted him to honorary membership, a rare distinction. An active member of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, he was especially concerned to bring science and industry into closer relationships; in 1938 he was elected a fellow of the institute, and in 1939 president of the chemistry section of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science. His presidential address on 'The atmosphere as a raw material', was a remarkable synthesis of his preoccupations as industrial chemist and naturalist, earning him a place in the history of the conservation movement in Australia.

He was concerned also to conserve the works of man. He acquired a strong collection of Australian prints and books and some notable pictures, chief among them William Strutt's 'Bushrangers on the St Kilda Road'. Sharing his generation's admiration for the explorers and settlers he made James Cook a particular hero, and in 1934 donated the so-called Cook's Cottage to the people of Victoria as a centenary gift. He believed in progress, in civilization as in science, and celebrated white exploration and settlement without much concern for antecedent cultures. In campaigning to preserve relics of the past at a time when Australians commonly despised everything old, however, he anticipated the aims of the National Trust.

Russell also belonged to the advisory committee for the Botanic Gardens, the board of the National Museum of Victoria and the Council of Melbourne Grammar School. A member of the Council of the University of Melbourne from 1935, and deputy chancellor in 1941-43, he was active on its building committee and was one of those responsible for the appointment of (Sir) John Medley as vice-chancellor in 1938. Generous to many causes, Russell's largest gift during his lifetime was of £50,000 to the university in 1944, towards the building of the Russell Grimwade School of Biochemistry.

Russell Grimwade was appointed C.B.E. in 1935 and knighted in 1950. Severe illnesses in 1950 and 1953 were followed by his death from coronary vascular disease on 2 November 1955. His estate was valued for probate at almost £1 million. His wife, who died on 6 September 1973, left a further $2 million. Between them they left Miegunyah and a substantial endowment to the University of Melbourne, for its general benefit. They had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • J. R. Poynter, Russell Grimwade (Melb, 1967), and Alfred Felton (Melb, 1974)
  • Felton Grimwade, Russell Grimwade and DHA papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • H. W. Grimwade papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. R. Poynter, 'Grimwade, Edward Norton (1866–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 July 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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