Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frederick Sheppard Grimwade (1840–1910)

by J. R. Poynter

This article was published:

Frederick Sheppard Grimwade (1840-1910), businessman and parliamentarian, was born on 10 November 1840 at Harleston, Norfolk, England, second son of the seventeen children of Edward Grimwade and his wife Anne, née Johnson. After attending Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Ipswich, he was apprenticed to his father's firm of wholesale druggists at Ipswich and London. In 1862 he was invited to manage a wholesale drug-house established in Melbourne by Edward Youngman, another of his father's former apprentices. Grimwade arrived in Victoria in 1863; three years later Youngman was drowned in the wreck of the London, and in 1867 Grimwade borrowed £8000 from his father and with Alfred Felton bought Youngman's business, renaming it Felton, Grimwade & Co.

The partners prospered. Within three years they had recouped the whole purchase price of £24,000, and the firm was soon the largest drug-house in the colony, with subsidiary interests in Western Australia and New Zealand. Grimwade and Felton also founded a number of other enterprises: in 1872 the Melbourne Glass Bottle Works, ancestor of Australian Glass Manufacturers Ltd., and an acid works which was merged in 1897 with Cuming Smith & Co.; in 1882 the Adelaide Chemical Works Co. in partnership with the principals of Cuming Smith's, and the short-lived Australian Salt Manufacturing Co.; and in 1885 a partnership with J. Bosisto & Co. Grimwade was also chairman of the Royal Bank in 1889-1910. The depression of the 1890s interrupted the progress of these enterprises but all except the salt venture survived to resume profitable growth in the twentieth century. When Felton died in 1904 Felton, Grimwade & Co. became solely a Grimwade concern.

Grimwade was a shrewd businessman of great probity and his strong character and forthright opinions on current issues made him a prominent figure. His views were conservative but moderate: as chairman of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce in 1883 he pleaded for less bitterness in political conflict, for pragmatic legislation and administration and for co-operation between merchants and manufacturers despite their disagreements over protection. Although a free trader by conviction, he signed the mildly protectionist report of the royal commission on the tariff in 1881-83. Persuaded to stand for the Legislative Council in 1891 he was elected unopposed and represented North Yarra Province for thirteen years; he kept aloof from political faction and did not seek office but often spoke in debate on a wide range of issues. He was suspicious of welfare legislation, opposed bills on sweating, workers' compensation and old-age pensions, and as a member of the royal commission on state banking in 1894-95 stoutly resisted proposals for radical government interference in the banking system. On constitutional questions, however, he showed an increasing liberalism, gradually abandoning his opposition to one man one vote and even to female suffrage; he once rebuked his fellow-councillors for their 'rank Toryism'. The two subjects on which he spoke most often were gambling, which he vainly hoped would be prohibited, and the legalization of cremation, a cause he pleaded with great vigour and eventual success.

Grimwade abandoned the Nonconformity of his upbringing to become a prominent layman in the Church of England. He deplored increasing secularism, especially in education, and served for many years on synod and the councils of the Boys' and the Girls' Grammar Schools. He played some part in the Charity Organization Society and, if less notable a philanthropist than Felton, he had, unlike his partner, a family to maintain. In 1865 he had married Jessie Taylor Sprunt (1842-1916); they had nine children, of whom four sons and three daughters lived to maturity. His substantial mansion, Harleston, built at Caulfield in 1875, was presented to Melbourne Grammar School in 1917 by his sons and renamed Grimwade House. In 1895 he bought Coolart, a property on Westernport Bay where he bred bloodstock despite his aversion to gambling. In his last years a diabetic condition undermined his health but he remained active in business affairs until a few days before he died at Caulfield on 4 August 1910.

Grimwade's third son, Alfred Sheppard (1874-1941), became a surgeon. The other three all carried on their father's business; Edward Norton (1866-1945) succeeded him as senior partner, Harold William (1869-1949) combined business with a distinguished military career and Sir Wilfrid Russell (1879-1955) worked with his brothers in developing the enterprises founded by Grimwade and Felton into some of Australia's largest public companies.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Grimwade, Flinders Lane: Recollections of Alfred Felton (Melb, 1947)
  • J. R. Poynter, Russell Grimwade (Melb, 1967), and for bibliography.

Additional Resources

Citation details

J. R. Poynter, 'Grimwade, Frederick Sheppard (1840–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


10 November, 1840
Harleston, Norfolk, England


4 August, 1910 (aged 69)
Caulfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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