Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William Highett (1807–1880)

by J. Ann Hone

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with John Highett

William Highett (1807-1880), businessman and politician, and John Highett (1810-1867), pastoralist, were born at Weymouth, Dorset, England, sons of Joseph Highett and his wife Elizabeth, née Harding. In February 1830 the brothers arrived at Hobart Town in the Elizabeth. Though bound for Sydney, they stayed in Van Diemen's Land and applied for land. With highly respectable testimonials and a combined capital of £507, they were granted 500 acres (202 ha) which they located at George Town. Later they acquired much land at Launceston and Campbell Town. John managed these properties while William became accountant of the new branch of the Van Diemen's Land Bank at Launceston in May 1832. When it closed he joined the Tamar Banking Co. as cashier in January 1835. By 1859 the brothers had sold all their Tasmanian land.

In partnership with his cousin, William Harding, John took up Mount Hesse station in the Port Phillip District in 1837. In 1842-46 his partner was William Haines. John later bought much suburban land at Geelong. On a commanding site above the River Barwon he built a large residence, Highton House. He was a successful farmer and flour-miller and well known as a horseman and breeder. He died at Queenscliff on 16 January 1867, survived by his wife Sarah, née Moore, whom he had married in Tasmania on 1 September 1846, and by five sons and one daughter.

In 1838 William became first Melbourne manager of the Union Bank of Australia and in 1840 a local director with the title of managing director. He resigned in 1842 to visit Europe but on his return in 1845 was reinstated as a local director. He was a founder and director of the Bank of Victoria, the Melbourne Banking Corporation Ltd and the Victoria Fire and Marine Insurance Co. and had many shares in the Hobson's Bay Railway Co. He also helped to found the Melbourne Mechanics' Institute. An early member and trustee of the Melbourne Club, he shared in negotiations for its new site although his role was difficult because the Bank of Victoria wanted to buy the old property.

Highett was active in the separation movement and in 1853 was a government nominee in the Legislative Council. In 1856 he failed to win a seat in the new council but was elected for the Eastern Province in May 1857. He supported state aid, National schools, railway extension and the opening of crown land with moderate compensation for the squatters. A conservative and industrious councillor, he retired in 1880. In 1847-66 he held a squatting lease, Maindample. He was also an early landowner in Moorabbin Shire, part of which was named for him, and by the late 1870s had 6117 acres (2475 ha), valued at £15,292, in addition to land in Richmond and other suburban areas. For years he was a trustee of St Stephen's Anglican Church, Richmond. In his last years he suffered from gout but continued to play whist on Saturday evenings at his club. He died on 29 November 1880, unmarried and intestate.

Select Bibliography

  • Garryowen (E. Finn), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, vol 1 (Melb, 1888)
  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • E. Scott, Historical Memoir of the Melbourne Club (Melb, 1936)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 Apr 1857, 30 Nov 1880
  • CSO 1/453/10074 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • GO 33/18/866 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • LSD 1/76/19 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Highett, William (1807–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 April 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]


Weymouth, Dorset, England


29 November, 1880 (aged ~ 73)
Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.