Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Duguid Hill (1858–1921)

by Kimberley Webber

This article was published:

William Duguid Hill (1858-1921), festival administrator, was born on 7 January 1858 at Magpie, near Ballarat, Victoria, fourth surviving child of Archibald Hill, baker and riding teacher, and his wife Robine, née Somerville; both parents were Scottish. Hill left Redan State School at an early age. By 1883 he had formed the auctioneering firm of Wicks & Hill; subsequent partnerships were Hill & Paine, Hill & Grose and Hill & Blackman. At St Andrew's Presbyterian Manse, Ballarat, on 13 November 1895, he married Katherine Elizabeth Bloore, daughter of a chemist.

In 1879, while a student at the Central State Night School, Hill and eight others held a meeting at his mother's hotel in South Street, to form the Young Men's General Debating Society, with the intention of 'refining the manners, cultivating the mind and stimulating the intellect' into fitness for community service. Hill was president, then secretary and held this position, which in 1890 became salaried, until his death. As a founder and secretary of the Mutual Improvement Associations' Union in 1882, he first introduced debating contests. Their success and Hill's belief in the educative value of competition led to their continuation by the debating society after the union's collapse in 1889.

By then the South Street Literary and Debating Society, as it was now popularly called, had its own hall seating one thousand. This housed the contests whose expanded programme reflected Hill's interest in music, already evident through his secretaryship of the Liedertafel. By 1891 literary, elocutionary and musical items made up the programme and six years later the first choral items were included. In 1902 Hill brought out from England an eminent musician as adjudicator. By 1906, with the exalted title of Grand National Eisteddfod of Australasia, the annual contests lasted a month and were attracting 2250 entries. Their success can be attributed to the secretary's promotional skills. Public support for South Street, however, was not unanimous: one citizen described it as 'pure theatrical commercialism'. Hill sometimes complained of the widespread indifference to that which made Ballarat 'the Athens of Australia'.

Hill belonged to many civic and charitable organizations. Emphasizing the city's potential as an agricultural and manufacturing centre, he was prominent in the Forward Ballarat movement, was a councillor of the mining and agricultural schools, secretary of the agricultural and pastoral society and founder of Manufacturers' Day and the tourist bureau. From 1905 to 1921 he was councillor for the South Ward of Ballarat City. Elected mayor in 1909, 1916 and 1920, he was the first mayor of Greater Ballarat after the amalgamation of city and town in 1921.

Proud of his Scottish origins, Hill was active in the Caledonian Society and often sported a kilt. He was secretary of St Andrew's Kirk and found time to assist the orphanage, the benevolent asylum and the Red Cross. As recognition for his services to the city, in 1906 James Oddie commissioned Thomas Price to paint Hill's portrait for the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. Survived by his wife and two daughters, Hill died on 14 November 1921 and was buried in the new cemetery, Ballarat. Small, with great charm, he was a devoted family man. His favourite activities were gardening and reading: 'I like to read about great men with big ideas … Warren Hastings has been my ideal'.

Select Bibliography

  • L. A. Blackman, ‘A history of the Royal South Street Society of Ballarat’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 37 (1966)
  • Ballarat Courier, 15 Jan 1908, 15 Nov 1921
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 16 June 1921.

Citation details

Kimberley Webber, 'Hill, William Duguid (1858–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 13 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 January, 1858
Magpie, Victoria, Australia


14 November, 1921 (aged 63)
Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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