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Walter Michelmore Hitchcock (1832–1923)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with George Michelmore Hitchcock

George Michelmore Hitchcock (1831-1912) and Walter Michelmore Hitchcock (1832-1923), businessmen, were sons of William Hitchcock, South Molton, Devon, England, and his first wife Mary Elizabeth, née Tope. George was born at Barnstaple on 7 October 1831 and Walter on 11 August 1832. After attending Denmark Hill School they were apprenticed to their uncle George, a London draper who also employed George Williams, founder of the Young Men's Christian Association.

In 1849 the Hitchcock family migrated in the Amity Hall to Geelong where in June 1850 they established Hitchcock Bros & Co., general dealers, wool-brokers and merchants. Walter and his father went to the Ballarat goldfields in September 1851 but were more successful at Forest Creek near Castlemaine. His father became a peoples' commissioner at Castlemaine to protest against police tyranny in May 1853. Devout Congregationalists, father and son organized regular religious services, first in a marquee and later in the Castlemaine hall which William built as well as his own home. Known as the 'Duke of Muckleford' he was auctioneer, merchant, proprietor of livery stables and founder of the first local newspaper. In May 1854 he represented landowners and merchants before the directors of the Mount Alexander Railway Co. In November he was host to Caroline Chisholm and offered to establish a home for girls in Castlemaine. He was vice-president of the local Friendly Aid Society, chairman of the hospital committee, promoter of schools and chairman of the municipality but he lost heavily in mining speculations and was declared insolvent in October 1859. In May 1860 he moved to Brisbane and in 1861 to Sydney where he had relations who had served in the London Missionary Society. Aged 55 he died in Melbourne on 29 April 1867, survived by his second wife and several children.

In 1852 Walter had returned to Geelong; in September 1853 he and his brother George joined William Bright & Co., drapers and clothiers, and in January 1877 became sole partners. As buyer for the firm Walter had moved in 1863 to London where in 1865-66 his efforts to secure machinery and finance for a woollen mill at Geelong were strongly opposed in England but helped to create an independent colonial industry. In July 1881 he withdrew from the firm but under the management of George and later his son Howard (1866-1932), Bright & Hitchcocks became the largest department store in Victoria outside Melbourne.

In Geelong George became a town councillor in 1875 and a justice of the peace in 1891. He was also active in the Chamber of Commerce and in 1890-1912 chairman of the council of the Gordon Institute of Technology. In 1859 he had married Annie, daughter of John Lowe, a prominent Wesleyan; they had two sons and a daughter. George died at Geelong on 8 May 1912 and the G. M. Hitchcock Art Gallery was named in his honour.

Active in civic affairs, Walter was elected secretary of the Citizens' Committee formed in 1858 to secure a navigable harbour, and chairman of the Geelong and Western District Exploration Committee which was discredited by claiming a gold discovery that failed in 1861. In London he acted as agent for civic and church groups in Geelong and was prominent in obtaining its celebrated post office clock. Among other religious and philanthropic work he led a committee to aid dependents of people drowned in the London in 1866, served on the finance committee of the Young Men's Christian Association, was active in the Free Churches Federation, and in the Colonial Missionary Society founded by Thomas Binney was treasurer in 1882 and chairman in 1884-1904. He was also addicted to collecting Australiana but perhaps his greatest passion was the volunteer fire-brigade movement. In Geelong he rarely missed a fire or lost an opportunity to promote the movement and in 1883 on one of his visits to Australia was honoured with life membership as an honorary captain. In London he donned his uniform to ride in the annual mayoral procession, waited on royalty and published his Reminiscences of a Volunteer Fireman in Australia and England, 1854-1912.

In 1857 at Geelong Walter married Mary, daughter of William Burrow, mayor; she died in 1858, leaving one daughter. On 13 December 1860 he married Amelia Woollard; they had three children. She became a Roman Catholic and died estranged from him in August 1908. Walter died in Somerset on 12 July 1923.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 2 (Melb, 1904)
  • J. E. H. Williams, The Life of Sir George Williams (Lond, 1906)
  • C. Irving Benson (ed), A Century of Victorian Methodism (Melb, 1935)
  • Bright & Hitchcocks Pty Ltd, 100 Years of Progressive Service 1850-1950 (Geelong, 1950)
  • J. T. Massey, The Y.M.C.A. in Australia: A History (Melb, 1950)
  • I. Southall, The Weaver from Meltham (Melb, 1950)
  • W. R. Brownhill, The History of Geelong and Corio Bay (Melb, 1955)
  • Mount Alexander Mail, 26 Jan 1909
  • Hitchcock family papers (privately held)
  • information from Castlemaine Historical Society.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Hitchcock, Walter Michelmore (1832–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 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]


11 August, 1832


12 July, 1923 (aged 90)
Somerset, England

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