Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Frederick Holden (1868–1934)

by Ian Wynd

This article was published:

George Frederick Holden (1868-1934), businessman, politician and administrator, was born on 26 May 1868 at Geelong, Victoria, second son of Thomas Holden, produce merchant, who had arrived at Geelong from the Sydney area as a child in 1847, and his wife Mary, née Hague, daughter of an early exporter of wool in Melbourne. George was educated at Geelong State School and at 13 began work in the office of his uncle's firm, George Hague & Co., woolbrokers, Geelong. In 1886, after four years experience there, he was sent to manage the produce store his father had bought two years earlier at Wallace, near Ballarat. He purchased the business in 1897. On 6 June 1889 at the Wesleyan parsonage, Lydiard Street, Ballarat, he had married Minnie Elizabeth Ireson. His sister Millie married (Sir) Alexander Peacock.

In 1896 Holden was elected to the Buninyong Shire Council and remained a councillor until 1904, serving as president in 1898. In 1900 at the age of 31 he was elected for Warrenheip in the Legislative Assembly, continuing as member until his resignation in 1913. His friend E. J. Hogan succeeded him. Holden was described as quiet but influential in the House.

In 1902 he bought St Helen's, a mansion on Corio Bay, and became involved in Geelong affairs. He worked closely with Premier (Sir) Thomas Bent in drawing up the bill to establish the Geelong Harbor Trust and in December 1905 was appointed its first chairman. The decision was 'a popular one to the whole Western district', as the establishment of the trust was regarded as proof of the government's good intentions about decentralization.

As well as carrying out the normal functions of a harbour authority, Holden also set about attracting industry to Geelong, and established a freezing works and an experimental farm. These ventures brought him into conflict with some of his fellow townsmen, resulting in charges of mismanagement and nepotism. A royal commission exonerated him of all charges in 1912.

Next year, when the Melbourne Harbor Trust was reorganized, Holden was appointed chairman, superseding the previous elected chairman, W. T. Appleton. There was criticism on the grounds that his record was mediocre, the appointment was political, and he was not a Melbourne man. Over the next twenty years, however, his critics came to acknowledge his achievements as, under his direction, the facilities of the port of Melbourne were steadily improved, charges were lowered, revenue increased, and a new headquarters for the trust was built. Domineering and uncompromising, overcautious at times, Holden nevertheless showed great organizing ability both in Geelong and Melbourne, playing an important role in establishing their port authorities.

Holden died suddenly at his home in South Yarra on 15 August 1934, survived by one son, F. C. T. Holden, member of the Legislative Assembly for Grant, and two daughters. He was buried in Eastern cemetery, Geelong, after a service in the Ashby Methodist Church.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • B. Hoare, Jubilee History of the Melbourne Harbor Trust (Melb, 1927)
  • T. Brentnall, My Memories (Melb, 1938)
  • O. Ruhen, Port of Melbourne, 1835-1976 (Syd, 1976)
  • Geelong Advertiser, 10 July, 17 Nov, 19, 23 Dec 1905, 26 Sept, 12 Oct, 17, 29, 30 Nov, 6 Dec 1911, 11, 13, 14, 23 Jan 1913, 16 Aug 1934
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11, 13, 14 Jan 1913, 16 Aug 1934
  • Age (Melbourne), 16 Aug 1934.

Citation details

Ian Wynd, 'Holden, George Frederick (1868–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 14 April 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]


26 May, 1868
Geelong, Victoria, Australia


15 August, 1934 (aged 66)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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.