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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jenner, Caleb Joshua (1830–1890)

by Margot Beever

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Caleb Joshua Jenner (1830-1890), businessman and politician, was born on 9 December 1830 at Alfriston, Sussex, England, son of Thomas Jenner and his wife Sarah, née Ralf. At 19 he migrated and arrived at Melbourne in February 1850. He may have spent some time in the Ballarat area during the early gold rushes but from the mid-1850s lived in Geelong where he and his brother Thomas had an iron and coal importing business. In March 1863, already well known as a supporter of protection for local industries and apparently successful in business, he was elected for South-Western Province to the Legislative Council and moved to Melbourne.

Jenner was soon established in Melbourne as an ironfounder and importer with premises in Flinders Street and as first chairman of the Land Mortgage Bank. These were his main interests until about 1870 when he gave up ironmongering for the gentler pursuits of importer, investor and company director. In the 1870s he was on the boards of the National Insurance Co., the Commercial Bank of Australia and the Land Mortgage Bank; he was also from 1875 a commissioner for the savings banks of Victoria. He was briefly chairman of William McCulloch & Co., and chairman of the McCulloch Insurance Co. and the Indemnity Fire and Marine Insurance Co. which succeeded it. Later he became chairman of Langlands Foundry Co.

Jenner's political career was distinguished for his behaviour in the parliamentary crises of the 1860s and 1870s. After the rejection of the McCulloch tariff in 1865 he urged the Legislative Council to act with discretion, and sought ways and means of compromise among members of both Houses; he did the same in 1868 and 1878. Businesslike, he wanted the country governed efficiently and he was also sympathetic with the Legislative Assembly. He believed that the future prosperity of Victoria depended on the combination of a liberal land law, encouragement to native industry and immigration, and therefore favoured such measures as the 1865 tariff which almost all his fellow councillors opposed. His belief that the council franchise should be widened and his support for the abolition of state aid to religion—he was active in the Baptist Church and represented it on the 1867 royal commission on education—further separated him from them. Twice he became government representative in the council, for John McPherson's government in 1869-70 and (Sir) Charles Gavan Duffy's in 1871-72. Yet at heart Jenner was conservative, with firm views on the virtues and duties of privilege and wealth which are evident in his speeches on council reform, immigration and payment of members. Although often against the council on important questions he had its confidence and respect, and from September 1874 to July 1883 was chairman of committees. He retired from parliament in July 1886.

Many of the companies with which Jenner was connected failed in the 1890s but he did not live to see the collapse of the boom he had helped to create. He died at his Mornington home, Beleura, on 27 June 1890, leaving an estate valued at more than £120,000 to his wife Eliza Ann, daughter of Rev. Isaac New of the Albert Street Baptist Church, and to the surviving four sons and six daughters of his thirteen children.

Select Bibliography

  • F. J. Wilkin, Baptists in Victoria: Our First Century, 1838-1938 (Melb, 1939)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1863-86
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 June 1890
  • Table Talk, 25 July 1890.

Citation details

Margot Beever, 'Jenner, Caleb Joshua (1830–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 8 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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