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Henry Edward Kater (1841–1924)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Henry Edward Kater (1841-1924), pastoralist and businessman, was born on 20 September 1841 at Bungarribee, near Penrith, eldest son of Henry Herman Kater (1813-1881) and his wife Eliza Charlotte (d.1909), sister of Sir John Darvall. His father had arrived in Sydney on 23 December 1839 in the Euphrates with Durham cattle and six thoroughbred horses; he bought Bungarribee but after eighteen months faced bankruptcy and had to sell his stock. He moved to Caleula, started a cloth factory and later made enough as a flour-miller to retire to Sydney where he died in 1881.

Henry Edward was educated by his mother and for a year at Calder House, Redfern. He became a junior clerk in the Australian Joint Stock Bank at Mudgee. In 1861 he was held up by bushrangers when carrying bank-notes to Bathurst. In 1863 he acquired Gungalman, a cattle station on the Castlereagh. He established good relations with the Aboriginals and learnt bushcraft from them; he often used the local rain-maker. He sold Gungalman and set up as a flour-miller in Wellington. On 8 February 1870 at St Anne's Church of England, Ryde, he married Mary Eliza (d.1935), daughter of William Forster. She had read the Origin of Species at 16 and studied Greek as a pastime at Wellington. In 1875 they visited Europe and Britain, where they earnestly looked at churches, art galleries and opera, and while visiting relations Henry saw and played his first lawn tennis.

In the 1870s Kater took up land in the Wellington District. With his brother Edward Harvey (d.1903) he acquired Mumblebone on the Macquarie River near Warren. From John Smith in 1879 they bought merinos directly descended from Rev. Samuel Marsden's flock. In 1881 the brothers formed a partnership as Kater Bros; Henry had a third interest and attended to the city end of the business. Under Edward Mumblebone became one of the foremost studs in New South Wales; he developed strong-woolled, large-framed and plain-bodied sheep. Experiments with Vermont merinos proved unsuccessful.

In 1879 Henry had bought Mount Broughton near Moss Vale. He was a founder and president of the Bong Bong Picnic Race Club and sometime president of the Berrima District Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society. In 1889 he was appointed to the Legislative Council on the recommendation of (Sir) George Dibbs. On 9 January 1908 the Bulletin complained that '19 years' research hasn't explained why [Dibbs] did it'. Despite such comments Kater proved a useful councillor, active on committees and interested in rural matters. In 1911 his opposition forced the government to modify the shires' bill. Edward Kavanagh, a Labor member, maintained that 'if one could satisfy Mr. Kater that a thing was in the interests of the State, then, irrespective of political party, one could rest assured of his support'.

In 1892-1924 Kater was a director of the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. and chairman in 1901-20. He was also vice-chairman of the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney and a local director of the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Co. He represented Moss Vale in Anglican synods from the 1880s and his most charitable work was in connexion with the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. A director from 1892, honorary treasurer in 1901-16 and chairman in 1920-24, he gave the hospital its first X-ray machine and £1000 to endow the H. E. Kater ward. In 1896 he had bought Egelabra, near Warren, and in 1906 when the partnership with Edward was dissolved his share was half the Mumblebone stud and Yanganbil. About 1910 he took into partnership his son Norman who added Eenaweena. The three properties included 72,000 acres (29,138 ha) and, under the expert classer E. H. Wass, H. E. Kater & Son formed the well-known Egelabra stud. The Mumblebone stud continued to develop under E. H. Kater's descendants.

Henry Kater died on 23 September 1924 at his home, Headingley, Woollahra, and was buried in the Anglican section of the Sutton Forest cemetery. He was survived by his wife and younger son (Sir) Norman Kater. Able in business and a shrewd judge of men, Kater left an estate sworn for probate at over £190,000.

Select Bibliography

  • NSW Sheepbreeders' Assn, The Australian Merino (Syd, 1955)
  • D. S. Macmillan, The Kater Family, 1750-1965 (Syd, 1966)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Sept 1924
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 1 Oct 1924
  • 'Famous Merino Studs: "Egelabra", the Property of H. E. Kater & Son', New Nation Magazine, 15 Mar 1935, pp 52-53
  • Kater family papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Kater, Henry Edward (1841–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 September, 1841
Penrith, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


23 September, 1924 (aged 83)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.