Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Francis Benjamin Kates (1830–1903)

by D. B. Waterson

This article was published:

Francis Benjamin Kates (1830-1903), flour-miller and agrarian politician, was born on 1 July 1830 in Berlin, son of Benjamin Kates, miller, and his wife Henrietta. He graduated from Berlin University in 1852. In London he married Sarah Mathews in 1858 and soon afterwards migrated to Queensland. In 1859 he taught briefly at Rev. J. R. Moffatt's Collegiate school in Brisbane and then moved to Frederick Bracker's Warroo station on the Darling Downs. As tutor he was paid partly in sheep and accumulated much capital which he invested in store-keeping at Allora in 1863.

With his commission, store-keeping and money-lending profits Kates erected the Allora Flour Mills in 1871 and later built other mills at Warwick, Toowoomba, Ipswich and Roma. He prospered as selection accelerated on the Downs. He became a director of the Royal Bank of Queensland and the Queensland Mercantile Co. and acquired grazing farms at Allora, Richmond Downs (Roma) and Strath Elbess (Dalveen). However, his finances deteriorated after a European tour in 1888. Urban milling competition, poor harvests, colonial depression and unremunerative pastoral and closer settlement speculations nearly ruined him.

Kates represented the electorates of Darling Downs in 1878-81 and 1883-88 and Cunningham in 1899-1903. As a Griffith liberal, he had a close understanding of the selectors' predicament, and with his fertile technical mind he was an effective publicist of agrarian ideas. He pioneered such practical remedies as railway concessions, agricultural colleges, irrigation, conservation and government repurchase of freehold pastoral estates. In parliament he acted a double role: first, as a priest of the agrarian myths behind selection legislation; and second, as a cosmopolitan entrepreneur whose reason and talents could lead the farmers from subsistence slavery to financial independence.

As his hasty resignation in 1881 demonstrated, this slight, upright Prussian with a narrow, intelligent face dominated by long waxed moustaches was too impulsive and self-righteous to make an adroit politician. Despite his conviction, initiative and ideas he sometimes made the unforgivable colonial mistake of parading them. His practical efforts and milling enterprise later helped to make the agrarian dream a reality. Personal financial tragedy was concealed by public satisfaction with his part in creating a prototype of his ideal society of propertied yeomen. He died at Strath Elbess, Dalveen, on 26 September 1903 and left an estate of £2750 to his wife, a married daughter and his son Francis Henry.

Select Bibliography

  • D. B. Waterson, ‘A Darling Downs Quartet: Four Minor Queensland Politicians: George Clark, James Morgan, William Allan and Francis Kates’, Queensland Heritage, vol 1, no 7, Nov 1967, pp 3-14
  • Brisbane Courier, 29 Sept 1903
  • Warwick Argus, 29 Sept 1903.

Citation details

D. B. Waterson, 'Kates, Francis Benjamin (1830–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 26 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]


1 July, 1830
Berlin, Germany


26 September, 1903 (aged 73)
Dalveen, Queensland, Australia

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