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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kemble, Francis (1784–1844)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Francis Kemble (1784?-1844), company promoter, was a director of the Australian, Colonial and General Life Assurance and Annuity Co. in London, and was said to have a 'mania for promoting sugar companies' when in 1839 he decided that the flourishing condition of New South Wales warranted the establishment of a sugar refinery. Predicting annual profits of £40,000 he persuaded William Knox Child to finance the venture. Child was deputy-lieutenant of Kent and inspecting director of the London and County Joint-stock Bank, and his eldest son was at Cambridge studying for the church, but he sold his estate at Denton Court, Gravesend, invested £20,000 in steam-engines, boilers and machinery, and migrated with all his family to Sydney.

Kemble recruited skilled workers and arrived in Sydney on 12 July 1840 with his wife and family in the Ann Gale. He promptly petitioned the Legislative Council for an increased duty on imports of refined sugar, and bought sixty acres (24 ha) of land at Canterbury from Robert Campbell junior. Within a year the Australian Sugar Refining Co. had 'a magnificent manufactury', 100 ft long (30 m), 60 ft wide (18 m), 60 ft high (18 m) and a chimney stack of 130 ft (40 m). The costs had been heavy and the onset of depression encouraged the partners to quarrel instead of starting production. After Kemble threatened to go into business as a merchant at Moreton Bay Child came to terms and in March 1842 they formed the new Australasian Sugar Co., with a capital of £23,000 in £50 shares and an impressive list of shareholders. In September, with Child as commercial director and Kemble works manager, the company commenced operations. Orders flowed in from other colonies and hopes of success ran high, but the promoters continued to bicker. As a devout Evangelical Kemble objected to the factory working on Sunday. Child, who had withdrawn his capital, held the confidence of the shareholders until Kemble, with many appeals to divine grace, publicly charged him with lying and acting dishonourably in money matters. In a libel suit in February 1843 the Supreme Court found for Child and awarded him damages of 40s. The company was again reorganized and twelve years later became the Colonial Sugar Refining Co.

Out of employment Kemble gave evidence to select committees on 'monetary confusion' and on land grievances. Early in 1844 he visited Port Phillip and, although opposed to its separation from New South Wales, he was nominated as a candidate for election to the Melbourne Town Council. He soon withdrew and by May was back in Sydney and elected a member of the Sydney Municipal Council. On 19 June he died suddenly at Undercliff, aged 60.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Lowndes (ed), South Pacific Enterprise (Syd, 1956)
  • A. Birch, ‘The Origins of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company 1841-55’, Business Archives and History, vol 5, no 1, Feb 1965, pp 21-31
  • Australian, 25 Aug, 10, 19 Sept, 24 Oct 1842
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Mar 1843, 15 Apr, 5 June 1844.

Citation details

'Kemble, Francis (1784–1844)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 15 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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