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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kernot, Charles (1820–1882)

by S. Murray-Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Charles Kernot (1820-1882), chemist, stationer and politician, was born on 23 March 1820 at Rochford, Essex, England, eldest son of William Pearce Kernot and his wife Susannah, née White. He followed his father as a dispensing chemist in Rochford. A combination of financial and religious problems (he had abandoned the established church for Congregationalism) induced him to migrate and with two children, his wife and her sister he sailed in the Duke of Wellington and arrived at Melbourne in 1851.

The family soon moved to Geelong, while Kernot tried his luck in vain at the Ballarat and Mount Alexander diggings. He had brought a printer's outfit with him from England, and set up business in Geelong as a chemist, printer and stationer. In three years he accumulated comfortable wealth. In 1858-59 he built and occupied Milton House in the suburb of Newtown. In 1865 he retired from the chemist's business that he had run with his brother William Henry as partner.

Kernot entered municipal politics in 1859 as a representative of Barwon Ward on the Geelong Council; he was mayor in 1864 but retired from the council in 1866. As a member for Geelong East Kernot entered the Legislative Assembly in March 1868, pledged to support the McCulloch government on the question of the Darling grant, but turned against the administration and as one of the first 'Loyal Liberals' helped to remove it from office in September 1869. Although opposing that year's Land Act as too favourable to the squatters, Kernot later supported the MacPherson government, losing his seat in January 1871. Defeated again in 1874, Kernot re-entered the assembly in April 1876 and thereafter remained a reasonably consistent supporter of (Sir) Graham Berry, approving his reform and fiscal policies but opposing him on payment of members. In February 1880 Kernot lost his seat as a Berry candidate on the platform of protection and constitutional reform, but regained it in July. He died in Geelong on 26 March 1882, survived by his wife Mary Wright (1824-1884) and by five sons and two daughters.

A Dissenter, something of a radical and strong on 'mutual improvement', Kernot also had a great taste for amateur engineering and a first-class home workshop; many of his descendants became distinguished in Australian engineering circles. He was active in business, organizing and promoting the affairs of the Geelong Gas Co., the Victoria Woollen and Clothing Mills, and the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Co.; he was also committed to the Geelong Mechanics' Institute and to local building and health and mutual benefit societies. He was an extreme opponent of state aid to religion, a supporter of the Education Act and a strong temperance advocate. He was regarded as 'one of the least talkative members who ever sat in the House, seldom speaking at all, and never for more than a very few minutes'.

Select Bibliography

  • W. R. Brownhill, The History of Geelong and Corio Bay (Melb, 1955)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 Mar 1882
  • Geelong Advertiser, 27 Mar 1882
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

S. Murray-Smith, 'Kernot, Charles (1820–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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