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Sir Walter Kingsmill (1864–1935)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published:

Walter Kingsmill (1864-1935), by T. Humphrey & Co

Walter Kingsmill (1864-1935), by T. Humphrey & Co

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23458956

Sir Walter Kingsmill (1864-1935) politician, was born on 10 April 1864 at Glenelg, South Australia, son of Walter Kingsmill, pastoralist, and his wife Jane Elizabeth, née Haslam. He was educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter and the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1883). In 1883-86 he was employed by the Geological Department of South Australia. He then went prospecting in the Teetulpa and Manna Hills districts and the Barrier district of New South Wales, moving to Western Australia in 1888 and next year to the Pilbara gold rush. He remained on the Pilbara for eight years, managing several mines and serving on the Pilbara Roads Board. From November 1894 to October 1895 he was mining registrar at Marble Bar.

In 1897-1903 Kingsmill was member of the Legislative Assembly for Pilbara. Originally a supporter of Sir John Forrest he joined the Opposition in 1899, became junior whip, and was appointed by George Leake as minister for public works in his first ministry (May-November 1901) and commissioner of railways in his second ministry (December 1901–July 1902). During Leake's fatal illness he was chosen as acting premier in preference to his senior colleague Frederick Illingworth, but after Leake's death Kingsmill yielded the premiership to (Sir) Walter James under whom he served from July 1902 to August 1904 as colonial secretary and minister for education. From February 1903 he became member of the Legislative Council for Metropolitan-Suburban Province and led the government in the Upper House. After a period in Opposition he resumed his old portfolios under C. H. Rason from August 1905 to May 1906, but when Rason resigned was ousted from cabinet by the new premier (Sir) Newton Moore, probably because Kingsmill supported a rival aspirant. Contemporaries considered Kingsmill too gentlemanly and easygoing for the cut and thrust of party politics, and his administrative style lacked drive. He was consoled by the chairmanship of committees in the Legislative Council.

The remnants of ambition nudged Kingsmill into standing for the Commonwealth Senate in March 1910, but the Liberals lost and in May he re-entered the Legislative Council as member for Metropolitan Province, retaining the chairmanship of committees. A useful private member, he became a member of the King's Park Board and president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Western Australia, but his main interest was the conservation of native fauna and flora. In 1911-12 he initiated amendments to the Game Acts so as to extend protection to many species of native birds and animals. He was a council-member of the Zoological and Acclimatization Society, acted as director of the Zoological Gardens in 1916-17 and was president of its board, 1916-22. In 1917 he undertook an eleven-week journey to Malaya and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) for zoological specimens and also carried out an investigation for the Western Australian government on the prospects of improved trade in South-east Asia; but no steps were taken to act on his recommendation that trade commissioners should be appointed with joint funding from private enterprise and government. In 1918-19 he was appointed to the Senate of the University of Western Australia. In July 1919 he was unanimously chosen president of the Legislative Council.

Then at the elections of May 1922 he suffered defeat by another Nationalist. Kingsmill may have suffered because of his lack of partisan zeal (he deplored the custom of branding all anti-conscriptionists as unpatriotic), though he defended the Upper House staunchly against attempts at mild reform. At the Commonwealth Senate elections of December 1922 he was returned on the Nationalist ticket. He served as a temporary chairman of committees from 1926 to 1929 and was on the Joint Committee of Public Accounts as vice-chairman, 1926-27, and chairman, 1927-29. In 1929 he was unanimously elected president of the Senate and won respect by his dignified and impartial conduct of business during the Scullin Labor ministry. He relinquished the presidency in 1932 and was knighted next year. Once again he neglected his grass roots. He was out of sympathy with the clamour for secession in Western Australia, and was denied pre-selection for the 1934 elections, but before the expiry of his term died of coronary occlusion at his home at Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, on 15 January 1935. After a state funeral with Anglican rites, he was cremated. On 20 December 1899 at St Patrick's Catholic Church, Fremantle, Kingsmill had married Mary Agatha Fanning who survived him. They had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly (compiler), History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Western Australia), 1918 (A4)
  • West Australian, 16 Jan 1935
  • Kingsmill papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Kingsmill, Sir Walter (1864–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 29 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Walter Kingsmill (1864-1935), by T. Humphrey & Co

Walter Kingsmill (1864-1935), by T. Humphrey & Co

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23458956

Life Summary [details]


10 April, 1864
Glenelg, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


15 January, 1935 (aged 70)
Elizabeth Bay, 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.