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Henry Humphrey Kinnear (1876–1936)

by John Lack

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Edward Hore Kinnear

Edward Hore Kinnear (1874-1965) and Henry Humphrey Kinnear (1876-1936), businessmen, were born on 27 October 1874 and 15 April 1876 at Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, sixth and seventh of nine children of George Kinnear (1826?-1902) from Nottinghamshire and his second wife Susannah Hamlyn, née Hore, from Devon, England. George Kinnear migrated to Melbourne in 1864 to establish a rope plant for James Miller & Co. He established his own Colonial Rope Works at Moonee Ponds in 1874, a small but lucrative business, specializing in lashings, clothes-lines and hayband. George Kinnear imported and designed advanced machinery and acquired a reputation for technical innovation, a quality shared by all four of his sons. But it was to Edward and Henry that the business was sold in 1899, for £340.

Edward left Essendon State School at 13 to help in the business. A teetotaller, he became an accomplished gymnast, cricketer, cyclist and footballer. Between 1894 and 1903 he played 159 games for Essendon Football Club, and was in three premiership teams. On 18 September 1901 at Essendon he married Jessie Frew Connelly. Henry was employed by a local newsagent and was later a station book-keeper before entering the family business. On 8 July 1902 at Essendon he married Charlotte Ethel Thrussell (d.1907) by whom he had a son and a daughter. On 19 January 1909 in Melbourne he married Linda Wilhelmina Alderson; they had one son.

Edward, the senior partner, superintended the manufacturing; Henry managed the office, later established a city headquarters and store, and specialized in buying raw materials and handling sales. Trading as George Kinnear & Sons, in 1902 they transferred the works to a larger site at Footscray. The enterprise expanded steadily through the Kinnears' innovative and aggressive organization and marketing, tariff protection and wartime demands. The workforce grew to some 200 in 1915. John McKellar's novel Sheep Without a Shepherd (Melbourne, 1937) contains an astringent portrait of the brothers in this pioneering phase. Kinnears' entered into price-fixing agreements with the other major Victorian ropemakers, Donaghy's and James Miller; these three with A. Forsyth & Co. of Sydney and an Adelaide firm acquired the West Australian Rope & Twine Co. Pty Ltd in 1914-15.

The Kinnears kept abreast of overseas advances: Edward travelled abroad, and his son Edward Hore (1902-1949) spent several years with James Mackie & Sons of Belfast. For a time the Kinnears enjoyed an Australian monopoly of Mackie's designs. The latest machinery was installed at Footscray, serviced, improved and duplicated by a modern engineering and fitting shop. By 1934 Kinnears had a soft fibre spinning mill and advanced plant for manufacturing industrial yarns and twists, sewing and shop twines and cordage; products were sold throughout Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific islands, the Straits Settlements and South Africa. When sanctions were imposed against Italy in 1935 Henry successfully encouraged partnership with James Miller in the reconstruction of the Australian flax growing and milling industry (Flax Fibres Pty Ltd). During World War II Kinnears' supplied the allied forces in the South-West Pacific, and the machine shops made gun, artillery and tank parts. After 1945 expansion occurred into synthetic fibres.

Edward and Henry's sons all served in the factory. From 1925 Henry junior understudied his father, and he and Edward junior joined the board. Henry senior died at St Kilda on 24 February 1936, survived by his children and second wife. A keen golfer and punter, he was regarded affectionately in business circles. Upon the death of Edward junior in 1949, Edward senior relied more on his sons James, sales manager, and George, factory manager. Members of the fourth generation now entered the business. Edward Kinnear senior retired as chairman of Kinnear Ropes (Australia) Ltd when he was 89. Aside from his business interests, which extended beyond ropemaking, he was an Essendon city councillor in 1911-34, a Melbourne Rotarian, and sometime vice-president of the Victorian Amateur Boxing and Wrestling Association.

Widowed in 1944, Edward in 1953 married Chrysanthe Pendergast. He died at his Essendon home Tooronga on 3 March 1965, survived by six children and his second wife, and was buried in Fawkner cemetery. He left an estate valued for probate at £77,580. In recent years Kinnears' became the major ropemaker in Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Michell (ed), Footscray's First Fifty Years (Melb, 1909)
  • Footscray's First 100 years (Melb, 1959)
  • Advance Australia, 15 Mar 1916
  • Australasian Manufacturer, 25 Sept 1920
  • Advertiser (Footscray), 3 May 1902, 9 Mar 1907, 26 Dec 1908, 13 Nov 1915, 10 Mar 1934
  • Leader (Melbourne), 26 Dec 1908
  • Essendon Gazette, 9 Mar 1922, 19 Dec 1929
  • Mail (Footscray), 27 Oct 1934
  • Argus (Melbourne), 25 Feb 1936
  • family and business papers (held by Kinnears Ltd, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Lack, 'Kinnear, Henry Humphrey (1876–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 18 July 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

Life Summary [details]


15 April, 1876
Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


24 February, 1936 (aged 59)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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