Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir Richard Linton (1879–1959)

by Geoff Browne

This article was published:

Sir Richard Linton (1879-1959), businessman, philanthropist and politician, was born on 10 March 1879 at Palmerston North, New Zealand, son of James Linton, Scottish-born importer, and his wife Ann, née Kibblewhite. Educated locally at the Terrace End School and Kenneth Wilson's High School, he came to Australia about 1899 to work as a dispatch clerk in the Sydney firm of Henry Bull & Co. Ltd. He then joined Middows Brothers (Australia) Ltd., paper and machinery merchants, managing branches in Brisbane and Perth and, from 1907, Melbourne. He became managing director, acquiring a large interest in the firm. On 31 March 1909, at Wellington, New Zealand, Linton married Ethel Isobel Bannister.

Fulfilling a long-held ambition to devote his energies to public life, Linton retired from Middows Bros in 1924. His first and most enduring public activity was his founding, in 1924, of the Big Brother Movement, an organization combining loyalty to Empire with Australian idealization of life on the land. The movement promoted the migration of British youths or 'Little Brothers' to work on farms. On arrival each became the responsibility of an Australian 'Big Brother' who provided initial accommodation and maintained contact with the youth after he had been placed in rural employment. The 'Little Brother' remained under the movement's paternalistic guidance until the age of 21.

The idea for the Big Brother Movement grew out of Linton's own experience of arriving in Sydney from New Zealand knowing that his elder brother was already there to assist him. In 1925 and 1928 he visited Britain and proved to be an enthusiastic and successful promoter of the movement. Under the scheme 8000 youths migrated to Australia until its suspension during World War II. It was later revived in New South Wales and continued, in a modified form, until 1983.

In 1927 Linton entered the Victorian Legislative Assembly as the Nationalist member for Boroondara. In parliament his first question and maiden speech both centred on immigration. He was greatly troubled by increasing numbers of non-British migrants, principally from Italy, believing that their presence undermined the wages scale. 'It is our duty as a Parliament to encourage our own people to come from the Old Land … God help this country if we continue to allow foreigners to come into it'.

An active parliamentarian, Linton spoke on a wide range of issues. Although his wider economic views were conventional, the onset of the Depression saw him devise several schemes to alleviate youth unemployment: an unemployment relief stamp tax and an extension of income tax to the same purpose; a camp at Broadmeadows for unemployed single men; establishment of a jam factory to provide work for unemployed girls; and, in 1931, the setting up of the Boys' Employment Movement which encouraged boys to continue technical education and helped to place them in jobs afterwards. He described his work in this field as 'a labour of love'.

Linton was briefly appointed honorary minister in December 1929, during the final days of the McPherson ministry. He served as secretary to Argyle's cabinet in 1932-33 and was a member of a board of inquiry into social services in 1932. He resigned from parliament in March 1933, having been appointed agent-general for Victoria in London. Linton's love for the 'Old Land' where he was well known, his business experience and promotional ability made him an obvious choice for the post and he was glad to accept it. Yet it is surprising that he was never offered a ministerial portfolio: his energetic advocacy of social service measures involving additional taxation may not have sat well with the Country Party members of Argyle's coalition ministry.

Linton's term as agent-general expired in July 1936; he was knighted in the same year. In 1940-46 he was in the Department of Defence as honorary liaison officer with voluntary organizations. Politics still tempted him: in 1940 he considered standing for the House of Representatives; in 1940 and 1948 he unsuccessfully sought pre-selection for the State seat of Toorak.

Linton was a short, solidly built man, quick in thought and movement; his motto was 'Do it now'. His extensive collection of Australian art was sold in 1933 before his departure to England; subsequently he collected antique furniture. His appreciation of tennis together with his interest in young people led him, in 1923, to initiate an interstate junior teams competition for the Linton Cup.

Linton died in the Freemasons' Hospital, East Melbourne, on 21 September 1959. Survived by his wife and two sons, he was cremated with Anglican and Masonic rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 30 Sept 1926
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 20 May 1932
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Feb 1933, 22 Sept 1959
  • Times (London), 22 Sept 1959
  • private information.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Linton, Sir Richard (1879–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


10 March, 1879
Palmerston North, New Zealand


21 September, 1959 (aged 80)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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