Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir Walter Synnot Manifold (1849–1928)

by Paul H. De Serville

This article was published:

Sir Walter Synnot Manifold (1849-1928), pastoralist and politician, was born on 30 March 1849 at Grassmere, Warrnambool, Port Phillip District, second son of Thomas Manifold and his wife Jane Elizabeth, daughter of Captain Walter Synnot. Educated in Germany and at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Manifold signed the roll as a solicitor in 1875 but did not practise. With his elder brother James, he bought Pine Grove West station, near Echuca.

After again visiting Europe, Manifold toured Queensland and, impressed by the splendid grazing country, bought Sesbiana (some 700 sq. miles (1813 km²), part of a larger run, Werna), entering into partnership with his uncle Peter Manifold and others. He managed Sesbiana in 1878-84, then sold out and returned to Warrnambool to take up his inheritance of Wollaston. On 23 April 1885 he married Fanny Maria, daughter of Commander Alexander Smith, R.N. Though childless, the union linked him with the Reads of Tasmania where he already had extensive connexions through the Synnots, and with the Officer and Chomley families in Victoria.

Manifold bred cattle at Wollaston, but turned most of the property over to dairy farming, run on a share and tenant basis. It left him time to devote to his favourite hobbies, cattle and machinery—by 1904 he had installed an electrical plant. After World War I, Wollaston was broken up for soldier settlement.

His father had been the first of the family to enter politics (briefly, in 1861), and Walter was elected to the Legislative Council for Western Province in June 1901. Reputed to have refused a portfolio in the Bent ministry in 1908 (and on several other occasions), he was unofficial leader of the council in 1910-19, becoming noted for the thoroughness with which he examined legislation, and for his amiable temperament. When Sir John Davies retired as president of the council in 1919, Manifold was elected narrowly over A. O. Sachse. His speech of acceptance was marked by a disarming humility; emphasizing that he was the first native-born president, Manifold vowed that he would aim 'to show that an Australian-born man can fill a high office without—well, making a mess of things'. Knighted in 1920, he presided until 1923 when ill health forced him to retire. He resigned his seat in January 1924. Both sides of the House praised his work and character, singling out his dignity, impartiality, simplicity and gentlemanliness.

President of the Melbourne Club in 1908, Manifold was a trustee of the Guardian Assurance Co., and a council-member of the University of Melbourne in 1923-28. A widower, he died on 15 November 1928 at Toorak and was buried in St Kilda cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £83,356. Like his cousins at Purrumbete, Manifold had undertaken public work as a duty, imposed by his position as a leader of society and member of the pre-gold upper-class.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • W. G. Manifold, The Wished-For Land (Geelong, Vic, 1984)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1919, p 66, 1923-24, p 797, 1928, p 2938
  • Punch (Melbourne), 21 Jan 1904
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8, 10 July 1919, 16 Nov 1928.

Citation details

Paul H. De Serville, 'Manifold, Sir Walter Synnot (1849–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 16 July 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]


30 March, 1849
Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia


15 November, 1928 (aged 79)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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