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George Dick Meudell (1860–1936)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published:

George Dick Meudell (1860-1936), stockbroker, company promoter and accountant, was born on 29 January 1860 at Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria, son of William Meudell and his wife Elizabeth Strachan, née Taylor. Educated at Warrnambool Grammar School and Sandhurst High School, he matriculated aged 14. A childhood accident which left him blind in one eye frustrated his intention of reading for the Bar so he joined the Sandhurst branch of the Bank of Victoria, where his father, a university-educated Scot, was manager.

William Meudell (1831-1911) had migrated to Victoria in 1852 and joined the bank in 1854. He was manager at Heathcote, Echuca, Beaufort and Warrnambool before returning to Sandhurst. In 1881 he was appointed by Henry ('Money') Miller general manager in Melbourne and in 1889-91 was manager in London.

George moved with the family to Collins Street, Melbourne, in 1881 and joined the Melbourne Savings Bank, becoming manager at Carlton and Emerald Hill and then personal assistant to its actuary John Alsop. In 1884 he investigated banking practices in Europe and the United States of America.

A passionate nationalist, inventor in 1882 of the slogan, 'Australia for the Australians', Meudell was active in the Australian Natives' Association, where he enjoyed making 'inflammatory speeches' about 'the decadent British Empire, the glorious destiny of Australia and the superiority of the native Australian', and was prominent in urging the annexation of New Guinea and the New Hebrides. He was a regular contributor to the press, especially to the Bulletin, whose editor Jules Francois Archibald he had known from his Warrnambool days.

Resigning from the bank in 1886 Meudell became a public accountant. In 1888 Benjamin Fink 'lured' him from his comfortable practice to become assistant-manager of the 'ill-fated' Mercantile Finance and Guarantee Co. Ltd for which Meudell prepared land boom prospectuses—'a rare farrago of high-priced rubbish'. He claimed to have lost £20,000 buying company shares before resigning to become secretary of the Australian Property Co., whose affairs he organized in London in 1889.

In January 1890 Meudell became a member of the Stock Exchange of Melbourne, with the help of a £2000 loan from William Knox, who wanted his assistance with the share business of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. During the depression and bank crashes of the 1890s Meudell prudently rented a safe-deposit box and accumulated one thousand gold sovereigns. He organized a 'Legion of Relief' which collected £1500 for food and clothing for the unemployed. In 1893 he joined Knox in his money-raising visit to England on behalf of the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Co. Ltd and in 1895 helped the recovery of the company's fortunes by advising the issue of debentures convertible into ordinary shares. On 27 June 1898 he married Lillie Elizabeth Dougharty in London.

Contracting tuberculosis in 1907, Meudell defied doctors' predictions of imminent death to travel the world looking at oilfields and return to an unsuccessful nineteen-year attempt to launch an Australian oil industry. This was one of many abortive schemes: it was preceded by enthusiasm for brown coal and hydro-electricity, and followed by an interest in oil-shale.

A 'short, rotund figure' in frock-coat and top-hat, a bon vivant, Meudell believed that to be well dressed afforded greater solace than religion. Bustling, energetic and forceful in his opinions, he 'had a mania for establishing leagues and associations', many of them short lived. He was a founder of the Young Victorian Patriotic League (1892), the Bimetallic League (1893), the Kyabram reform movement (1901), the National Citizens' Reform League (1902) and the People's Liberal Party (1910). He stood for the Legislative Assembly seat of Grenville in by-elections of 1899 and 1900 but, despite the use of a gramophone and comic songs in his campaign, was unsuccessful. In 1927 he published The Romance of Australian Banking. An indefatigable traveller, he claimed to have covered 50,000 miles (80,467 km) in forty-eight countries.

'My way of joking', Meudell wrote, 'is to tell the truth'. When he chose to tell the truth about the Victorian land boom in a rambling, idiosyncratic and uninhibited autobiography, The Pleasant Career of a Spendthrift, its publication in 1929 caused a sensation. On the instruction of its chairman J. M. Gillespie, a land-boomer, Robertson & Mullen's withdrew it, and other booksellers were warned of possible legal consequences of stocking it. For a time Meudell sold his book privately but in 1935 published an expurgated version, The Pleasant Career of a Spendthrift and his Later Reflections.

Meudell was a member of numerous clubs including the Athenaeum and the Australian. He was a fellow of the Statistical Society of London (Royal Statistical Society), and the Incorporated Institute of Accountants. Predeceased by his wife he died childless on 26 or 27 May 1936 at St Kilda, and was cremated, leaving almost no assets.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • A. D. Mickle, Many a Mickle (Melb, 1953)
  • M. Cannon, The Land Boomers (Melb, 1967)
  • K. Dunstan, Ratbags (Melb, 1980)
  • Victorian Historical Magazine, 13, (1928-29), p 87
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 14 Apr 1893
  • Punch (Melbourne), 8 Sept 1898
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 22 Apr 1911
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 May 1936.

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Meudell, George Dick (1860–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 15 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

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