Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Chase Ray Nobbs (1859–1938)

by Raymond Nobbs

This article was published:

Charles Chase Ray Nobbs (1859-1938), farmer, trader and councillor, was born on 7 December 1859 on Norfolk Island, son of Fletcher Christian Nobbs, farmer and whaler, and his wife Susan, née Quintal, of Pitcairn Island, and grandson of Rev. George Hunn Nobbs. He was educated at the local school and then by an English tutor, later attending The King's School, Parramatta, New South Wales, in 1877-78, where he was a prefect and played in the first cricket and Rugby teams.

In 1879 he joined the Bank of New South Wales at its head office and became acting accountant at Port Macquarie. He resigned in March 1882, however, and returned to Norfolk to farm. In January 1883 he was appointed manager of the Norfolk Island Co-operative Society. When the society was liquidated in January 1886, Nobbs established his own store in a converted section of the Long House built during the second convict settlement by Major Joseph Anderson, close to Brancker House. In 1901 he moved to a new store. On 20 December 1888 at Town Church, Kingston, he had married Agnes Allen. He called his Longridge home Moira after Francis Rawdon Hastings, second Earl of Moira, with whom he claimed consanguinity.

With the help of several of the islanders who were skilled as whalers, Nobbs rebuilt an old sailing vessel that had been wrecked on Norfolk and, with Parkin Christian as its captain, he developed markets in Australia, New Zealand, Noumea and the New Hebrides for Norfolk's agricultural products and whale oil. Nobbs was the leading commercial figure on the island for some fifty years and was reputed at one time to be holding titles to about a third of the island's arable land as security for debts. In 1922 and 1923, however, he suffered severe financial setbacks when the lemon juice industry, in which he had invested heavily, failed.

Nobbs was a member of the Norfolk Island Executive Council almost continuously from 1917 and was president three times. He was first president in 1935-36 of its elected successor, the Advisory Council. Staunchly loyal to the British Empire, he defended Norfolk's rights to self-government and exclusive rights to land, free from Australian interference. He was the spokesman who presented the islanders' complaints against the administrator E. T. Leane that led to a royal commission (1926) and Leane's recall. In August 1935 Nobbs won a suit against the administrator, Captain C. R. Pinney, for being 'wrongly and unjustly removed' as president of the Executive Council in 1934. His work for the community was untiring, as chairman of the school and hospital boards, the agricultural society, the planters' association and the Norfolk Island Association, and as patron of sport. He established the first cinema on the island. A devout Anglican, he was variously churchwarden, treasurer, organist and choirmaster, Sunday school superintendent and lay reader. A Freemason, he attended meetings whenever in Sydney.

Nobbs died at his home on 31 July 1938 and was buried in Town cemetery, Kingston. His wife and twelve of their sixteen children survived him. His estate was valued for probate at £3381.

Select Bibliography

  • Norfolk Island Weekly, 5, 19 Aug 1938
  • C. C. R. Nobbs store, ledgers (privately held)
  • All Saints Parish Council, N.I., minutes (All Saints' Church)
  • minutes of proceedings, Chief Magistrate's Court, Norfolk Island (CP 697/2, National Archives of Australia)
  • staff register (Bank of New South Wales Archives, Sydney).

Citation details

Raymond Nobbs, 'Nobbs, Charles Chase Ray (1859–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 December, 1859
Norfolk Island, Australia


31 July, 1938 (aged 78)
Norfolk Island, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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