Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Philip Oakden (1784–1851)

by Isabella J. Mead

This article was published:

Philip Oakden (1784-1851), merchant, banker and social worker, was the son of Philip Oakden of Stydd, Derbyshire, England, and his wife Mary, née Huerdd. After a business failure in London he went to Hamburg in 1816 as a commission merchant in partnership with Osmond Gilles and by 1827, when he revisited England, he was able to repay all his creditors, who presented him with plate worth £100 inscribed with their testimony to his honour and moral rectitude. He finally left Hamburg in 1829 for Liverpool, where he joined the Wesleyan Society.

After the colonial success of other Hamburg merchants he emigrated to Van Diemen's Land in the Forth in November 1833, and next year was elected to the board of directors to organize the establishment of the independent Tamar Bank in Launceston. Competition from the new London-backed Bank of Australasia jeopardized the Tamar, which had considered closing until public opinion forced the Australasia to lend its rival enough funds to continue. However, in 1836, when Oakden heard through his friends in England of a scheme for establishing a United Banking Co. of Australia and Van Diemen's Land, the Tamar directors sent him to Liverpool empowered to negotiate an agreement with the new bank. Interest for the scheme was found, on his arrival, to be stronger among London financiers, who welcomed Oakden's proposal, his contacts in Liverpool and his success in interesting George Fife Angas to lend the weight of his name, influence and capital in the projected company. Oakden was chosen a director, and sent by the board to persuade Liverpool and Manchester interests to accept directorships. On his return to Launceston in the Clifton in April 1838 he helped to organize the taking over of the Tamar Bank and the formal opening of the Union Bank of which he became a foundation director. Sub-branches were formed in Campbell Town and in Melbourne and, with J. C. McLaren, Oakden opened a separate branch of the Union in Hobart Town.

Although his advice to business friends was sound and much sought after, his own ventures were not particularly successful. His land speculation in the Port Phillip District in 1840 was unprofitable. He founded the Launceston Shipping Co. and became its director and treasurer in January 1849, but disaster came with the wreck of its first ship, the Philip Oakden, in 1851. The properties he acquired from Launceston to Mole Creek involved him in considerable litigation. He did moderately well with his flocks, which he improved by the import of pedigreed stock. In 1846 he was treasurer of the London Agency for Van Diemen's Land and in 1850 he was chairman of the Cornwall Fire and Marine Insurance Co.

His interest in charitable works was renowned. He was one of the early members of the Wesleyan Church in Launceston and a trustee of its first chapel, securing £600 for its completion in 1835. He was superintendent of the Sunday School, a promoter and member of the Board of Managers of the Launceston Bank for Savings, a trustee and for many years vice-president of the Mechanics' Institute, and a member of the committee of St John's Hospital, the Benevolent Society, and the Launceston Horticultural Society, a joint secretary of the Infant School and a member of the Westbury Road Trust. With more than usual truth, his obituarist could claim 'he was a man scrupulously just, candid, truthful and sincere'. He died at Launceston on 31 July 1851.

In October 1839 he married Georgina, the daughter of George Cowie, an alderman of London. They had six children. A son Percy, an architect, designed the Methodist Church, Ross. A tablet was erected to Philip Oakden's memory in the Launceston Wesleyan Church, and his portrait hangs in the Australian and New Zealand Bank, previously the Union Bank, Launceston.

Select Bibliography

  • S. J. Butlin, Foundations of the Australian Monetary System 1788-1851 (Melb, 1953)
  • S. J. Butlin, Australia and New Zealand Bank (Melb, 1961)
  • Wood's Tasmanian Almanack, 1847-51
  • Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 7 Apr 1838
  • Examiner (Launceston), 2 Aug 1851, 18 Aug 1962.

Citation details

Isabella J. Mead, 'Oakden, Philip (1784–1851)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




31 July, 1851 (aged ~ 67)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

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