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George Oakes (1813–1881)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

George Oakes (1813-1881), pastoralist and politician, was born at Parramatta, eldest son of Francis Oakes and his wife Rebecca (d.1883), née Small. Educated by Rev. John Eyre and at Rev. Frederick Wilkinson's school, he early followed pastoral and agricultural pursuits and bought land within the nineteen counties in the 1840s with his brother Francis as partner. He lived near Goulburn for a time but made his headquarters at Parramatta, where he became a member of the District Council in 1842 and was active in getting a water supply for the town. He was on the committees of the local Benevolent Asylum and District Hospital.

A member of the Anti-transportation League, Oakes defeated William Macarthur in a bitter fight to represent Parramatta in the Legislative Council in 1848. The Empire, 5 September 1851, applauded the re-election of this 'earnest advocate for popular rights' who had not 'suffered himself to be wheedled or bounced out of the independent exercise of his own judgment', but warned him 'to turn his eyes from the pageantries of Government House'. In 1856-60 he represented Parramatta in the Legislative Assembly and supported the Cowper-Robertson faction. Defeated in 1860, he was appointed to the Legislative Council on 10 May 1861 in an attempt to carry the land bills but was not sworn in as the president, Sir William Burton, walked out. In June he 'absolutely' declined appointment to the reconstructed council as he could not accept the ministry's conditions of voting for an elective council and for the land bills.

Oakes continued to prosper. He had a house in Parramatta, an orangery with 2500 trees and an 'estate', Oak Park, 1907 acres (772 ha) in the counties of King and Georgiana. In the 1850s he had four runs in the Wellington District amounting to some 132,400 acres (53,581 ha) and capable of carrying 3560 cattle. In the 1860s he held his runs in partnership with J. F. Josephson and by 1871 had five runs in the Bligh and Wellington Districts on which he paid £275 rent.

After his defeat in 1860 Oakes visited Europe for some years and became a regular 'habitué of the House of Commons'. In 1869 he was defeated for Parramatta after attacking the electoral activities of the local Protestant Political Association. A life member of the British and Foreign Bible Society he affirmed his Protestantism but deplored the mixing of religion and politics. In 1872 he won a by-election for East Sydney. One of the 'most embittered opponents' of (Sir) Henry Parkes's government, he did not identify himself with the Opposition; without political friends he saw himself as head of a new 'party'. Parkes thought him a 'sneak' who was 'forever pretending to be the friend of some body of men, while … secretly endeavouring to discredit them'. In the 1870s Oakes was a director of the Australian Gaslight Co. and a councillor of the Agricultural Society of New South Wales. When in Sydney he lived at the Reform Club in Macquarie Street. He visited England again and was a New South Wales representative commissioner at the 1876 Paris and Philadelphia Exhibitions. On his return in 1879 he was appointed to the Legislative Council. In 1880 he was a commissioner for the Melbourne Exhibition.

On 10 August 1881 after leaving Parliament House Oakes was run over by a steam-tram and died in the Sydney Infirmary. He was buried in the Wesleyan section of the Parramatta cemetery. He was survived by his mother, reputedly the second child born in the colony, and by a son of his first wife Mary Ann, daughter of Rev. William Shelley, whom he had married at St John's Church of England, Parramatta, on 25 May 1837. He was predeceased by his second wife Mary Anne Morrison, a widow whom he had married in Hobart Town on 30 April 1867. His goods were valued for probate at almost £50,000.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Jervis, ‘A history of politics and politicians in Parramatta’, Parramatta and District Historical Society, Journal, 3 (1926)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Mar 1856, 13 July 1863, 2, 14 Dec 1869, 11, 12, 13 Aug 1881
  • Empire (Sydney), 9 Apr 1856
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 17 Oct 1874
  • Bulletin, 20 Aug 1881
  • Cowper and Macarthur papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under Oakes (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Colonial Secretary's land letters (State Records New South Wales)
  • CO 201/518
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Oakes, George (1813–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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