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Sir Basil Osborne (1907–1987)

by Alison Alexander

This article was published:

Sir Basil Osborne (1907–1987), store manager and lord mayor, was born on 19 April 1907 in Hobart, eldest of four children of Tasmanian-born parents Wilfred Wallace Osborne, nurseryman, and his wife Clara Emily, née Cripps. Wilfred was lord mayor of Hobart in 1946-48. Educated at small private schools until the age of 13, Basil became a messenger-boy for the manufacturer W. D. Peacock & Co. Ltd and attended private business colleges at night. In 1922-42 he worked for the hardware firm T. J. Cane & Co. Ltd. On 17 June 1934 at New Town he married with Methodist forms Esma Isabel Green (d.1983), a musician. He was appointed stores foreman at the Commonwealth munitions factory at Derwent Park in 1942 and in 1945 he joined the hardware business Charles Davis Ltd as a departmental manager. Remaining with this firm until his retirement in 1973, he was made an honorary fellow of the Institute of Sales and Marketing Executives in 1967.

Active in the North Hobart Progress Association, Osborne was first elected to the Hobart City Council in 1952. He was deputy-mayor in 1956-59 and lord mayor in 1959-70. Affable, and an excellent chairman and speaker, he was liked and trusted. He had an easy social manner and the ability to mix with everyone from schoolchildren to royalty; he hosted more than seven hundred civic receptions. At council meetings he was a good negotiator, adept at finding a consensus; although he was no intellectual, he had a reputation for ‘getting things done’. He served as treasurer of many public appeals. His dual role as store employee and lord mayor could be confusing: a visitor from an English pottery was amazed to meet him, first in the sanitary wares department of Charles Davis, and later hosting a reception at the Hobart Town Hall. He retired from the council in 1976. In 1963 he had unsuccessfully stood for election to the Legislative Council.

Osborne took leadership roles in many organisations. A member of the Royal Hobart Hospital board of management from 1944, he was vice-chairman (1951-68) and chairman (1968-81). He was founding chairman (1960-77) of the Ambulance Commission of Tasmania, president (1960-67) of the St John Ambulance Association, Tasmanian Centre, and vice-chairman (1961-78) of the Peacock Convalescent Hospital board. President (1960-77) of the Tasmanian branch of the Royal Life-Saving Society, he was vice-president (1971-79) and president (1979-87) of the national organisation; he was awarded (1962) its meritorious service badge and was appointed (1966) a life governor of the Commonwealth Council of the Royal Life-Saving Society, London. He was chairman (1971-78) of the Metropolitan Transport Trust and president (1975-79) of the Asthma Foundation of Tasmania. Long active in the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Natives’ Association, he was also president (1954-74) of the Friendly Societies Association of Tasmania.

A music lover with a fine bass voice, Osborne sang in several church choirs and, in his youth, won prizes in music competitions. He was president of the Hobart City Eisteddfod Society (1950-72) and of the Hobart Orpheus Club (1965-77). His wife was an accomplished solo pianist and accompanist. Appointed CBE (1962) and officer brother of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (1972), Osborne was knighted in 1967. In retirement he enjoyed gardening at his Chigwell home. Survived by his son, Sir Basil died on 11 November 1987 in Hobart and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Saturday Evening Mercury (Hobart), 24 June 1967, p 15
  • Mercury (Hobart), 23 June 1970, p 7, 25 June 1970, p 18, 12 Nov 1987, p 3.

Citation details

Alison Alexander, 'Osborne, Sir Basil (1907–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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