Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Paterson (1847–1920)

by Anne Porter

This article was published:

William Paterson (1847-1920), farmer, politician and banker, was born on 4 June 1847 at Fremantle, Western Australia, second son of Nicholas Robertson Paterson, shipwright and farmer from the Orkney Islands, and his wife Jane, formerly Mrs Green, née Cornish. William was educated at Fremantle and at Howell's academy, Birmingham, England. He returned to Western Australia in 1864 and farmed on his family's Dandalup property, Creaton. He joined the Pinjarra Mounted Volunteers. On 21 June 1871 Paterson married Susanna Sarah Chidlow of Northam; they had six children.

A member of the Murray Squatting Co., which in 1880 took up Yeeda station in the newly opened West Kimberley, Paterson went north in 1882, taking some of the first cattle into the area and shipping sheep from Cossack to Beagle Bay. Yeeda was sold in 1883, but he maintained interests in the north. In 1886 he managed a large foundry in Perth, then farmed Whitby Falls estate at Jarrahdale.

Paterson sat in the Legislative Council for Murray and Williams in 1889-90; in 1890-95, supporting Sir John Forrest, he represented Murray in the Legislative Assembly. In 1891 he and A. R. Richardson reported on irrigation areas in South Australia and Victoria, which resulted in establishment of the Bureau of Agriculture. Paterson's support of Forrest's aim to make farming attractive to miners involved him in helping to formulate the Agricultural Bank Act, 1894.

Next year he resigned from parliament, to become the Agricultural Bank of Western Australia's manager. Before recommending loans he inspected every property, travelling with provisions, trap and horses, by train to the stop nearest his destination. Paterson was also inaugural director of agriculture, combining his two roles to advise new settlers on farming methods. Tall, trim, bearded and agile, he served the colony, the bank, and the settlers. His work-load grew, but he delighted in the development of farms and seeing his prudence reflected in the success of most of the bank's clients. He was appointed to the Acclimatization Board in 1896. By 1902 he was exhausted: 'I have been sick and applicants have come to my sickroom—I cannot go on much further—I have only had a fortnight's holiday in seven years and during that [time] I came back five times to the office'. He was complimented by a 1902 select committee for his 'backbone' in resisting attempts to influence his judgements; yet he remained extremely popular. Next year he resigned as director of agriculture. The Agricultural Bank became a corporate body in 1906 with Paterson the managing trustee.

Chairman of the Lands Board and the Railway Advisory Board as the wheat-belt was extended, he believed that farmers outside safe rainfall areas should not receive government finance. In 1911 the Scaddan Labor government changed the Agricultural Bank to a mortgage bank. Severe droughts in 1911 and 1914 brought added responsibilities. He was appointed to the Seed Wheat and the Industries Assistance boards. When the Wilson government transferred the latter's control to the Agricultural Bank, Paterson became the board's general manager; in 1917 it became responsible for soldier settlement. Paterson could appear suspicious and taciturn when politicians questioned his administration, but he remained a loyal public servant.

On 11 March 1920 Paterson died in Perth, survived by his wife, three daughters and two sons. After an Anglican service, he was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. He died intestate and his net assets were valued for probate at £46. In twenty-five years 'Banko Bill' had fostered over half the State's agricultural expansion.

Select Bibliography

  • ‘Truthful Thomas’, Through the Spyglass (Perth, 1905)
  • R. Richards, The Murray District of Western Australia (Pinjarra, WA, 1978)
  • L. Hunt (ed), Westralian Portraits (Perth, 1979)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Western Australia), 1897, 1 (20), p 3, 1901-02, 4 (A33), p 6, 21, 1903-04, 2 (18), p 5
  • Paterson journals, 1882-83 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Anne Porter, 'Paterson, William (1847–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 17 June 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]


4 June, 1847
Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia


11 March, 1920 (aged 72)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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