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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pillinger, Alfred Thomas (1839–1899)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Alfred Thomas Pillinger (1839-1899), landowner and politician, was born at Antill Ponds, near Oatlands, Van Diemen's Land, son of James Pillinger and his wife Sophia, née Peters. His father was born on Norfolk Island in 1806; the family went to Van Diemen's Land in 1808; he worked for William Kimberley who had taken up much land and ran a large herd of wild cattle in the unsettled areas. By 1830 James was overseer at Salt Pan Plains for Kimberley whose recommendation of Pillinger as 'sober, honest and industrious' won him a free grant of 320 acres (130 ha) near Oatlands. Pillinger then had 400 sheep, 30 cattle, 4 working bullocks and a mare. In 1831 he bought 500 adjoining acres (203 ha) and with help from Thomas Anstey was appointed poundkeeper at Kitty's Rivulet. In 1836 James was appointed division constable at Oatlands. He was married at St David's, Hobart Town, on 7 September.

Alfred was educated at private schools and Horton College in Ross and became enthusiastic for astronomy. He then worked for his father and soon won repute as an expert in farming and husbandry. With headquarters at his father's property, Millbrook, near Tunbridge, he acquired various other holdings totalling 15,000 acres (6075 ha) and stocked them with cattle and merino sheep. Worried by the drain of young Tasmanians to the mainland, he told the select committee on immigration in 1865 that the island had at least a million unsettled acres (405,000 ha) fit for cultivation where newcomers could start with only £50 if they clubbed with neighbours for acquiring bullocks and equipment. To set an example, he continued to lease crown lands and redeem them from their wild state by fencing, building and road-making at his own cost. However, the 1872 Waste Lands Act limited these activities despite his petition to parliament.

Pillinger became a coroner and a territorial magistrate. Attracted by public affairs, he was elected a councillor of the Oatlands Municipality and became its warden in 1874. He resigned in 1876 when elected for Oatlands to the House of Assembly on 17 July. He was minister for land and works under P. O. Fysh from October 1888 to August 1892 and under Sir Edward Braddon from April 1894 to May 1899. He travelled widely in Tasmania and acquired exceptional understanding of parliamentary practices and local government. Although no orator, he won the respect of all parties for his shrewd judgment, sincerity and good temper. He was generous in creating jobs for those out of work and supporting those in distress, especially old people. In his own electorate he advocated conservation at Lake Crescent to provide irrigation for the lowlands and prevent flooding.

Pillinger died in Hobart on 6 May 1899 and was survived by his wife Georgina, née Nichols, whom he had married on 15 April 1886 at Castra near Ulverstone, and by one son and three daughters. His public funeral was the largest until then in Hobart. Flags were flown at half-mast in the city and the crowded service in St David's Cathedral was conducted by an Anglican clergyman. At the graveside in Cornelian Bay cemetery a Wesleyan minister gave an address since Pillinger was reared and died as a Methodist.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • A. McKay (ed), Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land, 1826-28 (Hob, 1962)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1865 (61), 1878 (70, 94), 1888-89 (124)
  • Examiner (Launceston), 8 May 1899
  • Mercury (Hobart), 8 May 1899.

Citation details

'Pillinger, Alfred Thomas (1839–1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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