Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Major Pratt (1834–1917)

by Margaret Steven

This article was published:

Joseph Major Pratt (1834?-1917), businessman and politician, was born probably in December 1834 near Charing Cross, London, son of Charles Major Pratt from Durham, cheesemonger, and his wife Rose, née Everett. He attended private schools at Westminster and Tottenham and worked in a merchant's office before taking ship for Melbourne, where he arrived in December 1852; his fellow passengers included G. O. Vance and E. L. Zox. Pratt earned ten shillings a day labouring on the Mount Alexander road, then tried gold-mining at Castlemaine. He took up storekeeping with his partner Francis, following the gold rushes to Beaufort, Talbot and Dunolly, then became an auctioneer at Inglewood. There, on 15 June 1863, with Congregational forms, he married Boston-born Kate Alberta Hall, a jeweller's daughter. Tall, red-haired, muscular and affable, he was a popular borough councillor and mayor of Inglewood, showing himself sensitive to the land hunger of disappointed miners.

In 1868 Pratt moved to Melbourne to join the auctioneering firm of William McCulloch and J. C. Campbell which ran Kirk's famous horse-bazaar in Bourke Street. When the Melbourne Omnibus Co. was formed in 1869, Pratt became its auditor and supplier of horses. After McCulloch's retirement (1882) the partnership of Campbell, Pratt & Co. lasted until 1886 when Pratt visited England; on his return he formed Pratt, Kincaid & Co., land auctioneers and estate agents.

For twenty-five years (1888-1913) Pratt sat on the Melbourne City Council and in 1889 he entered the Legislative Council, after winning the new seat of North-Western Province. During his eighteen years membership he was active in debate and well-known as a liberal and as a patriot. Briefly an honorary minister in 1894 in the Turner administration, he resigned over the tariff question. Keen to encourage intercolonial trade, Pratt vigorously supported Federation. He did not seek re-election in 1907.

He remained prominent in commercial as well as political circles and his handsome residence, Thornbury, in East Melbourne was, according to Table Talk, the scene of 'frequent and brilliant hospitalities'. His many directorates included the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Co., Metropolitan Gas Co., the Land Mortgage Bank and several building societies. He was chairman of the outstandingly prosperous Australian Widows' Fund Life Assurance Society, and of the National Bank of Australasia (1891-1913) where his tenacity in the 1890s crash, despite personal losses, had strengthened his reputation. He was a governor of many charitable institutions. Though he was keen-eyed and shrewd, Pratt's relish of a yarn and 'a bit of fun' enhanced his reputation for being honest and straight. A councillor and president of the Old Colonists' Association, through his identification with the growth of Victoria he was recognized as a founding colonist 'of the finest type'.

Pratt died at home on 5 January 1917 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery. His wife, a son and two daughters of six children survived him. His estate in Victoria was sworn for probate at £69,663.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • G. Blainey, Gold and Paper (Melb, 1958)
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 20 Jan 1893
  • Punch (Melbourne), 16 May 1907
  • Australasian, 13 Jan 1917
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 Jan 1917
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Jan 1917.

Citation details

Margaret Steven, 'Pratt, Joseph Major (1834–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 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]


December, 1834
London, Middlesex, England


5 January, 1917 (aged 82)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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