Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Bispham Propsting (1861–1937)

by D. Nairn Thorp

This article was published:

William Bispham Propsting (1861-1937), lawyer and politician, was born on 4 June 1861 in Hobart Town, son of Henry Propsting (1810-1901), butcher, and his second wife Hannah, née Cater. Transported to Van Diemen's Land in 1831 for the theft of two tame geese, Henry became a successful Tasmanian merchant and grazier, an alderman of the City of Hobart and father of twenty-six children.

William was educated at F. V. Norman's Derwent School, Hobart. In 1879 he entered the South Australian Education Department as a pupil-teacher, attending the Training College, Adelaide, and the University of Adelaide (1882). He subsequently taught at the Adelaide Sturt Street and the Kapunda and Burra Public schools.

At Kapunda William met Caroline Emma, daughter of (Sir) Jenkin Coles, later Speaker of the South Australian House of Assembly. Disapproving of the match, Coles advised 'Proppy' to seek a 'proper' career and in 1886 William returned to Hobart to study law, serving articles with (C. H.) Elliston & (C. E.) Featherstone. Admitted to the Bar on 2 February 1892, he formed a partnership with Silas Tinning and married Caroline at Kapunda on 9 May 1893.

In February 1899 Propsting, as a 'well-known pleader at the Bar' and a strong advocate of Federation, won a Hobart seat in the House of Assembly. He led a royal commission into Hobart municipal government in 1901 and by 1902 was leader of the Opposition. On 9 April 1903 he became premier and treasurer, heading the youthful and inexperienced Liberal-Democrat “Boys' Ministry”.

Propsting's term as premier was frustrated by his inability to control the Legislative Council. His attempt to legislate for the establishment of the Great Western Railway was unsuccessful, but he managed to modernize the Education Department and establish the Training College in Hobart. When the lieutenant-governor refused him a dissolution, Propsting resigned on 11 July 1904. He continued to lead the Opposition in the assembly until elected to the Legislative Council in December 1905.

In the Evans government of 1904-09 Propsting served as attorney-general (from 1 May 1906) and as minister for education (from 9 July). He held the portfolios of attorney-general and railways in the Lee ministry of 1916-22, continuing under J. B. Hayes as attorney-general to 14 August 1923 and serving briefly (from 15 June 1923) as minister for education. He represented Tasmania at the State treasurers' conferences in 1904, 1906 and 1909.

A Quaker, closely associated with the Friends' School, Propsting was a trustee of the Queen Alexandra Hospital and belonged to the Young Men's Christian Association, Australian Natives' Association, Tasmanian Club, Hobart Debating Society, Safety and Advantage League and Buckingham Bowling Club. Fishing and shooting were later recreations. He was gazetted 'Honourable' in 1904 and appointed C.M.G. in 1918. His wife died in 1923 and on 19 November 1925 at New Town, with Anglican rites, he married Lilias Anne Macfarlane.

President of the Legislative Council from 1926, Propsting died on 3 December 1937 at Dumbarton, Hobart, survived by his wife and one son and two daughters of his first marriage; he was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery. He was described as 'a pleasing speaker' who 'carried into public life that simplicity and dignity of character associated with the Society of Friends'.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 17 Dec 1901, 4 Dec 1937, 6 Dec 1937.

Citation details

D. Nairn Thorp, 'Propsting, William Bispham (1861–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 May 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, 1861
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


3 December, 1937 (aged 76)
Dumbarton, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.