Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Archibald Ranking (1843–1912)

by Carol Gistitin

This article was published:

Robert Archibald Ranking (1843-1912), police magistrate, was born on 5 July 1843 at Hastings, Sussex, England, fifth son of Robert Ranking, surgeon, and his wife Isabella Eliza Hannah, née Spiers. After private schooling he worked for three years in the London office of an East India merchant. In July 1864 he arrived in Brisbane and found work with David Cannon McConnel at Cressbrook station, near Ipswich. He married Eliza Lindsay MacEwan on 18 November 1868 at Ipswich and went into sugar-growing at Yatala in the Logan district. He was unsuccessful and lost money. Joining the Queensland civil service in 1874, Ranking was appointed police magistrate at Beenleigh, at Blackall in 1879, Maryborough in 1887 and Rockhampton, where he was also gold warden, in 1889.

When the shearers' strike brought the western districts to the brink of anarchy in February 1891, he was sent as government agent to attempt a reconciliation between shearers and pastoralists. Having been empowered to swear in special constables and mindful of the possibility of widespread violence, Ranking faced a daunting task. His first reports to the colonial secretary, (Sir) Horace Tozer, from Clermont were written to try to dispel the exaggerations of the press. Nevertheless, he had to move troops and non-union shearers around the rain-soaked country—feats requiring outstanding organizational skill—and, when rioting occurred, he arrested those responsible. He seems to have done this without antagonizing the unionists to further violence. Lack of funds brought an end to the strike in June. In parliament the solicitor-general T. J. Byrnes eulogized Ranking's behaviour as 'the instrument of the Government': he had shown 'temper and tact beyond all praise'. Ranking remained in the west until order was restored.

For nine months in 1892 he was relieving magistrate at South Brisbane but returned to Rockhampton where, popular and respected, he continued to serve until 1898. In November that year he was transferred to Brisbane as second police magistrate and became police magistrate in January 1904. Ranking humanely chaired the royal commission into the number of Pacific Islanders to be deported from Queensland (1906). He also chaired the board of inquiry into the causes of accidents at Mt Morgan mine (1908) and the royal commissions into the sugar industry (1910-11) and into the advisability of erecting central sugar mills (1911). A moderate drinker himself, concerned about alcoholic abuses, in 1909 he visited New Zealand and the southern Australian States to investigate and report upon the administration of the liquor laws. In 1911 he was appointed C.M.G.

According to his colleague Hewan Leslie Archdall, Ranking was widely loved and respected for his ability, loyalty, conscientiousness and unfailing courtesy. He died childless, of heart disease, on 13 June 1912 in Brisbane, survived by his wife, and was buried in Toowong cemetery with Presbyterian forms. His book, Queensland Police Code and Justices' Manual of Crime Law, was published in Brisbane in 1905.

Select Bibliography

  • Alcazar Press, Queensland 1900 (Brisb, nd)
  • D. J. Murphy (ed), The Big Strikes (Brisb, 1983)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Council, Queensland), 1891, p 19, 23
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 7 Mar 1889, 17 Dec 1898, 19 Dec 1908, 14, 15 June 1912
  • Brisbane Courier, 14 June 1912
  • Ranking and Tozer Correspondence. papers relating to the shearers' strike of 1891 in areas around Clermont, COL/421 (Queensland State Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Carol Gistitin, 'Ranking, Robert Archibald (1843–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 July 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]


5 July, 1843
Hastings, Sussex, England


13 June, 1912 (aged 68)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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