Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Rigg (1847–1926)

by John Atchison

This article was published:

William Rigg (1847-1926), accountant and politician, was born on 7 May 1847 at Liverpool, England, son of Scottish parents George Rigg, joiner, and his wife Sarah, née Barclay. He arrived in Sydney with his parents in 1852. Educated at Christ Church St Laurence School, Pitt Street, he showed marked cricketing prowess and ability for mischief, and was the first winner of the T. S. Mort scholarship.

At 15 Rigg began a forty-five-year association with the Illawarra (and South Coast) Steam Navigation Co. By ability and force of character he became chief accountant, director and chairman. His sound judgement, keen business acumen and geniality made him popular with both directors and employees. Rigg played an important part with Henry Hudson and others in establishing the Clyde Engineering Co. Ltd in 1898 to take over the engineering works of Hudson Bros Ltd at Granville, and as a director and chairman (1908-25) in the company's development as a manufacturer of locomotives, rolling stock and agricultural machinery. Rigg was also a director of the North Coast Steam Navigation Co., British Dominions General Insurance Co. Ltd and Westralia Iron Works Ltd, and was long involved with Richardson & Wrench Ltd.

A man of generous civic commitment, Rigg had long associations with the New South Wales Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind (president, 1922), Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, the Highland Society and the Young Men's Christian Association. He spent six years in the Highland Brigade and was an elder of Newtown Presbyterian Church, a council-member of Scots College and a justice of the peace. His cricketing achievements had included numerous medals for highest club batting averages, playing against such bowlers as the demon Spofforth and Dave Gregory. While president of Victoria Park Bowling Club for eighteen years, he led the first New South Wales team to visit Queensland and also played against Victoria. He had married Elizabeth Gregg on 17 September 1873; she bore him six children and was drowned in 1883. While visiting England, on 15 December 1885 at Brighton, Sussex, he married Harriet Westbrook, who was to become his inseparable, capable and charming partner in civic life. They lived for many years at Petersham and about 1915 moved to Port Hacking.

From 1890 to 1914 Rigg represented Enmore Ward on Newtown Municipal Council, serving as mayor in 1892-94, 1898 and 1911-12. During his first term of 'suave and decorous presidency' Newtown earned the title of 'The Model Council', arising from the councillors' availability to ratepayers and residents, and from Rigg's advocacy of the claims of the working man: no employee received less than one shilling per hour or worked more than eight hours a day. He was unanimously re-elected mayor for the municipality's golden jubilee of 1912.

A strong free trader, Rigg represented Newtown-St Peters in the Legislative Assembly in 1894-1901; he advocated a state bank, taxation on the unimproved value of land, income tax, female franchise and local option. For many years he was honorary treasurer of the Liberal and Reform Association, the State Federal Liberal League and the National Association of New South Wales. He declined nomination to the Legislative Council in 1917.

Rigg died on 3 November 1926 at Darlinghurst and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Rookwood cemetery. His wife and their daughter, and two sons and a daughter of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Chubb, Jubilee Souvenir of the Municipality of Newtown (Syd, 1912)
  • Scottish Australasian, Sept 1917
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 19 July 1894
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4, 5 Nov 1926.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Rigg, William (1847–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 14 April 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]


7 May, 1847
Liverpool, Merseyside, England


3 November, 1926 (aged 79)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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