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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rudd, William Henry (1854–1941)

by James Semple Kerr

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

William Henry Rudd (1854-1941), merchant, was born on 18 November 1854 at Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, second of nine children of Thomas Rudd, cutler, and his wife Frances, née Gibbins. Educated at the People's College, Sheffield, William started in his father's employ at 12. In March 1876 he migrated to Queensland where he travelled stock—once from the Maranoa to Roxborough Downs on the Georgina River—for John Collins & Sons of Mundoolun.

After being 'connected with the Brisbane exhibition' of 1877 and the Sydney Garden Palace exhibition of 1879, Rudd moved to Rockhampton and became a travelling salesman for Walter Reid, general merchant. For almost three years Rudd travelled extensively in central western Queensland with pack-horses and samples. 'Battler' noted that he was big, plucky, handy with fists, had business ability and an affable nature. Rudd did splendid business and made lifelong friends. At Tarangaba station, Yeppoon, he married Christina Amelia Ross on 5 May 1887.

Late in 1881 McIlwraith, McEacharn & Co. had bought out Walter Reid & Co., Rockhampton, and invited Rudd to manage the mercantile department. Rudd's subsequent advancement was probably retarded by his lack of deference and his down-to-earth, outspoken views. However, his application, remarkable commercial success, strong personality, rectitude and fierce loyalty to the firm (a limited company from 1888) eventually resulted in his appointment as manager and, in 1902, as a director. By then the second-largest shareholder, he was to acquire a controlling interest in the firm. In 1904 he was appointed managing director and in 1907 chairman of directors—joint positions he held until his death. He also became a director of Queensland Insurance Co. Ltd and Queensland Trustees Ltd and chairman of W. H. Paxton & Co., Mackay.

Walter Reid & Co. had become one of the soundest, most respected mercantile houses in Queensland. Rudd's style was hard and dictatorial. He demanded staff fealty but lacked judgement of character, so that conformists rather than potentially the most able men progressed in the firm. As the few successful survivors had difficulty being heard, the firm's success rested heavily on Rudd.

A very active member of the Rockhampton Harbour Board in 1899-1914, he became Norwegian vice-consul at Rockhampton. After twenty-five years' service Rudd was appointed knight of the Order of St Olaf. He was a member of the Rockhampton and Queensland clubs, involved in public issues and a defender of local interests. He became a powerful figure at Rockhampton but is best remembered as the subject of many colourful anecdotes. His excellent letters had a freshness quite unlike accepted practice. They give a vivid picture of commercial life and personalities in the 'City of Sin, Sweat and Sorrow' and are revealing of their author's character as well as his taste for irony and invective. Rudd was well-known for his undiscriminating gifts to charities and for his patronage of cultural and sporting bodies.

Survived by five of his six sons and his daughter, Rudd died at his home on 15 April 1941 and was buried beside his wife in the Anglican section of Rockhampton cemetery. Three of his sons became prominent in the firm.

Select Bibliography

  • J. G. Pattison, ‘Battler’ Tales of Early Rockhampton (Melb, 1939)
  • L. McDonald, Rockhampton (Brisb, 1981)
  • Queensland Women's Historical Association, Historical Happenings, 138, Sept 1979
  • W. H. Rudd, Reminiscences (typescript, 1924, State Library of New South Wales)
  • J. D. Rudd, The History of Walter Reid & Co. Ltd (typescript, 1979, State Library of New South Wales)
  • Walter Reid & Co., letter book, 1890, 1892-93 and minute books, 1912-42 (State Library of Queensland)
  • newsclippings of obituaries of W. H. and C. A. Rudd (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

James Semple Kerr, 'Rudd, William Henry (1854–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 10 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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