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Arthur Otto Sachse (1860–1920)

by Geoff Browne

This article was published:

Arthur Otto Sachse (1860-1920), engineer and politician, was born on 22 May 1860 at Toowoomba, Queensland, third child of Frederick Otto Sachse, a medical practitioner from Halle, Prussia, and his Irish-born wife Frances Jane, née Glissan. Educated at the Collegiate School, Brisbane, Sachse was employed for two years with Hart & Flower, solicitors, before deciding to take up engineering. He worked with Baron de Lissa, inventor of the monosulphide process of sugar manufacture, on the construction of sugar-making plants in the Northern Territory and Queensland. Sachse and de Lissa established themselves in Palmerston (Darwin) and then moved on to Singapore, where Sachse became a member of the Society of Engineers, London. He invented and patented a steam-exhaust economiser used in the manufacturing of sugar.

After then working in Indo-China and South China for three years, Sachse, still only 22, was appointed consulting engineer to the British North Borneo Co. He explored the territory and led expeditions against slave-traders in neighbouring Brunei, sustaining a spear wound in the thigh. For his services he was decorated by the sultan and, in 1883, made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of England. Recurrent fever compelled him to leave the island.

Sachse settled in Melbourne in 1885, practising as a consulting engineer, patents and trade marks attorney, and importer of Eastern woods and fibres. He became a director of the Metropolitan Gas Co. He was a founding member of the Victorian branch of the (Royal) Geographical Society of Australasia (president from 1913); a council-member of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science; and, from 1905, a councillor of the University of Melbourne.

In May 1892 Sachse was elected to the Legislative Council as member for the North-Eastern Province. His political views were in keeping with the conservatism of that chamber. The income tax was 'nauseous' while women's suffrage was deprecated as 'another socialistic advance'. He served on royal commissions into state banking (1895) and the operation of factories and shops law (1900). In 1902 Sachse was appointed a vice-president of the Board of Land and Works in the Irvine ministry. He became minister of public instruction in September 1903 and continued to hold this post in the Bent government.

Appointed to education when the government was seeking to economize, Sachse was further disadvantaged by being an Upper House minister in an area vulnerable to criticism in the Legislative Assembly. Ill at ease with some of the ideas of his gifted permanent head, Frank Tate, Sachse nevertheless usually supported his initiatives. During Sachse's term of office the university was persuaded to introduce an agriculture course, the principle of promoting teachers on merit was made law, and the first state secondary schools were established. In October 1908, anticipating his removal from the ministry by Bent, he resigned.

Sachse remained a Legislative Councillor until his death, serving capably as chairman of committees from 1912. In 1917-18 he was pursued 'with venom and malignity' by another council member on account of his father's German origins. A select committee of inquiry found that Dr Sachse was a naturalized British subject at the time of Arthur's birth.

Agreeable, articulate and of debonair appearance, Sachse also had a keen sense of his own importance. His 'greatest pleasures' were art and music. He had 'a very good voice' and was a highly accomplished pianist and organist. He owned a fine collection of weapons from Borneo. Sachse died of heart disease at his South Yarra home on 25 July 1920 and was buried in St Kilda cemetery with Anglican rites. He was survived by his wife Frederica Alice, née Lange, whom he had married at St Kilda on 27 June 1888; they had no children. His estate was valued for probate at £23,605.

Select Bibliography

  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • R. J. W. Selleck, Frank Tate (Melb, 1982)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1917-18, p 12, 330, 464, 1920, p 549
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Council, Victoria), 1917-18 (D1)
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 29 Apr 1892
  • Punch (Melbourne), 3 Dec 1903, 19 Apr 1906
  • Argus (Melbourne), 26 July 1920.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Sachse, Arthur Otto (1860–1920)', 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]


22 May, 1860
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia


25 July, 1920 (aged 60)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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