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Oswald Robinson Snowball (1859–1928)

by John Lack

This article was published:

Oswald Robinson Snowball (1859-1928), solicitor and politician, was born on 18 July 1859 at Wolsingham, Durham, England, son of Joseph Snowball, miller, and his wife Sarah, née Fitzgerald. In 1868 Joseph brought his family to Melbourne where Oswald was educated at Carlton College, Fitzroy. After three uncongenial years on the land, he qualified as a barrister and solicitor; admitted to practice in 1883, he went into partnership first with Walter Briggs until 1895 and next with his own brother-in-law, as Snowball & Kaufmann.

In 1884 Snowball was initiated into Freemasonry at Brunswick where he was master in 1888-89. A member of the Loyal Orange Institution of Victoria from 1878, he was district master for Melbourne in 1898. In 1905 he succeeded (Sir) Simon Fraser as grand master (an office he was to hold for a record twenty-three years) and in 1909-11 he became grand president of the Loyal Orange Council of Australasia. Active in Protestant moral reform crusades of the early 1900s, Snowball opposed gambling and liquor, and advocated Bible reading in State schools, temperance and local option. He was a foundation member of the Victorian Protestant Electors' Committee which supported Orangemen in Victorian elections in 1906-07.

In 1909 Snowball succeeded Sir Thomas Bent as member for Brighton in the Legislative Assembly. Assiduous in his constituents' interests, he was returned comfortably at seven successive elections. His legal training and independent disposition made him quintessentially a committee man. He was a member of several select committees of inquiry and three royal commissions, and chairman of the royal commission on Victorian outer ports (1923-28).

Snowball's criticisms of the Catholic Church brought him into open conflict with the Catholic Federation, notably in 1912, but his bête noire was (Archbishop) Daniel Mannix. World War I and the conscription issue brought Snowball's Imperial patriotism to a peak and hardened his conviction of Catholic disloyalty, adding fuel to his annual 12 July statements on the Church of Rome in Australia.

Away from the public platform there was a softer and less combative side to the man. Snowball's affable personality and broad sympathies were displayed by his friendships across all parties and creeds, most notably with Labor leader George Prendergast. In 1924 Snowball was one of five Nationalist rebels who—with the Victorian Farmers' Union—supported Labor's motion of no confidence against the Peacock administration which resulted in the election of the Prendergast government. Snowball won as an Independent Nationalist in 1927, then rejoined the Nationalist fold.

Despite severe illness, from July 1927 he was an outstanding Speaker for the Hogan government. Snowball died of obstructive jaundice on 16 March 1928, survived by his wife Ellen Grace, née Anketell (whom he had married with Anglican rites at South Yarra on 16 August 1888), and their daughter and three sons. After a state funeral, he was buried with Presbyterian forms in Brighton cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £45,210.

Photographs present Snowball as small, somewhat stern, even pugnacious, but he appears warm and genial in the portrait now held by the Loyal Orange Institution of Victoria. Outside his family, legal practice, the Orange lodge and politics, he was closely associated with the Austin Hospital for Incurables for thirty years and was founder of the Brighton Technical School.

Select Bibliography

  • R. H. Croll, I Recall (Melb, 1939)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 22 Aug 1916, p 900, 4 July 1928, p 40
  • Australian Sentinel, 30 Nov 1904, 24 June 1905
  • Brighton Southern Cross, 2, 9 Oct 1909, 18 June, 9 July 1927, 10 Mar 1928
  • Age (Melbourne), 16-30 July 1912, 17, 20 Mar 1928
  • Table Talk, 28 July 1927
  • Argus (Melbourne), 17, 20 Mar 1928
  • Bulletin, 21 Mar 1928
  • M. Vines, The Instability of Government and Parties in Victoria in the 1920s (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1975)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Lack, 'Snowball, Oswald Robinson (1859–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 July, 1859
Wolsingham, Durham, England


16 March, 1928 (aged 68)
Victoria, Australia

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