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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Spruson, Wilfred Joseph (1870–1939)

by Bede Nairn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Wilfred Joseph Spruson (1870-1939), patent attorney, was born on 29 March 1870 at Church Hill, Sydney, son of Joseph John Spruson (1841-1896) and his wife Lucy Theresa, née Doyle, from County Wicklow, Ireland. Joseph was born at sea when his parents were migrating from Ireland to New South Wales; he became a reader for the government printer and in 1879 was also assistant registrar of copyright; by 1887 he had indexed and classified the colony's confused fifteen volumes of patents, and summarized more than one thousand of the most important items. He gained the diploma of the Institute of Patent Agents, London. Premier Sir Patrick Jennings promised Joseph the headship of the new office being constituted in place of the Patent Board in 1886, but in April 1887 Sir Henry Parkes's government appointed A. G. Taylor to the post.

A member of one of the prominent families of St Patrick's parish, Church Hill, Wilfred was educated at the Marist Brothers' School and became a patent agent. From 1886 he made a special study of electricity as part of his training in science and engineering which included attendance at the University of Sydney in 1887. He told the Public Works Committee in 1891 that it was 'perfectly feasible' to apply electricity to tramway traction.

A dedicated Federationist, Spruson was part of the Catholic group prominent among the fiscal protectionists. In 1894 he failed to gain a seat on the Sydney Municipal Council, but in 1898 won the Legislative Assembly seat of Sydney-Gipps (Millers Point) from George Black. Spruson's success was a salutary lesson for the Labor Party. Black had taken the voters for granted; Spruson canvassed house-to-house, backed by many supporters who were enthused by his integrity, warm personality and fervent speeches. He was active in the parliament that completed the formalities of Federation for New South Wales. In 1900 he helped the Lyne government with legislation that involved the demolition of some slums in 'The Rocks' locality of his electorate; little came of it, but Spruson alienated many voters who feared removal from their dwellings. He lost his seat in 1901.

On 29 January 1908 at St Mary's Catholic Church, North Sydney, Spruson married Anne Teresa Loneragan, daughter of the owner of the major retail stores at Mudgee and Gulgong. They moved to Neutral Bay where Wilfred concentrated on his career and became one of Sydney's leading patent attorneys. He exhorted his countrymen not to lag behind other nations in technological training and development. In 1923, with R. G. Ferguson, former Commonwealth commissioner of patents, he founded the firm of Spruson & Ferguson which became among the foremost in Australia in the fields of patents, trade marks and copyright.

Having advised Cardinal Moran on financial and property matters, in 1902 Spruson was awarded the cross of Leo; in 1929 he was appointed a papal chamberlain. He was a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales and the Australian Institution of Engineers, and a fellow of the Australasian Institute of Patent Attorneys; he was also a foreign member of the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents, London.

Survived by his wife and four daughters, Spruson died of heart disease on 16 August 1939 at Neutral Bay and was buried in Waverley cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism (Canb, 1973)
  • J. Hosie, Challenge (Syd, 1987)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1887, 2, 1891-92, 5, 1894-95, 1, 1896, 1
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 25 Aug 1900, 24 Aug 1939
  • Catholic Press, 21, 28 July 1904, 23 Mar 1905, 24 Aug 1939
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 27 May 1929
  • Bulletin, 21 Mar 1934
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Aug 1939
  • P. McMurrich, Not Angels, Nor Men Confirmed in Grace: The Society of Mary in Australia, 1892-1938 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1988)
  • private information.

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Spruson, Wilfred Joseph (1870–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 9 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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