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Henry d'Esterre Taylor (1853–1909)

by Leonie Foster

This article was published:

Henry d'Esterre Taylor (1853-1909), Federationist and banker, was born on 11 January 1853 at Richmond barracks, Melbourne, eldest child of Robert Crofton Taylor, mounted police cadet, and his wife Mary Jane, née D'Esterre. In 1870 he commenced work with the Melbourne Savings Bank (State Savings Bank of Victoria).

A free trader, Taylor became a member of the Victorian branch of the Imperial Federation League in 1885; largely through his efforts it survived the collapse of the London parent organization in 1893. The league promoted closer union of the British Empire and advocated the establishment of an Imperial parliament to be composed of Britain and the self-governing members of the Empire. Taylor was honorary secretary of the Victorian branch (1895-1907) and its honorary corresponding secretary until his death.

A proponent of Australian Federation as a preliminary means to a greater end, Taylor joined the Melbourne branch of the Australian Natives' Association, hoping to gain converts. Inevitably, he clashed with republicans over his I.F.L. prize-winning essay, The Advantages of Imperial Federation (Melbourne, 1888). His address, Three Great Federations: Australasian, National and Racial (London, 1890), delivered to the A.N.A. at Ballarat, met with approval in so far as he urged Australian Federation; but his advocacy of Imperial Federation and, ultimately, a federation of the British races (two causes later espoused by Lionel Curtis of the Round Table) aroused heated opposition. Although Taylor held that trade, defence and financial advantage would flow from Imperial Federation, others feared that in such an organization Australia's voice would be submerged. The conservative Melbourne Argus supported Taylor; the radical Age opposed him.

Taylor was an I.F.L. delegate to the 1893 Corowa conference of the A.N.A. He claimed, with some bitterness, that it was he, rather than (Sir) John Quick, who originated the famous proposal for an enabling bill; Taylor maintained that he had privately suggested the idea to Quick before having to leave the conference for another meeting. Taylor was deeply disappointed that Prime Minister (Sir) Edmund Barton and Victorian Premier (Sir) Alexander Peacock would not recognize that he and Quick had an equal claim to a knighthood. Later attempts to have the matter taken up in London also failed, but in 1900 the Prahran A.N.A. and in 1909 the Victorian I.F.L. acknowledged the justice of Taylor's claim.

An outstanding mathematician, Taylor had been inspector of branches, accountant, assistant auditor and manager of city branches of the Melbourne Savings Bank until ill health forced him to retire in March 1908. Although once castigated by an opponent as an 'Australian imbecile', Taylor was a graceful public speaker, an articulate debater and a discerning art critic. A pamphleteer for the I.F.L., he also wrote for other periodicals. He was a foundation member (1886-1906) of the Bankers' Institute of Australasia and contributed articles to its Journal. Tall and fair-haired, with a beard and moustache, in later years he resembled King George V. Taylor never married, but had a wide circle of friends. He died of cerebral sclerosis on 28 April 1909 at East Melbourne and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Imperial Federation League Victorian Branch (Melb, 1909)
  • H. L. Hall, Victoria's Part in the Federation Movement (Lond, 1931)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 1 May 1909
  • L. Foster, The Imperial Federation League in Victoria after Australian Federation (B.A. Hons thesis, Monash University, 1979)
  • Imperial Federation League of Australia, letter book (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Leonie Foster, 'Taylor, Henry d'Esterre (1853–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 July 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

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