Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Montgomery Templeton (1840–1908)

by Ann-Mari Jordens

This article was published:

John Montgomery Templeton (1840-1908), by unknown engraver, 1895

John Montgomery Templeton (1840-1908), by unknown engraver, 1895

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN01/07/95/22

John Montgomery Templeton (1840-1908), actuary, was born on 20 May 1840 at Kilmaurs, Ayrshire, Scotland, eldest son of Hugh Templeton, schoolmaster, and his wife Margaret, née Harvie. He arrived with his parents at Melbourne in December 1852, qualified under the National Board of Education and became a schoolteacher at Fitzroy in 1857. His interest in mathematics developed and in 1868 he became an accountant with the newly formed National Insurance Co. of Australasia. He suggested radical improvements to the existing system of insurance and persuaded his directors to found the National Mutual Life Association of Australasia in 1869, which became the first Australian company to include the non-forfeiture principle in its policies. Templeton became its actuary and in 1872 its secretary. That year he qualified as a fellow of the Institute of Actuaries.

An able administrator, considerate yet strict, Templeton retained the style of the schoolmaster; he aroused ill feelings by his frequent and sometimes bitter disputations in English and Australian insurance journals, especially over the origin of the non-forfeiture concept. He was nominated by the government in 1874 to certify the insurance tables of friendly societies and in 1878 was appointed actuary under the Friendly Societies Act of 1877. In 1881 he was appointed to the royal commission on education, and as chairman in the absence of J. W. Rogers organized the final majority report which Rogers refused to sign.

In 1883 Templeton accepted J. Service's offer to become first chairman of the Public Service Board, and in February next year he resigned from the National Mutual. The board's abolition of political patronage and introduction of new salary scales earned him much resentment, and his attempts to achieve greater independence for the board by direct approach to the governor put him at odds with the ministry. When in 1888 he accepted a seat on the board of the National Mutual, his political enemies attacked him. Rather than relinquish his outside work, he resigned from the Public Service Board in February 1889.

Templeton was appointed on 9 December to investigate the Premier Permanent Building, Land, and Investment Association, one of the first casualties of the collapse of the land boom. In February 1890 he was made official liquidator for the firm and despite political opposition forced the prosecution of its directors, including J. Mirams. In 1891 he became official liquidator for the Anglo-Australian Bank and was also chairman of liquidators for the Mercantile Finance, Trustees, and Agency Co. Ltd. Templeton became chairman of the board of the National Mutual in 1895 and its managing director in 1897-1908. In October 1893 he had won the Legislative Assembly seat of Benalla and Yarrawonga, but the result was contested and in a new election he was defeated. In the 1903 Federal elections he stood unsuccessfully for the Senate.

Templeton took a great interest in citizen defence. At 19 he joined the volunteers as a private in the Collingwood Rifles and became a first-rate rifle shot. Lieutenant in 1864 and captain and battalion adjutant in 1867, he became major in the Second Metropolitan Victorian Battalion in 1873 and in 1883 was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in the reorganized defence forces. In 1895 he became a full colonel. In 1883-97 he was a member of the Victorian Council of Defence and was honorary aide-de-camp to the governor in 1885 and 1895. He captained the successful Victorian team that went to Bisley, England, in 1897 and in London he rode in the leading section of the colonial procession at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. On his return he was transferred to the Reserve Officers Militia, but in 1898 was appointed to the Local Defence Committee. He was treasurer of the Victorian Naval and Military Club in 1889-97. Vice-president from 1888 and chairman in 1899 of the Victorian Rifle Association, in 1900-02 he was officer commanding rifle clubs. He did much to promote rifle shooting in Victoria; his lecture at the Town Hall, Melbourne, on 29 July 1900 to commemorate the movement, was the basis for his Consolidation of the British Empire, the Growth of Citizen Soldiership, and the Establishment of the Australian Commonwealth (Melbourne, 1901). He published several other pamphlets on aspects of insurance and defence. He was created C.M.G. in 1897.

Of 'medium height, sturdily built, square-shouldered, with fine massive head and set, inscrutable face, walking always quickly with short, light step', he was indefatigable and honest, although his pugnacious self-confidence involved him in many conflicts. He had married Mary Lush of Melbourne on 20 April 1866; on 19 August 1905 at Sydney he married Carrie Taylor, 38-year-old secretary of Melbourne. He died on 10 June 1908 of pleurisy and heart failure at Kilmaurs, East Melbourne, and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery. Childless, he was survived by his second wife and left an estate valued for probate at £22,321.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • M. Cannon, The Land Boomers (Melb, 1966)
  • National Mutual Life Assn of Australasia, A Century of Life (Melb, 1969)
  • G. Serle, The Rush to be Rich (Melb, 1971)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 13 Mar 1884, 20 June 1903
  • Table Talk, 22 Sept 1893
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 June 1908
  • Australian Worker, 9 July 1908.

Citation details

Ann-Mari Jordens, 'Templeton, John Montgomery (1840–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Montgomery Templeton (1840-1908), by unknown engraver, 1895

John Montgomery Templeton (1840-1908), by unknown engraver, 1895

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN01/07/95/22

Life Summary [details]


20 May, 1840
Kilmaurs, Ayrshire, Scotland


10 June, 1908 (aged 68)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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