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Charles Tucker (1857–1928)

by Vivien Stewart

This article was published:

Charles Tucker (1857-1928), customs agent, politician and pastoralist, was born on 20 February 1857 at Walkerville, Adelaide, son of William Henry Tucker, storekeeper, and his wife Eliza, née Samler. Educated at F. F. Unwin's school, Walkerville, and at J. L. Young's Adelaide Educational Institution, Charles worked on his father's farm near Goolwa. About 1880 he entered a shipping office at Port Adelaide and then joined E. Malpas & Co., shipping and customs agents; their partnership was dissolved six months later, leaving Tucker as sole owner. On 19 October 1885 at St Bartholomew's Anglican Church, Norwood, he married Mary Elizabeth Patterson. He was mayor of Port Adelaide in 1890-93 and of Adelaide in 1894-98. By instituting unpopular spending cuts, he improved the corporation's financial position; he remained on the council until 1907.

An Independent, who generally supported Charles Kingston and was helped by him, Tucker advocated free trade and Federation. Sidney Webb saw him as 'a tall, spare, heavy-moustached and swarthy man, with a slow and ungraceful manner, extremely anxious to be deferential and polite, but exceedingly awkward'. A controversial opportunist, Tucker drew considerable newspaper comment during election campaigns: when he stood for the House of Assembly seat of North Adelaide in 1896 he was attacked by Cornelius Proud who alluded to Tucker's marital separation and philandering, and claimed that he was morally unfit for parliament. Tucker did not sue. In 1899 he was returned for Encounter Bay, but, because of a violation of the Electoral Code Act, had to contest the seat again at a by-election that July. In a highly publicized contest with King O'Malley, Tucker allegedly declared that, if elected, he would give his salary to charity; O'Malley retorted that he could do the same 'if he were an agent in the Customs'. Voters supported Tucker's opposition to household suffrage and his wish to develop Victor Harbor as a port: as a conservative, he held the seat until 1902 and Alexandra in 1902-06.

While detested by many people, Tucker rose as a public figure. He was first president of the Port Adelaide branch of the Australian Natives' Association, a governor of the Botanic Garden board, a commissioner of the National Park board and of the destitute and lunatic asylums, chairman of the Adelaide Hospital board, a member of the Adelaide Licensing Bench, and a patron of sporting clubs, charities and the Prisoners' Aid Association. He was a Freemason.

From the 1880s Tucker had speculated in mining at Silverton and Broken Hill, New South Wales, and in Western Australia. In South Australia he concentrated on the north-east, pioneering the Mannahill goldfields and the Trinity Mutooroo Copper Mine; when his syndicate took it over, he became chairman of directors of the Balhannah Goldmining Co. and he was also a director of West Callington Copper & Silver Mining Co. His Western Australian interests included membership of the Collie coalfield syndicate and directorship of several Coolgardie mining companies, among them the Londonderry Console. His underhand dealings caused the Stock Exchange of Adelaide to take steps in 1896 to remove companies with which he was associated from its lists. In 1902 he sued James Hutchison for libel.

On 12 February 1907, as customs agent for John Martin & Co. Ltd, Tucker was found guilty of having defrauded the Customs Department during the 1890s of duties payable on goods imported by the firm. His brother and nephew were also implicated. The amount involved approached £33,000 of which Tucker's share had been about £2000 a year for more than a decade. Tucker was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour; the Observer cautioned against 'the pretensions of smooth-tongued and clever individuals of gentlemanly address and suitably captivating manners'. It had been South Australia's longest criminal trial: there were 97 witnesses and some 8000 exhibits, and the case ran for 31 days. Because of his rash mining ventures, Tucker was virtually bankrupt. After his release from prison, he rented the Metropolitan Hotel in Grote Street. He managed Nullarbor station from 1913 and later owned a share of the Nullarbor Pastoral Co. He died intestate on 5 December 1928 at North Adelaide Private Hospital, survived by his wife and their two daughters, and was buried in North Road cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1927)
  • A. J. Hannan, The Life of Chief Justice Way (Syd, 1960)
  • B. Webb, The Webbs' Australian Diary, 1898, A. G. Austin ed (Melb, 1965)
  • R. M. Gibbs, Bulls, Bears and Wildcats (Adel, 1988)
  • City of Adelaide Mayor's Report, 1897-98
  • Critic (Adelaide), 27 Feb 1907
  • Observer (Adelaide), 8 Dec 1894, 16 Feb 1907
  • Register (Adelaide), 25, 27 Apr 1896
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 8 Dec 1928.

Citation details

Vivien Stewart, 'Tucker, Charles (1857–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 June 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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