Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Thornton Tweddle (1865–1943)

by John Lack

This article was published:

Joseph Thornton Tweddle (1865-1943), businessman and philanthropist, was born on 14 April 1865 at Winlaton, Durham, England, eighth child of Thomas Tweddle, butcher, and his wife Mary, née Reay. Educated at the local council school, he had some commercial experience with an ironmongery firm at Newcastle upon Tyne; when Joseph's health collapsed, his father helped him to emigrate to Victoria in 1887. Tweddle worked at Mincha West on the farm of Henry Angus, to whose brother he had probably brought a letter of introduction; he later partnered the brothers in constructing irrigation works at Kow Swamp and at Benjeroop. When the latter scheme failed due to drought, Tweddle took a clerkship with the Colonial Gas Association Ltd, Melbourne, and then with a firm of solicitors. On 5 April 1893 he married Lilian Billis (d.1895) at Auburn with Presbyterian forms.

As an accountant, in 1896 he joined Andrews Bros Pty Ltd, a woollen and manchester warehouse in Flinders Lane. By 1899 he was a director. In 1904 Joseph married Isabel May Hunter. He was a member in 1915-16 of a royal commission, chaired by Alexander Cooch, to inquire into the Victorian Public Service: its report was scathingly critical of management and operations. Tweddle had been appointed managing director of Andrews Bros in 1915. The firm, whose business expanded greatly during World War I, had branches in every State. A London office made regular trips to England obligatory for Tweddle; in 1933 he became chairman of directors.

Councillor (1915-39) and president (1935-39) of Queen's College at the University of Melbourne, and a councillor of Wesley College (1921-43), he funded extensions to both institutions which were completed in 1923. Influenced by Maude Primrose (promoter of the Visiting Trained Nurses' Association of Victoria and of the Truby King or Plunket system of baby health care) and by Dr J. W. Springthorpe, Tweddle financed the Tweddle Hospital for Babies and School of Mothercraft as the training centre for Plunket and Primrose nurses: it opened at Footscray in 1924. From 1918 he had farmed at various locations in Victoria, initially in partnership with E. H. Flack, and was a prize-winning breeder of Friesian cattle, Suffolk sheep and Percheron horses. In a notable taxation case in 1942 he appealed successfully against the disallowance of deductions for pastoral losses when the High Court of Australia concluded that it was not the function of tax legislation 'to dictate to taxpayers in what business they shall engage or how to run their business profitably or economically'.

An effective public speaker, if inclined to floridity, Tweddle was tall and prepossessing. He attributed his philanthropy to the influence of a devoutly Methodist upbringing. A connoisseur of art and an enthusiastic collector, he was a trustee from 1921 of the Public Library, museums and National Gallery of Victoria. Described as 'one of the best-known figures in business, pastoral and art circles in Melbourne', he died on 16 July 1943 at Richmond and was cremated. His wife, son and two daughters survived him; his estate was sworn for probate at £118,878; Queen's College holds his portrait.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. L. Gunn (ed), The Australian Income Tax Reports (Syd, 1944)
  • Methodist Spectator, 15 Dec 1920, 16 Aug 1922, 4 Apr 1923
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 Feb 1916, 19 July 1943
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 Feb 1916, 19 July 1943
  • Kerang New Times, 15 Feb 1916, 22 Dec 1922
  • Herald (Melbourne), 23 Mar 1923, 19 July 1943
  • private information.

Citation details

John Lack, 'Tweddle, Joseph Thornton (1865–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 13 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 April, 1865
Winlaton, Durham, England


16 July, 1943 (aged 78)
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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