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Walpole, Herbert Reginald Robert Seymour (1853–1928)

by John Rickard

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

Herbert Reginald Robert Seymour Walpole (1853-1928), professional organizer, was born on 6 December 1853 at Balderton, Nottinghamshire, England, son of Robert Seymour Walpole, Church of England clergyman, and his wife Elizabeth, née Apthorpe. He claimed connexion with the illustrious Walpole family. Educated, by his own account, at 'the Temple, in Brighton, Sussex', at 17 Walpole travelled in the United States of America where his father had bought a ranch. He returned to England in 1874 and soon afterwards migrated to Australia. Employed by the Bank of Australasia, he was sent to New Zealand; following ill health, he came back to work on stations in the backblocks of New South Wales. On 23 August 1882 he married Jane Sophia Kent in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Launceston, Tasmania. His appointment as secretary to the Calcutta Exhibition (1883-84) in India marked the start of his career as an organizer. Walpole was a commissioner for Victoria at the Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne (1888) and at the Paris Exhibition (1889). He claimed to have qualified in England as a metallurgical and mining engineer.

During the Constitutional referenda campaigns of 1898 and 1899, Walpole was organizing secretary of the Australasian Federation League of Victoria. Hailing the telephone as 'that instrument of absolute necessity', he relished aggressive campaigning and used his Voluntary Fighting Brigade of 'sharpshooters' to harass 'the enemy' at political meetings. Concerned about a reluctant turn-out for the second referendum, he persuaded Sir George Turner to issue a certificate to those who voted in 1899.

In 1902 Walpole became organizer and secretary of the Victorian Employers' Federation, the prototype for similar organizations in other States. He also helped to found the Employers' Federation of New South Wales in 1903. Later, as secretary of the Central Council of Employers of Australia which produced the journal, Liberty and Progress, he was in touch with similar bodies in North America; he was instrumental, as well, in setting up the Australian Women's National League and the Anti-Socialist Alliance which were part of the employers' developing political strategy. On six months leave in 1908, he raised money in London for the forthcoming Federal election which, Walpole averred, would decide 'who was to be top dog in this country'. An expert on new industrial legislation of concern to employers, he was credited with instigating Constitutional challenges in the High Court of Australia which succeeded in restricting the Commonwealth's role. Conceding that he was worth even more, the V.E.F. in 1906 increased Walpole's annual salary from £350 to £500.

Tall and lean, nicknamed 'Tallpole', he had become something of a Melbourne identity, but his abrasive and confrontationist style denied him popularity: Walpole admitted in 1908, though not without satisfaction, that many looked upon him as 'the most unpopular man in Australia'. For this reason the federation sought to minimize his visibility as an organizer in bodies such as the A.W.N.L. In 1909 the Argus criticized his lack of discretion; next year Walpole resigned for reasons of health. Rewarded with a testimonial purse of sovereigns, he was acknowledged as 'largely responsible for the proud position which the Federation occupies'.

Survived by his five daughters and a son, Walpole died on 2 July 1928 at his home at Heidelberg, Melbourne, and was buried in Phillip Island cemetery, Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 3 (Melb, 1905)
  • J. Rickard, Class and Politics (Canb, 1975)
  • J. Rickard, H. B. Higgins (Syd, 1984)
  • Review of Reviews (Australasian ed), 15 June 1898
  • Liberty and Progress, 25 May 1908, 25 Jan 1911
  • Punch (Melbourne), 7 Nov 1907
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Oct 1909
  • Council and executive minute books (Victorian Employers' Federation, Melbourne).

Citation details

John Rickard, 'Walpole, Herbert Reginald Robert Seymour (1853–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walpole-herbert-reginald-robert-seymour-8967/text15779, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 January 2020.

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

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