Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Wearne (1832–1884)

by Mark Lyons

This article was published:

Joseph Wearne (1832-1884), flour-miller and politician, was born on 19 August 1832 at Ponsanooth, Cornwall, England, eldest son of Joseph Wearne (d.1856), a miller of yeoman stock, and his wife Susannah, née Rogers. On 12 February 1849 the family arrived in Sydney as bounty immigrants in the Harbinger. After digging on various Victorian goldfields they settled about 1853 at Liverpool, New South Wales, where Joseph senior leased the Collingwood Flour Mill and ran a bakery; in 1854 he acquired Bossley's mill.

On 21 January 1857 at Parramatta Joseph junior married Isabella Caldwell and had moved to Sydney by 1860. He soon joined James Pemell, flour-miller, and about 1864 opened the steam-operated Anchor Flour Mills at the foot of Bathurst Street. A kind and conscientious employer, he installed hot showers and a Turkish bath for his workmen. A prominent Methodist, a Freemason and an office-bearer in the Order of the Sons of Temperance, although not a teetotaller, in 1868 Wearne ran unsuccessfully for the Sydney Municipal Council. The same year he failed in a parliamentary by-election for West Sydney, and attributed his defeat to his opponents' improper electoral practices. Wearne favoured free trade, triennial parliaments, extension of municipal government, National schools and competitive selection for the civil service, and opposed state aid to religion. At a time of intense sectarianism he helped to organize testimonials in March 1869 for (Sir) Henry Parkes.

Wearne supported the Protestant Political Association and in 1869 joined the Loyal Orange Institution. With their aid he topped the poll for West Sydney in the 1869 general elections and again in 1872. Yet he did not publicly attack Catholicism and the Freeman's Journal admitted that many Catholics voted for him as a liberal. Although he never sought office, his membership, and that of Protestants like him, helped clear the Loyal Orange Institution of its Irish taint and contributed to its remarkable growth in the 1870s.

Wearne supported the Martin-Parkes opposition, but became an independent in 1870 when Parkes retired and Martin joined (Sir) John Robertson in government. Late next year he worked hard and gave generously to have Parkes returned for Mudgee and, despite doubts about Parkes's choice of E. Butler as his attorney-general, he generally supported the ministry Parkes formed in 1872. Unimpressive as a parliamentarian, he vainly introduced the permissive liquor bill which included a local option clause. In 1874 he lost West Sydney, blaming the over-confidence of his friends, but won Central Cumberland. His business had continued to prosper and by then he was a trustee of several building societies, part-owner of a paper manufacturing business at Holsworthy, a director of the Protestant Hall and a committee-man of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales. In 1873 he was a member of the royal commission on public charities.

In the early 1870s, apparently influenced by John Hurley, Wearne had speculated in mining shares, losing some £27,000, much of it borrowed; in June 1875 he became bankrupt with debts of almost £25,000 and resigned from parliament. Discharged nine months later, he stayed in Sydney a few more years, remaining active in the Church and in contact with Parkes. In the early 1880s he returned to Liverpool. On 8 June 1884 after a long illness he died of Bright's disease at Collingwood House and was buried in Parramatta cemetery. He was survived by his wife, three sons and three daughters; his wife inherited his estate valued for probate at £1800.

His brother Thomas (1835-1914), engineer, set up in Sydney as an ironmonger in 1865. Gaining many government contracts he expanded into the manufacture of safes. In 1878 at the Glebe Foundry he made railway and tramway rolling-stock, locomotives and bridge components. In 1885 he was a foundation member of the New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures and in 1886 of the Protection Union of New South Wales. An original alderman on the Liverpool Municipal Council in 1872, Wearne was a member of Glebe Borough Council in the 1880s. Indebted to the English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank from 1881, he was forced into bankruptcy in December 1889 after a dispute with government officials over the specifications of a large contract for goods locomotives. He retained an active interest in a safe manufacturing business with his nephew W. H. Breakspear(e). He died of bronchitis and old age on 30 May 1914 at Bonnyrigg, Liverpool. He was survived by his wife Janet Ewing, née Jeffrey, whom he had married at Liverpool on 15 December 1855, and by five sons and six daughters; his estate was valued for probate at £664.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Dec 1868, 13 Jan 1869, 27 Apr 1871
  • Empire (Sydney), 15 Feb, 8 Dec 1869, 14 Feb 1872
  • Protestant Standard (Sydney), 1 May 1869, 22 Apr 1871
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 18 Dec 1869
  • Town and Country Journal, 3 June 1914
  • Methodist (Sydney), 13 June 1914
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • insolvency files 2300, 12,412/8, 1595 (State Records New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Mark Lyons, 'Wearne, Joseph (1832–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 20 June 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

Life Summary [details]


19 August, 1832
Ponsanooth, Cornwall, England


30 May, 1884 (aged 51)
Liverpool, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.