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Webb, William Telford (1842–1911)

by Susan McCarthy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

William Telford Webb (1842-1911), farmer and politician, was born on 28 July 1842 at Tullamore, King's County (Offaly), Ireland, son of Richard Webb, farmer, and his wife Maria, née Telford. His parents and their six children arrived in Melbourne in the Black Eagle on 28 January 1859 and settled at Tylden near Kyneton, but in 1863 William went to the Dunstan goldfields near Otago, New Zealand. He was moderately successful but returned after surviving a severe snowstorm in Gabriel's Gully in which three hundred people died. In 1868 he selected land at Nanneella near Rochester. By 1878 he, his mother and his uncle William Telford owned 900 acres (364 ha). He was an enthusiastic supporter of McColl's northwest Victorian canal and irrigation scheme, first proposed in 1871, and became a commissioner of the United Echuca and Waranga Waterworks Trust from its inception in October 1882. He was chairman of the Campaspe Water Trust in 1889-1903.

Elected in 1873 as the first farming representative to the Echuca (later Rochester) Shire Council, Webb was a councillor until 1892 and president in 1877-79. In May 1879 he was active in refounding the Rochester branch of the National Reform and Protection League, whose aims were to seek reform of the Legislative Council and to secure direct representation of farmers in parliament. He also represented the shire at meetings of the Decentralization League. In 1883 he unsuccessfully contested the seat of Rodney in the Legislative Assembly but was elected in April 1889 with James Shackell and soon became a powerful advocate of farming and irrigation interests. He held the seat until September 1897; he was commissioner of public works and minister for agriculture from January 1893 to September 1894 and vice-president of the Board of Lands and Works from February 1893 to September 1894 in the Patterson ministry.

By 1889 Webb had given up active farming and lived in Rochester, where he set up as an agent and grain-buyer for farmers, ran a milling and butchering business, and was a founder of the Yeomanry store in Mackie Street. He was also a promoter in 1889 and chief shareholder of the Fresh Food and Frozen Storage Co. Ltd which operated creameries, butter factories and cool stores throughout Victoria until its voluntary liquidation in 1902. It was one of the companies investigated and censured by the 1905 royal commission on the butter industry. Webb's belief in the worth and wealth of farming industries was the rock on which he stood in the gloom and instability of Victorian politics in the 1890s. In December 1903 he won the seat of Mandurang in a by-election but lost in the general elections of 1904.

On 24 October 1883 at St Matthew's Church, Prahran, he had married Elizabeth Alice Everitt, a 21-year-old milliner. In 1909 a stroke partially paralysed him, but he remained fairly active in Rochester until his sudden death from heart failure while on holiday at St Kilda on 17 January 1911. He was survived by his wife and three of their five daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Commission on Water Supply, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria) 1885, 2 (19), 3 (53)
  • Riverine Herald, Aug-Oct 1881, Feb-Apr 1889, 7 Nov 1891, 20 Jan 1911
  • Rochester Express, 21 Jan 1911
  • G. R. Bartlett, Political Organization and Society in Victoria, 1864-1883 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1964)
  • private information.

Citation details

Susan McCarthy, 'Webb, William Telford (1842–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/webb-william-telford-4824/text8047, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 15 December 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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