Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward David Williams (1842–1909)

by Graeme Cope

This article was published:

Edward David Williams (1842-1909), businessman and politician, was born on 24 September 1842 at Talerddig, Montgomeryshire, Wales, son of Edward Williams, miller, and his wife Ann, née Howells. Educated at a private school, he worked in the woollen industry until, aged 17, he went to Shrewsbury where he learned English before moving to London in 1860. After four years in an uncle's grocery store, he decided to try his luck in Victoria. He arrived in 1864. Having briefly visited the central goldfields, he returned to Melbourne and to the grocery trade for three years. Moving to Lancefield and then Ballarat for another three years, eventually as the proprietor of his own business, he went to Castlemaine in 1871. On 26 December 1872 at Winchelsea he married Jane Jones with Anglican rites. Prospering as a general storekeeper, Williams gradually extended his interests to real estate and wholesale dealing. He acquired extensive gold-mining investments at Castlemaine, Campbells Creek, Chewton and Fryerstown, had interests in dredging companies and was chairman of the Castlemaine mining board.

A borough councillor for twenty-three years from 1886, Williams was three times mayor (1892, 1898 and 1907). In September 1894, after outpolling the premier, (Sir) James Patterson, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for the seat of Castlemaine as a 'local and liberal' candidate on a platform of financial restraint, moderate protection, Federation, progressive income taxes and imposts on unimproved land. In an unremarkable career he was to be returned at three further elections before retiring in June 1904. Insisting that he entered parliament 'not to follow men but to support measures', he was vocal on issues (like mining) that touched his constituency, but also favoured liberal causes such as factory legislation, pensions, fair parliamentary representation and reform of the Legislative Council. In 1899 he sponsored a private member's bill to regulate the trusteeship of the Congregational ministerial training college. He was also a persistent champion of female suffrage on the grounds that 'our wives, our mothers, and our sisters possess as much common sense and as sound a judgement as the men'.

A leading promoter of the Castlemaine Woollen Co. Ltd from the formation of a provisional committee in September 1874, Williams had become its first secretary, principal shareholder, major mortgagor, and chairman from August 1885. The company was notable for its marketing initiative and concentration on the mixed cotton and wool fabrics shunned by its rivals. As managing director from January 1891, he was largely responsible for the mill's particular success with flannels and blankets. Sympathetic to wage-earners at large, but patriarchal towards his own employees, Williams was known for his geniality, self-reliance, business acumen and zest for work. He was a leading Congregationalist, deacon and Sunday School superintendent. He died suddenly on 17 October 1909 at his Castlemaine home and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife, two sons and four daughters survived him. His estate was sworn for probate at £11,978.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Royal Commission on the Tariff, Votes and Proceedings (Victoria), 1883, 4 (50), 1884, 2 (9)
  • Board Appointed … to Enquire into the Effect of the Fiscal System of Victoria Upon Industry and Production, Parliamentary Papers (Victoria), 1894, 2 (37), 1895-96, 2 (3)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1895-96, p 3567, 1902-03, p 50
  • Table Talk, 21 Dec 1894
  • Mount Alexander Mail, 6 Sept 1894, 18 Oct 1909
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 Oct 1909
  • Castlemaine Woollen Co. Ltd papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Graeme Cope, 'Williams, Edward David (1842–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 28 May 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]


24 September, 1842
Talerddig, Montgomeryshire, Wales


17 October, 1909 (aged 67)
Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia

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