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William John Young (1850–1931)

by Betty Crouchley

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William John Young (1850-1931), pastoralist, was born on 20 October 1850 in Belfast, Ireland, son of Charles Young, ship's captain, and his wife Annie, née Lyle. With his mother and brothers, James and Charles, he arrived in Victoria in 1853 and lived at Kyneton with his father who had migrated earlier and was to represent Kyneton in the Legislative Assembly (1874-92). Aged 17, William left school at Geelong and joined James in trading and farming ventures on the west coast of New Zealand for three years; he then grew cotton on Taveuni in the Fiji Islands until 1875 when he returned to Victoria.

In 1877 William was a jackaroo and later an overseer at Lansdowne station in the Tambo district, Queensland. He was appointed manager of Evesham near Longreach in 1883 and of Lansdowne in 1889, at an annual salary of £500. During the 1891 shearers' strike his employers paid him a bonus of £150; on his recommendation the men were given a wage increase of 25 per cent. The Lansdowne Pastoral Co. was deep in debt, but, without sparing himself or his men, Young virtually cleared the mortgage.

He moved in October 1898 to Noondoo station, Dirranbandi, as general manager of the London-based Australian Pastoral Co. His greatest contribution to the pastoral industry was to stabilize this company, whose holdings extended over southern and western Queensland and into New South Wales, despite overstocking, depressed prices and drought: during the 1902 drought, its sheep losses exceeded 137,000. Young concentrated on land improvement, especially artesian bores, and significantly increased meat sales to exporters, obtaining record prices during World War I. Appreciating his business acumen and foresight, the company appointed him general superintendent in 1920. From his base in Sydney he ensured the company's investment in the British Australian Wool Realisation Association Pty Ltd which benefited participating wool-growers in the post-war period.

Legends surrounded this tough, self-reliant bushman who was small and lean with a 'tigerish ferocity' for work and a remarkable recuperative capacity. A dawn-to-dusk working stint became known as a 'Billy Young day' and his marking of 8400 lambs in a day was claimed as a world record. Renowned for his quickness with figures, he was a popular member of the Queensland Club who was respected by pastoralists and business associates. He aimed, quite simply, to further the fortunes of his employers and had no other major interests.

On 4 December 1883 he had married Sydney-born Anne McNicoll (d.1922) with Anglican rites at Christ Church, Daylesford, Victoria. Survived by their four sons and three daughters, Young died on 1 June 1931 at Darling Point, Sydney, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of South Head cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £15,314.

Select Bibliography

  • G. W. Lilley, Story of Lansdowne (Melb, 1973)
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Aug 1907, p 487, 16 June 1931, p 561
  • Graziers' Review, 16 July 1931, p 269
  • J. L. Young, Private journal, 1875-1881 (microfilm, University of Queensland)
  • Australian Pastoral Co. papers (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

Betty Crouchley, 'Young, William John (1850–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 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]


20 October, 1850
Belfast, Antrim, Ireland


1 June, 1931 (aged 80)
Darling Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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