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Ashbolt, Sir Alfred Henry (1870–1930)

by Peter Chapman and John Reynolds

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Sir Alfred Henry Ashbolt (1870-1930), businessman, was born on 6 March 1870 at Christchurch, New Zealand, son of Alfred Ashbolt, printer and manager of the New Zealand Times, and his wife Mary, née Nuthal. Educated at schools in Christchurch and Wellington, he was articled at 15 to T. Kennedy Macdonald, a businessman and politician. He passed accountancy examinations and at 19 became junior book-keeper with the New Zealand Times at £3 a week.

In 1891 Ashbolt went to Tasmania to join the merchants A. G. Webster & Son of Hobart, as junior book-keeper, and rose to chief clerk at 26. He also managed the Sun Fire Insurance office and the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. agencies. In 1898 his application to become town clerk of Hobart failed. Leaving Webster in 1901, he became junior partner in the firm of Tasmania's leading industrialist (Sir) Henry Jones, then beginning expansion as fruit processors, timber-millers, ship-owners and shipping agents. Ashbolt was involved in the growth of the Hobart branch of the company, which became Henry Jones (Co-operative) Ltd, and in its spread to all mainland States, and to New Zealand, South Africa and England. Other undertakings in which he had interests included Charles Davis Ltd, ironmongers, and Foreman Foundry and Enamelling Co. Ltd; he was also involved in two unsuccessful attempts to extract zinc from Tasmanian ores by the new electrolytic process. His most successful venture was the Tongkah Harbour Tin Dredging Co. (Thailand), which in 1919 paid dividends of £517,500. He was also a leading member of a construction syndicate which carried out projects in Tasmania, Victoria and other States.

In 1906 Ashbolt attended a conference which advised the Commonwealth on regulations under the Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act of 1905. He was an active member, sometime president, of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce which he represented at the 1913 world conference in London. En route he had visited Germany and seen the early Zeppelins, which stimulated an abiding interest in airship travel. A member of the first State War Council and the Munitions Committee during World War I, he also worked for voluntary organizations including the Red Cross Society. He was consul for Russia in Tasmania until he resigned on the outbreak of the revolution. For some years he was Tasmanian commercial representative of the British Board of Trade.

Ashbolt was appointed agent-general for Tasmania in London in 1919. With characteristic thoroughness he sought for investors in the State's industries; his canvassing ranged from British machine tools to the marketing of imperial and colonial timbers. As a result of his efforts, several British firms established branch factories in Tasmania. An enthusiast for Empire development and imperial protection, he was vice-president of the British Empire Producers' Association, executive committee-man for the Australian pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley, and a strong proponent of development of an Empire airship (Dirigible) service. With government consent he was advisory director to the Leverhulme group while in England. He also secured for the Royal Society of Tasmania the letters (1837-43) of Lady Franklin to her sister.

Returning via North America to Hobart in September 1924, Ashbolt rejoined A. G. Webster & Son and became managing director. Next year he was knighted. In the United States he had investigated the introduction to Australia of the manufacture of celotex from sugar-cane refuse. He explored other new fields for his company, including the supply and servicing of labour-saving farm machinery and the buying and international marketing of the rare mineral, osmiridium, being mined at Adamsfield. He encouraged the pioneer growing and processing of flax and other exotic crops, but these enterprises were hampered by severe commercial recession. He also backed Tasmanian Paper Pty Ltd at Kermandie which perfected a technique for making paper pulp from the groundwood of the Eucalyptus regnans, a successful process subsequently taken over by the Australian Newsprint Mills at Boyer.

Ashbolt was an Anglican and a prominent Freemason—sometime superintendent of the Tasmanian District Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland. He was a member of the Tasmanian (Hobart), Windham and Ranelagh (London) and the Australasian Pioneers (Sydney) clubs. A leading lawn tennis player and sculler, he had helped found the Sandy Bay Rowing Club and became president of the Royal Hobart Golf Club. He had been married twice: in 1904 to Alice Mabel Frederica Howe (d.1918 without issue), and in 1919 to Muriel Wayne Walker. From 1915 he lived at Lenna, formerly the home of Alexander McGregor. After Jones's death in 1926 Ashbolt was undisputed leader of the commercial community in southern Tasmania. In failing health from about 1928, he died of cerebral haemorrhage on 24 January 1930, survived by his wife and their two children; he was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £47,225.

Select Bibliography

  • R. A. A. Sherrin and J. H. Wallace, Early History of New Zealand, T. W. Leys ed (Auckland, 1890)
  • Times (London), 12 Aug 1920, 13 July 1921, p 13, 29 July 1921, p 11, 2 Nov 1921, 17 Nov 1921, p 7, 26 Nov 1921, p 7, 9 Feb 1923, 14 Sept 1923, p 7, 23 Oct 1923, 16 Dec 1923, 3 July 1924, p 17, 1 Jan 1925, p 13, 25 Jan 1930, p 14
  • Mercury (Hobart), 20 Apr 1928, 25 Jan 1930
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Peter Chapman and John Reynolds, 'Ashbolt, Sir Alfred Henry (1870–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/ashbolt-sir-alfred-henry-5065/text8445, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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