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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brentnall, Thomas (1846–1937)

by Douglas Keep

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

Thomas Brentnall (1846-1937), chartered accountant, was born on 30 December 1846 at Escomb, County Durham, England, son of Joseph Edmund Brentnall, grocer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Strutt. The family lived at Eston, Yorkshire, and Brentnall was educated at private schools at Great Ayton and Darlington. He matriculated at the University of Durham but on leaving school joined the Middlesbrough branch of the National Provincial Bank of England. In 1874 at Bedford he married Caroline Crossley, and for the next few years they lived at Prestonpans, Scotland, where Brentnall worked for a colliery company.

In 1878 Brentnall decided to migrate to Australia and with his wife and small son arrived in Melbourne in November in the Loch Tay. He brought rigid standards of business ethics and social behaviour, combined with elegant good manners. After working briefly with the London Bank of Australia he established himself as a public accountant, and acquired two existing practices which brought him an immediate clientele of leading businessmen and pastoralists. Despite an early financial setback, owing to a defaulting partner whose liabilities Brentnall fully repaid, he developed sound and valuable connexions as an auditor. His firm was successively Brentnall & Riley, Brentnall, Norton & Co., and Brentnall, Mewton & Butler. In 1886 he helped to found the Incorporated Institute of Accountants, Victoria, becoming president in 1898. In 1907 he was first president of the Australasian Corporation of Public Accountants and in 1928, when a royal charter was granted, he became first president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia. For many years he served the Victorian Companies Auditors' Board as examiner, director and chairman.

Brentnall always loved music. As a boy he learned the violin and organ, and sang in choirs. In Melbourne he played his violin, a magnificent Andreas Guarnerius instrument, sang with the Metropolitan Liedertafel and in the Centennial Exhibition choir of 1888, and acted as organist for several local churches. He was president of the Melbourne Music Club and the Victorian division of the British Music Society, and ultimately was a financial guarantor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in the late 1920s. He welcomed visiting musical celebrities, often entertaining them at his home. On his several visits to London he attended a round of concerts and performances which he recorded in his copious critical diary and later described in his autobiography, My Memories (Melbourne, 1938).

Brentnall was a keen golfer; as early as 1874 he had been a member of the Royal Musselburgh Club in Scotland. His friendship with J. M. Bruce led to the founding of the (Royal) Melbourne Golf Club. Brentnall was the third captain and at 85 claimed that for the previous thirty-five years he had played golf once a week. He presented a set of his early primitive sticks to the club.

Brentnall was an active trustee and vice-president of the Melbourne Newsboys' Society; he was also a director of the Royal Humane Society for forty years, and president for eleven. From 1880 he lived at Newnham, Caroline Street, South Yarra. Predeceased by his wife in 1909 and survived by a son and daughter, Brentnall died at his home on 10 July 1937 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. Ellis, The History of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club (Melb, 1941)
  • Chartered Accountant in Australia, July 1937
  • Argus (Melbourne), 30 Dec 1935
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 12 July 1937.

Citation details

Douglas Keep, 'Brentnall, Thomas (1846–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 27 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 7

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