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Conacher, Charles William Davy (1881–1937)

by Ross Duncan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Charles William Davy Conacher (1881-1937), company manager, was born on 27 November 1881 at Terang, Victoria, eldest son of Robert Lawrence Conacher, bank manager, and his wife Ellen, née James. He was educated at George Watson's College in Edinburgh and the West of Scotland Agricultural College, Glasgow. In 1897-1911 he worked for a Glasgow flour importer, Hunter Craig & Co. Ltd, and then joined Vestey brothers' International Export Co. Ltd as an executive representative in China and in their Madagascar meatworks. In early 1916 he was transferred to Darwin, Northern Territory.

In 1913 Vesteys had leased large properties, both in the Territory and the East Kimberley district of Western Australia, beginning in 1914 the building of a meatworks at Paraparap, near Darwin. Conacher took control of these pastoral and business enterprises, under power of attorney from Vestey's North Australian Meat Co. Ltd. With no experience of the Territory he faced a heavy task. The meatworks, with the capacity to treat 500 cattle a day, was handicapped by the wartime shipping shortage, high costs, chronic labour disputes and a lack of accessible markets. The works closed in 1920; Conacher was transferred to Sydney where he served Vesteys as manager of their Australian Investment Agency whose major interests also lay in the meat industry. His last position, from 1934, was general manager in Australia of Vesteys' fleet of passenger and refrigerated cargo ships, the Blue Star Line.

The failure of the Paraparap meatworks and the popular, largely working-class 'rebellion' against the administrator of the Territory, J. A. Gilruth in December 1918, seriously undermined public confidence in Darwin. Conacher's few years in the Northern Territory began for him an intense interest in the problems of the Australian outback. For the remainder of his life he preached, perhaps over-optimistically, the high development potential of the North and devoted himself to improving the welfare of the people who lived there: 'Many a poor devil who was down got a fresh start through Conacher's unobtrusive help'. He became a strong supporter of the Australian Inland Mission and the Australian Aerial Medical Service.

Conacher emerges as an efficient, compassionate figure who did not share the unpopular image of his employers. Never spectacular, loyal to Vesteys, he can be seen, in his later years, as a slightly disappointed man whose dreams had not been realized. The North remained underdeveloped, while Vesteys, seemingly more intent on nurturing their Argentinian investments, failed to acknowledge his value. His salary, fixed at £3500 in 1924, was still at that level in September 1936 despite his newly acquired responsibility for Blue Star. Conacher died of cancer on 30 December 1937 at Sydney, survived by his wife Dorothy Jean McMaster whom he had married according to Presbyterian forms in 20 December 1916 at Wyuna, Point Piper, and by their two sons. A service was conducted by Rev. John Flynn at the Northern Suburbs crematorium. One obituarist was prompted to exclaim: 'A notable man had ridden off to the Last Big Muster'. Conacher's estate was valued for probate at £51,260.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Dorling, Blue Star Line (Liverpool, Eng, 1948)
  • N.T. Admin, Report, Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1920-21, vol 3
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Jan 1938
  • Bulletin, 5 Jan 1938
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Ross Duncan, 'Conacher, Charles William Davy (1881–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/conacher-charles-william-davy-5746/text9729, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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