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Davis, Charles (1824–1914)

by Peter Bolger

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

Charles Davis (1824?-1914), businessman, was born in London, son of Thomas Davis, carriage-lamp maker, and his wife Ann, née Young. His name is familiar from the retail store in Hobart. He showed an early interest in shops by robbing a till in 1840, and on 5 April 1841, at the London Central Criminal Court, he was sentenced to ten years transportation for a second offence, larceny from the person, nominally the theft of a silk handkerchief. After ten months in the hulks he sailed for Hobart aboard the Candahar, arriving in July 1842. Set to work at Bridgewater and Oyster Cove as a tinsmith, he received his ticket-of-leave in September 1847 and established a small tin and copper-smithing enterprise in a Bathurst Street shed. In October 1848, having 'only three records of a trifling nature … made against him', Davis was recommended for the conditional pardon he received in December next year. After a try at Victoria's gold in 1851-52, he returned to his Hobart business.

Davis's rise to prosperity as a hardware merchant was reflected in his private life. The first of his five wives, Emma Hurst, whom he married on 11 September 1848 at St John's Presbyterian Church, was the 16-year-old daughter of a Cambridgeshire horse-stealer. Before her death in 1867 he entered the Memorial Congregation, becoming a respected deacon (1888-91, 1892-95) and representative at Congregational Unions (1894-97). He married Emma Cheshire Bolter, an emancipist's daughter, on 3 April 1868 at the Upper Murray Street Congregationalist Church. Emma died in December that year and on 20 January 1870 Davis married her sister Kezia Cheshire.

Davis flourished in the boom of the 1880s, with the metal-mending and manufacturing workshop becoming augmented by an importing and distributing enterprise. His dissimilar sons, half-brothers Charles junior (b.1865) and Alfred (b.1873), entered the business and eventually replaced Davis in responsibility for the running of two sections. Kezia's death in 1883 brought Davis to wed middle-class, free immigrant, widowed schoolteacher Sarah Anne Blackmore on 31 July 1884. Twelve years later she died and on 28 March 1899 he married Mary Ann Harby, née Morly, widow of a master mariner.

In 1911 Davis's business was floated as a company with Charles junior and Alfred as managers, but the senile Charles senior, small and tattooed continued to attend the store daily until his death on 21 April 1914. Survived by his fifth wife and his two sons and six daughters, he was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery after a well-attended funeral at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church. In 1905 Davis had donated the rent of a Murray Street site to the Young Men's Christian Association and gave £1000 to the building fund. But tales of his alms-giving are largely apocryphal: his estate, valued for probate at £69,530, was, apart from the Young Men's Christian Association site, divided amongst the clan he had founded.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • P. Bolger, Hobart Town (Canb, 1973)
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 14 Sept 1847, 3 Dec 1849, 21 Oct 1851
  • Mercury (Hobart), 11 Dec 1867, 22 Apr 1914
  • Daily Post (Hobart), 23, 24 Apr 1914
  • Australian Worker, 30 Apr 1914
  • Congregational Memorial Church records, NS 477/2-4, 8, 9 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Peter Bolger, 'Davis, Charles (1824–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/davis-charles-5912/text10069, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 11 December 2017.

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

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