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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fraser, Alexander (1802–1888)

by Renate Howe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Alexander Fraser (1802-1888), businessman and politician, was born on 2 January 1802 at Aldourie, near Inverness, Scotland, first of the ten children of John Fraser, farmer and Free Church elder, and his wife Ann, née Fraser. He left Scotland in 1827 to work in London. In 1831 he married Mary Ann Glannon (1811-1877); next year they sailed for Sydney in the Rubicon. Because his wife was ill, Fraser disembarked at Hobart Town where he began business as a coachmaker. Attracted by the preaching of Rev. Nathaniel Turner he joined the Melville Street Wesleyan Church. In 1839, with David Heckscher as partner, he invested in a pastoral run in the Port Phillip District near Sunbury. When the gold rushes disrupted Hobart's economy, Fraser took his family to Bendigo in 1852 and next year started business in Melbourne as an auctioneer and mercantile agent in partnership with Edward Cohen. The partnership was dissolved in 1864 and his two sons, Henry Critchard and Alexander William, became partners in the firm of Fraser & Co. Fraser was also a director of the Australasian Assurance Co.

Fraser lived at St Kilda and in 1857 was elected to its first Municipal Council; in 1859 he became chairman and mayor in 1864-65. In the Legislative Council he represented North-Western Province from 1858 until he retired in 1881. He consistently supported attempts to reform the council by widening the franchise and increasing the number of members. A convinced free trader, he opposed any increase of protective tariffs on imports into Victoria. He was minister of public works and represented the Francis government in the Legislative Council from 1872 until 1874 when he was granted leave to go to Britain, which he had visited in 1848 and 1862. In 1878 he brought an action against the Melbourne Age claiming damages of £10,000 for an article reflecting on his conduct towards a brother who had died in a London workhouse; he was awarded £250.

Fraser's faith in education was evidenced in his long superintendency of the St Kilda Wesleyan Sunday School and his support for the establishment of Wesley College. He was one of the Wesleyan members of the 1866 royal commission on education which recommended the incorporation of denominational schools into a national system. While a member of the Francis ministry he guided through the Upper House the 1872 bill introducing free, compulsory and secular education to Victoria. An active churchman, he held most important offices in the Wesleyan Church and for thirty years was treasurer of the supernumerary fund, which he helped Rev. Daniel Draper to found. Dour and pious, Fraser was conscientious in fulfilling his political duties. He presided at numerous meetings and laid countless foundation stones until illness confined him to bed, two years before he died at his home, Aldourie, St Kilda, on 20 August 1888. He was survived by two sons and several grandchildren.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Cooper, The History of St. Kilda: From its First Settlement to a City and After, 1840 to 1930, vol 2 (Melb, 1931)
  • G. M. Dow, George Higinbotham: Church and State (Melb, 1964)
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 June 1878
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Aug 1888
  • Spectator (Melbourne), 7 Sept 1888.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Renate Howe, 'Fraser, Alexander (1802–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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