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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Grainger, Henry William (1848–1923)

by Kay Rollison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Henry William Allerdale Grainger (1848-1923), politician, journalist and stockbroker, was born on 7 August 1848 in Cumberland, England, son of Henry Grainger, a businessman who was interested in the colonization of South Australia and who owned land in Adelaide. Henry junior went to Rugby School in 1861-66; a possible career in finance on the London Stock Exchange was cut short by the depression of 1866, which ruined his father. He worked in North America as a journalist, then moved to Melbourne and to Adelaide in 1876.

It was said that he was 'a man whose capital is his brains': with his City experience, Grainger offered himself as a financial expert and journalist. From 1877 he ran the Australian Star, a weekly penny paper expressing protectionist and 'reforming' views, including restriction of Chinese immigration and the establishment of employers' liability. When the paper failed in 1881 he turned to freelance journalism and stock-market speculation, especially in copper and silver lead shares. He wrote for the South Australian Register and ran an agency business.

Allerdale Grainger's public advocacy of protection and reform and his experience in finance and as a journalist led him into politics. After three unsuccessful contests he was elected as one of the two House of Assembly members for Wallaroo in 1884 and became conspicuous for his outspoken independence. However insolvency caused him to resign next year. After four more attempts to return in 1885 and 1887 he was re-elected in 1890 for Wallaroo which he held until 1901. In 1890-97 he was a council-member of the School of Mines and Industries; he was secretary of the Mining Commission and controlled several early Western Australian goldmining companies.

In the assembly, Grainger was a moderate Liberal. He opposed a progressive land tax in favour of a flat rate of tax on agricultural land held unused in large estates. He was more radical in other financial matters, supporting a state bank capable of raising local capital instead of relying on the London market. He continued to favour protection and unrestricted mining on private land. As distinct liberal and conservative groupings emerged in the assembly from 1893, Grainger continued to support the Liberal Kingston ministry. It was, however, his political style, rather than his political views, which made him notable. A tall, commanding figure, and a vigorous though not polished debater, he incessantly criticized all governments, earning the title of 'interjector-general'. This stance won him no political friends and, despite his ability, he was never offered a ministerial position.

In 1901 the Holder government offered him the State's agent-generalship in London. With Federation, the position was being downgraded but Grainger accepted. He was a successful though not remarkable agent-general until 1905. He then returned to South Australia and lived quietly in North Adelaide. He was appointed secretary of the South Australian Liquor Trades' Defence Association and in 1907-20 was a trustee of the Savings Bank of South Australia. The debonair 'Ally' was said to be a 'brilliant raconteur' and a 'thorough Bohemian'. From 1920 he lived with his sister at Leamington, Warwickshire, England, where he died on 17 December 1923. He had been married and had at least one son.

Select Bibliography

  • Pictorial Australian, May 1890, July 1891
  • Quiz and the Lantern, 17 Oct 1890, 6 June 1901
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 8 June 1901
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 7 Aug 1919
  • Register (Adelaide), 21 Dec 1923.

Citation details

Kay Rollison, 'Grainger, Henry William (1848–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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