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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Greeves, Augustus Frederick (1805–1874)

by R. W. G. Willis

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

Augustus Greeves, by Henry Sadd, c1855

Augustus Greeves, by Henry Sadd, c1855

State Library of Victoria, H90.159/8

Augustus Frederick Adolphus Greeves (1805-1874), physician, politician and newspaper editor, was born at Knaresborough, Yorkshire, England, son of John Greeves, merchant, and his wife, née Wilkinson. He studied medicine at Edinburgh (L.R.C.S., 1827) and in England (M.R.C.S., 1828) and practised at Knaresborough and Harrowgate. In 1840 he migrated to Port Phillip in the Lord Goderich.

Greeves was one of the surgeons who performed the first local operation with chloroform in 1848 but he had other interests besides his medical practice. In 1841 he had become proprietor of the British Hotel and later the Yarra Steam Packet Hotel on Queen's Wharf. He was vice-president of the Debating Society and a founding member of the Australia Felix Lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. In May-June 1842 he edited the Port Phillip Gazette in the absence of George Arden but next year retired from the staff. In November 1843 he was elected to the Melbourne corporation and became an alderman in 1846 and mayor in 1849. Prominent in local politics, he was active in the Port Phillip separation movement, in drafting petitions to the Colonial Office and in 1848 supporting the movement for the recall of Superintendent Charles La Trobe and the election of Earl Grey as a Port Phillip representative in the New South Wales Legislative Council. He was also influential in having a bridge built over the Yarra River and instigating the reservation of sites for the future town hall and parliament.

Greeves was a member of the Victorian Legislative Council in 1853-56 and served on the select committee which drafted the constitution. He was elected for East Bourke to the new Legislative Assembly in November and next March in the O'Shanassy government became commissioner of trade and customs. In April he was defeated in the ministerial elections but was appointed to the Melbourne sewerage and water commission; after his re-election for East Bourke in June he successfully proposed the Yan Yean amendment bill and held his seat until August 1859. From February 1860 to July 1861 he represented Geelong East and in September-October 1860 was president of the board of land and works and commissioner of crown lands and survey in the Nicholson ministry; many squatters were grateful for his administration of the new Land Act. In 1864-65 he represented Belfast in the assembly. As a Conservative he had opposed the secret ballot and supported high property qualifications, and was often accused of political opportunism. He won some repute for oratory but his style of speech was also described as 'pedantic fluency'. According to William Kelly, he was 'a painstaking man, who, with … a fair share of small ability, and a great ambition for public fame or notoriety, has given all his time … to the study of public questions'.

In 1869-70 the Oddfellows presented Greeves with a testimonial and £500 which he offered to the University of Melbourne for an exhibition in his name for the sons of Victorian Oddfellows; in September 1871 the offer was rejected because of its exclusive conditions. He died aged 69 at his home in Swanston Street on 23 May 1874, survived by his wife Elizabeth, née Milner. He was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery after an Anglican service and a litany read by the Oddfellows who also erected his headstone.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Becker, Men of Victoria (Melb, 1856)
  • W. Kelly, Life in Victoria, vol 1 (Lond, 1859)
  • Garryowen (E. Finn), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, vols 1-2 (Melb, 1888)
  • 'Deaths: Greeves', Australian Medical Journal, May 1874, p 160
  • D. M. O'Sullivan, ‘David John Thomas, F.R.C.S., a Founder of Victorian Medicine’, Medical Journal of Australia, 30 June 1956, pp 1065-72
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Apr, 1 May 1856, 25 May 1874, 8 July 1933
  • G. R. Quaife, The Nature of Political Conflict in Victoria 1856-57 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1964).

Citation details

R. W. G. Willis, 'Greeves, Augustus Frederick (1805–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 September 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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