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Hutchinson, William Alston (1839–1897)

by Harry Harper

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

William Alston Hutchinson (1839-1897), by unknown photographer

William Alston Hutchinson (1839-1897), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 12951

William Alston Hutchinson (1839-1897), manufacturer, merchant, colliery director and politician, was born on 26 March 1839 at Garrigill, near Alston, Cumberland, England, son of Thomas Hutchinson, store-keeper, and his wife Jane, née Phillipson. He was educated at Alston Grammar School and in 1857 arrived at Melbourne in the Commodore Perry, apparently lured by the goldfields. He went to Castlemaine and Ballarat but turned to trading. In 1860 he visited an uncle in Newcastle, New South Wales, where he set up as a store-keeper. In 1861 he married Barbara Telena, daughter of James Steel, a colliery engineer.

In 1872 Hutchinson moved to Sydney where in 1876 he founded a successful soap and candle factory in Abattoir Road, Balmain. In 1878 he was elected an alderman. Described by a local newspaper as a 'dark horse', he became mayor in February 1881 and began a vigorous term of office in which the Town Hall buildings were completed as well as other improvements. In 1883 Hutchinson, aided by the mayor of Sydney, John Harris, formed the Municipal Association which he hoped would 'weld together the scattered municipalities of the colony as a whole, with a common interest to strengthen and help each other for their mutual good'. He was the association's acting secretary and in 1897 its vice-president.

On 2 December 1882 Hutchinson was elected for Balmain to the Legislative Assembly. As a politician he was earnest if not particularly distinguished; he supported Alexander Stuart's 1883 crown lands bill and carried two private Acts. As the company's chairman he had successfully promoted the Redhead Coal-Mine Railway Act of 1883. In 1885 he did not seek re-election, reputedly 'disgusted by the great waste of time and the heated feelings that so distinguished the Assembly'. In 1884 he set up as a merchant in Bond Street, Sydney, and turned to municipal affairs, serving as alderman of the Glebe for nine years and its mayor in 1896; he was also a justice of the peace. He was a commissioner for New South Wales at the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London and at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He later developed a wide range of business interests and became a director of several companies and managing director of the Hetton Colliery. He was keenly interested in the building society movement and a director of the New South Wales Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind. He died at his home, Alston, Glebe Road, on 20 June 1897 and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife and by three sons and five daughters of their eleven children. His probate was sworn at £36,000.

Hutchinson had the drive and acumen to prosper in the expanding commercial life of the colony. He also had much feeling for public welfare and the well-being of ordinary citizens without neglecting his own material advancement. The Sydney Morning Herald justly commented that he was held in general respect.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 1 (Syd, 1889)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1883, 2, 547-55
  • Balmain Independent, 12 Feb 1881
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1897
  • S. N. Hogg, Balmain Past and Present (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Harry Harper, 'Hutchinson, William Alston (1839–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/hutchinson-william-alston-3830/text6079, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 August 2018.

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

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