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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Marmion, William Edward (1845–1896)

by R. T. Appleyard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

William Edward Marmion (1845-1896), merchant and politician, was born on 22 October 1845 at Fremantle, Western Australia, son of Patrick Marmion (1815-1856), merchant, and his wife Charlotte Stone. Educated in Fremantle and Perth, he started work at 16. At 21 a master in the mercantile service, he began his own business at Fremantle; W. E. Marmion & Co. in the next twenty years expanded interests in pastoral, pearling and maritime activities. He jointly leased millions of acres of pastoral land, was an early station-owner in the Kimberley, and conducted large shipping operations. Following the discovery of gold in the Yilgarn, he formed mining companies and later helped to fit out prospecting parties headed for desert regions. On 28 December 1870 in the Catholic Church, Fremantle, he had married Anna Mary Gibbons; they had three sons and six daughters.

On the introduction of representative government in 1870, Marmion was defeated for the Fremantle seat but was appointed an unofficial nominee member of the Legislative Council. He was elected for Fremantle in 1873 and until his death remained its member, from 1890 in the Legislative Assembly. Premier (Sir) John Forrest appointed him commissioner of crown lands and minister for mines in 1890. Under Marmion the gold-mining industry became the economic vehicle which transformed a quiet backwater into a colony attracting enormous international interest. He had financial acumen and understood the infrastructure requirements needed to service rapidly increasing trade and population. He was a member of the finance committee of the Legislative Council and of the National Australasian Federal Convention of 1891 in Sydney where he took no prominent part.

Marmion sat on nearly one hundred select committees and royal commissions covering a wide range of topics. In the Londonderry claim-jumping case of 1894, goldfields editors accused him of conflicts of interest as minister and leading investor. However, his resignation as minister that year took many by surprise, some seeing it as consistent with his integrity.

Marmion's progressive public works policy and his voluble promotion of Fremantle's interests gave him a reputation for being honest and clear sighted, but lacking in tact. In his support for Sir John Coode's plan to develop Fremantle's harbour, he evidently criticized and bullied engineers who supported C. Y. O'Connor's alternative plan. As a Catholic member of the Central Board of Education from its inception in 1871 to its abolition in 1895, he earned the respect of J. T. Reilly for his 'splendid efforts' to obtain justice.

Marmion's sudden death from liver disease on 4 July 1896 caused widespread grief. It was reported that more people attended his funeral than any other in the colony to that time and that the streets of Perth were lined with thousands of citizens. He was buried in the Catholic cemetery, Fremantle. He died intestate with his affairs in some confusion. A monument, a huge Celtic cross, was erected in Mayor's Park, Fremantle, by public subscription.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly, History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • J. T. Reilly, Reminiscences of Fifty Years Residence in Western Australia (Perth, 1903)
  • M. Tauman, The Chief, C. Y. O'Connor (Perth, 1978)
  • R. Erickson (compiler), Dictionary of Western Australians, vol 3 (Perth, 1979)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Western Australia), 1883, p 70, 1887-88, p 15, 180, 1888, p 16, 1889, p 19
  • T. Manford, A History of Rail Transport Policy in Western Australia, 1870-1911 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1976).

Citation details

R. T. Appleyard, 'Marmion, William Edward (1845–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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