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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mather, Joseph Francis (1844–1925)

by William N. Oats

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

Joseph Francis Mather (1844-1925), Quaker, was born on 6 April 1844 in Hobart Town, son of Joseph Benson Mather, draper, and his wife Anna Maria, née Cotton. He was educated at Clifton House, New Norfolk, Somerset House, Hobart, Frederick Mackie's Friends' School, briefly at the Hobart High School in 1859 and finally at H. M. Pike's School. He worked on his grandfather Francis Cotton's estates at Kelvedon and Earlham, had a brief period with an architect and was an agricultural apprentice at Ellinthorp Hall, Ross, in 1865-68. He joined the long-established family clothing business in Hobart, becoming a partner in 1870 and proprietor on his father's death in 1890, until he sold out in 1912. On 19 March 1874 he married Margaret Ann Lidbetter (d.1876) at the Friends' Meeting House in Hobart.

Mather was a generous employer, who endeavoured to apply his religious principles to the conduct of his business affairs. His character and integrity won the respect of Hobart's business community. He was a committee-member of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce, the Savings Bank, the Tasmanian Tourist Association and the Sanitary Association, concerned to develop public reserves to conserve natural beauty around Hobart. His philanthropic interests included temperance, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Hobart Ethical Society, the Ragged School Committee and the Hobart Benevolent Society. He represented the Society of Friends on the Hobart Council of Churches.

Mather was secretary of the original committee to found The Friends' School, Hobart, and chairman in 1890-1923. He believed that the future of the Society of Friends depended on education and he gave the school his total commitment, even to the prejudice of his business. His own standing brought strong support to the school as a non-secular, non-sectarian institution, which stressed not only acquisition of knowledge but character building. He welcomed the progressive ideas of the first headmaster, Samuel Clemes. During periods of difficulty Mather provided continuity of direction and firm 'pilotage'. His code address was appropriately 'Hopeful, Hobart'. In 1912 he produced a history of the school.

Mather was a prolific correspondent with the English Quakers Edwin Ransome and Charles Holdsworth. For many years he was editor of the Australian Friend in which he wrote copiously on education, militarism in schools, the history of Quakers in Australia and contemporary issues. Yet in spite of his exposition of Quaker principles he was considered a 'private' man, averse to publicity or involvement in politics. Thus he based his testimony against war on a consistent attempt to maintain a line of conduct in harmony with the mind and spirit of Christ and was doubtful about activists who made conscription a political issue. Nor did his pacifism prevent him from respecting those of differing views: when Friends' old scholars wished to erect an honour-board in the school after World War I, and some Quakers opposed it, Mather acknowledged the genuine feeling behind both views. The board was erected with the inscription, 'They followed where their sense of duty led'.

On 18 January 1905 he had married Lucy Margaret Thompson in Sydney. There were no children of either marriage. Survived by his wife, Mather died on 11 August 1925 in Hobart and was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery. In a leader the Mercury paid tribute to him as 'The Good Citizen' and to his 'nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love'.

Select Bibliography

  • W. N. Oats, The Rose and the Waratah (Hob, 1979)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 12 Aug 1925
  • J. F. Mather correspondence (F 4/1-6, University of Tasmania Archives).

Citation details

William N. Oats, 'Mather, Joseph Francis (1844–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 27 October 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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