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Meares, Charles Edward Devenish (1861–1940)

by John Atchison

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

Charles Edward Devenish Meares (1861-1940), dairy industry organizer, was born on 17 November 1861 near Kiama, New South Wales, son of Alfred Devenish Meares, dairy-farmer, and his Tasmanian wife Maria Louisa Antoinette, daughter of John Tooth, brewer. In 1875 he became a junior clerk in the New South Wales Fresh Food & Ice Co. Book-keeping experience with a Sussex Street commission agent crystallized his ideas on producer co-operatives. Joining the South Coast and West Camden Co-operative Co. Ltd in 1881, Meares became accountant, then commerce manager. On 14 October 1899 at Enfield he married Annie Ellen Pechey who bore him two sons and died in 1906.

The banks foreclosed on the company in 1899 and next year Meares formed the Dairy Farmers' Co-operative Milk Co. Ltd and lobbied for a co-operative distributive company, Coastal Farmers' Co-operative Society Ltd, of which he became manager. He travelled incessantly, propounding the advantages of co-operation. Assisted by L. T. McInnes, director of dairying, he initiated major reforms: separation on the farm, co-operative distribution within Sydney and bulk carriage by rail; he initially opposed pasteurization of cream for butter-making and compulsory grading of butter. In 1909 he persuaded the North Coast Co-operative Co. Ltd (NORCO) and other co-operatives to use a joint selling floor and started a common export system.

Emphasizing primary industries, Meares helped to reorganize the Sydney Chamber of Commerce in 1912 and as vice-president (1916) and president (1918) energetically pursued its aims. With the formation of the Primary Producers' Union by C. J. McRae in 1916 to secure maximum production with a safe exportable surplus, Meares, as leader of its delegation, attempted to remove dairying from Necessary Commodities Control Commission jurisdiction. He vigorously opposed establishment of price-fixing boards and at the conference (Melbourne, 1916) of dairying and manufacturing interests advocated greater emphasis on section 92 of the Constitution.

A government nominee on the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Pool Committee, in 1919 Meares was hesitant about (Sir) Walter Massy-Greene's scheme for co-operative control of the dairy industry. But, as a provisional director, he energetically supported the subsequent Australian Producers' Wholesale Co-operative Federation Ltd. In London in 1920, with West Australian Basil Murray, Meares secured the coping-stone of his career: the federal co-operatives of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa united in the Overseas Farmers' Co-operative Federations. In 1922-23 with W. B. Chaffey and F. L. McDougall, he was a member of the Commonwealth delegation sent to Britain to seek larger markets for dried fruits. In 1929 Empire Dairies Ltd was formed in London to handle butter sales.

After achieving reconstitution of the 1922 Australian Dairy Council as a purely advisory body, Meares was appointed chairman. He spearheaded lobbying for the Dairy Produce Export Control Board which successfully reduced freight and insurance costs. In 1926 he was elected to the State Advisory Dairy Board. In 1925 NORCO's withdrawal from the co-operative selling floor threatened disintegration, but pressure from Casino achieved an amalgamation of Coastal Farmers with Berrima District Farm and Dairy Co. Ltd to form the Producers' Distributing Society Ltd. Meares was joint manager until 1931 and remained a director until 1938. He was cautious about Thomas Paterson's All-Australian scheme in 1925 but, after its acceptance by the dairying industry, he resolved its financial impasse. In 1932 he published 50 Years of Co-operation 1881-1931.

Meares was a foundation member of Rotary International, Australia, and a keen sportsman: he was honorary secretary of the New South Wales Lawn Tennis Association. He died at his Lindfield home on 14 November 1940 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His second wife Mary Anna, née Brown, whom he had married at Ashfield on 18 March 1908, and five sons survived him. For nearly forty years Meares was the master-mind in developing co-operative marketing for primary producers; he stressed efficiency, self-reliance and independence of government assistance.

Select Bibliography

  • R. S. Maynard, His was the Vision (Syd, 1940)
  • Commerce (Sydney), 1 Aug 1918
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June 1919, 10 Nov 1920, 11 Oct, 14 Nov 1922, 16, 20 Nov 1940
  • D. H. McKay, History of Co-operation in South-Eastern Australia, 1860-1940 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1946)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Meares, Charles Edward Devenish (1861–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/meares-charles-edward-devenish-7548/text13169, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 September 2017.

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

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