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Meeks, Sir Alfred William (1849–1932)

by Martha Rutledge

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

Sir Alfred William Meeks (1849-1932), merchant and politician, was born on 15 April 1849 at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, son of William Meeks, shoemaker, and his wife Maria, née Healing. The family migrated to Melbourne in 1854 and Alfred was educated mainly at St James' schools. He entered a business house and was an accountant when he married with Baptist forms his cousin Alice Freeman, English-born daughter of a bootmaker from Cheltenham, on 14 October 1873 at Richmond.

In 1878 Meeks became manager of a department of Bright Bros & Co., merchants and shipping agents. He went to Adelaide in 1882 to establish a branch of Gibbs, Bright & Co. and considerably expanded the firm's business. He served on the commission on government stores (1886-87), chaired the finance committee for the Adelaide Jubilee International Exhibition in 1887, was a local director of the National Bank of Australasia and chairman of the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce.

Moving to Sydney in 1888 as senior resident partner of Gibbs, Bright & Co., Meeks became a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society next year and was chairman in 1906-32. He also became chairman of Lysaght Bros & Co. Ltd and of the Sydney and Suburban Hydraulic Power Co. Ltd, and a local director of the Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation of London. He served on the royal commission into military affairs in 1892 and in 1895 was a founder of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales. President in 1897-98 of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, he chaired a congress of Australian chambers of commerce in 1897.

A staunch Protectionist and ardent Federationist, Meeks was a member of the executive of the Australasian Federation League of New South Wales from 1894. As joint treasurer of the United Federal Executive in 1899 he campaigned vigorously for the acceptance of the Constitution bill. In 1900 Meeks was nominated to the Legislative Council: liberal-minded, he supported female suffrage. He was an executive-member of the committee which initiated a testimonial fund for R. D. Meagher in 1917.

Meeks worshipped regularly at St Mark's Anglican Church after he had moved to Darling Point about 1907. He was sometime president and honorary treasurer for the Young Men's Christian Association, president of the Sydney City Mission and of the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution, and a committee-member of the New South Wales Bush Nursing Association and Toc H. During World War I he was honorary treasurer of the Y.M.C.A.'s war service funds, an executive-member of the Lord Mayor's Patriotic and War Fund and in 1919 senior vice-president of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia. Next year he was appointed K.B.E. His wife worked for the Boys' Brigade, the Fresh Air League and the Surgical Appliance Aid Society. In 1930 they gave a small hospital to the Boy Scouts' Association in memory of their only son Victor who had served with the light horse on Gallipoli and died in 1926.

A dark, dapper man with a neat vandyke beard and waxed moustache, Meeks belonged to the Union Club and the Royal Australian Historical Society. He loved music, especially singing, and was a vice-president of the Sydney Liedertafel (Royal Sydney Apollo Club from 1916) in 1900-08 and president in 1908-32; he was presented with its gold lyre in 1920. He was also a vice-president of the Royal Philharmonic Society of Sydney. Retiring from Gibbs, Bright & Co. in 1929, Sir Alfred died at his Darling Point home on 6 March 1932 and was buried in the Anglican section of South Head cemetery; his wife died on 21 July. They were survived by a daughter, who inherited most of his estate, valued for probate at £84,573 in two States. In the Legislative Council Sir Joseph Carruthers said that he had 'never heard Sir Alfred Meeks say an angry word, or a word that would cause pain to another man'.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1932, p 8215
  • Millions Magazine, 1 Dec 1919
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21 Mar 1932
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 June 1917, 28 Mar 1919, 27 Feb 1920, 2 Feb 1925, 10 May 1926, 20 Oct 1930, 7, 8 Mar, 22 July 1932
  • Bulletin, 9 Mar 1932
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Meeks, Sir Alfred William (1849–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/meeks-sir-alfred-william-7549/text13171, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 February 2018.

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

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