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Merewether, Edward Christopher (1820–1893)

by C. E. Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Edward Christopher Merewether (1820-1893), by William Nicholas, c1841

Edward Christopher Merewether (1820-1893), by William Nicholas, c1841

State Library of New South Wales, Original : P2/342

Edward Christopher Merewether (1820-1893), public servant and company superintendent, was born on 20 February 1820 in London, fifth son of Serjeant Henry Alworth Merewether, K.C., town clerk of London and recorder of Reading, and his wife Elizabeth Maria, née Lockyer. Educated at Charterhouse in 1830 and Westminster in 1834-37, he entered University College, Oxford, in 1838 intending to take holy orders but left without a degree.

In the Stratheden Merewether arrived at Sydney in September 1841 and became aide-de-camp to Governor Gipps next January. He also served as aide-de-camp to Sir Maurice O'Connell and Governor Fitzroy. In 1846 he resigned to become colonial secretary in the Port Curtis colony which lasted for only a few months in 1847. At Earl Grey's direction the New South Wales government made him commissioner for crown lands in the Lower Darling district. Merewether disliked the heat but fortunately served only two months early in 1848 before he was moved to the Macleay River district. Stationed at Belgrave, near Kempsey, he was sent to Sydney in 1854 as acting agent of the Church and School Corporation's estates and acting chief inspector of distilleries. In 1856 he resumed duty as commissioner of crown lands for the New England and Macleay districts with headquarters at Armidale. He was soon recalled to Sydney as clerk of the Executive Council and in 1858-59 was in England to negotiate for steam postal communication from London to Sydney via Panama. The chairman of the committee assisting him was E. W. T. Hamilton. On 11 April 1860 he married Augusta Maria, elder daughter of Dr James Mitchell.

In 1861 Merewether accepted Hamilton's offer to become general superintendent of the Australian Agricultural Co. and moved to Newcastle where he built The Ridge on the Burwood estate. His good management restored the company's fortunes. He overcame labour troubles in coal-mining and with James Fletcher helped to arrange the 'vend' system. Merewether closely supervised the company's large stations. On Warrah he had a sheep-washing pool and pump installed at a cost of over £4000 and in 1868-75 the run was subdivided with wire fencing for £13,500. His superintendency was distinguished by meticulous attention to detail and full reports to the directors in London. At the half-yearly meeting in February 1874 a group of shareholders insinuated 'that his administration of the Company's affairs was influenced by his private business interests'. He resigned but was mollified by the court of directors and presentation of £1000 for his services and remained until 31 December 1875. Coal and agricultural workers gave him testimonials referring to his fairness, integrity and considerateness.

Merewether had become increasingly involved with management of the Burwood estate. In 1869 he assisted the family's counsel in litigation that eventually wrested control of Mitchell's estate from the confidence trickster, William Ernest Wolfskehl. Later as owner of the estate he had to negotiate with himself when the company wanted to mine under it. In 1876 he left the management of the estate to Robert Scott junior, and moved his family to Sydney where he built Castlefield at Bondi and Dennarque at Mount Wilson, alternating between them for winter and summer. For some years he was a local director of the London Chartered Bank and occasionally visited Newcastle. He was president of the New South Wales branch of the Royal Geographical Society and in 1889 published his presidential address. In 1887 he had generously financed exploration in New Guinea by T. F. Bevan who gave his name to the Merewether River. He became president of the Australian Club, the Sydney Lawn Tennis Club, and vice-president of the Belvedere Cricket Club in Sydney. He was also a fellow of the Imperial Institute and a member of the Linnean Society. Unobtrusively he was a benefactor of schools, schools of arts and St Paul's College, University of Sydney. He paid for building St Augustine's Church of England in the suburb named after him at Newcastle. He died on 30 October 1893 and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife, six sons and three daughters, to whom he left his estate valued for probate at almost £235,000.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1858, 3, 268, 1858-59, 2, 490, 1875, 3, 519, 536, 1881, 3, 406, 1885-86, 1, 141, 284, 5, 1059
  • J. R. Robertson, Warrah: The Genesis of a Pastoral Property (M.A. thesis, Australian National University, 1960)
  • C. W. Lloyd papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • A.A. Co. papers (Australian National University Archives)
  • Merewether estate archives (Newcastle Public Library).

Citation details

C. E. Smith, 'Merewether, Edward Christopher (1820–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/merewether-edward-christopher-4188/text6735, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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