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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pattison, William (1830–1896)

by June Stoodley

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

William Pattison (1830-1896), businessman, mine director and politician, was born on 23 May 1830 at Hobart Town, son of Joseph Pattison, baker, and his wife Mary, née Barnes. Educated in a private school at Bagdad, he began work at 12 on his father's farms near Glenorchy and Green Point. In 1846 he moved to Melbourne and after running a dairy at Fishermens Bend set up a butchery. In 1851 William went to the goldfields at Ballarat, Forest Creek and Bendigo. A successful miner he returned to Melbourne and with his brother Joseph opened a wholesale butchery, contracting to supply the government troops. In 1858 William was a representative of Bourke Ward in the Melbourne City Council but on 5 August 1859 the brothers were declared insolvent.

Pattison may have been in New Zealand for three years but in 1863 he opened a butcher's shop at Rockhampton, Queensland. He acquired near-by station property and soon became a prominent stock dealer and public figure, serving as alderman for several years, twice as mayor, as chairman of Gogango Divisional Board and president of the Chamber of Commerce. He was a member of the Rockhampton Jockey Club, the Hospital Board and the School of Arts. One of the original shareholders and later chairman of directors of the Mount Morgan gold-mine, he held 125,000 shares in 1886.

Pattison represented Blackall in the Legislative Assembly in 1886-88 and was senior member for Rockhampton in 1888-93. He was minister without portfolio in McIlwraith's government from 13 June to 30 November 1888 and colonial treasurer in the Morehead ministry to 19 November 1889 when he suddenly resigned, alleging that McIlwraith had broken a promise to relieve him of the Treasury. In reply McIlwraith accused Pattison of selling Mount Morgan shares to cabinet members to secure advantages for the company. Despite the ensuing scandal Pattison served as minister without portfolio till 12 August 1890 and retired from the assembly in May 1893.

Pattison was married twice: first, on 20 August 1855 in Melbourne to Helen Margaret Grant; and second, on 23 October 1878 in Rockhampton to Susan Annie Stephenson. He died at Rockhampton on 8 June 1896, survived by eight of his fourteen children.

Pattison's business career was successful apart from the disastrous 1888 crash in Mount Morgan shares in which he had unwittingly involved several fellow politicians. His short and unhappy political career gave some truth to the claim that business success does not make a treasurer. The 'Mount Morganism' allegations, though unsubstantiated, upset him severely. Critics found him bumptious and domineering yet according to one opponent he had 'a heart like a bullock', always responsive to anyone in distress. His attempts in 1888 to bolster the market and save his friends (including some later critics) permanently embarrassed his finances.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. T. Barton, Jubilee History of Queensland (Brisb, 1910)
  • J. G. Pattison, ‘Battler's’ Tales of Early Rockhampton (Melb, 1939)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1889, 2206, 2603, 1890, 511, 546
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 10 May, 13-15 June, 30 Nov 1888, 17 Sept 1890
  • Brisbane Courier, 21 May, 13 June, 30 Nov 1888, 16 Sept, 19, 20 Nov, 2 Dec 1889, 5 Aug, 18 Sept 1890, 31 Mar 1893, 9 June 1896
  • D. K. Dignan, Sir Thomas McIlwraith: A Political Portrait (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1951)
  • J. C. Vockler, Sir Samuel Walker Griffith (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1953)
  • J. Stoodley, The Queensland Gold-Miner in the Late Nineteenth Century (M.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1964)
  • B. G. Patterson, Secret History of Mount Morgan, and Mount Morgan 1853-1927 (State Library of Queensland)
  • Palmer-McIlwraith papers (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

June Stoodley, 'Pattison, William (1830–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 21 September 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 5

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