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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Raff, George (1815–1889)

by Noeline V. Hall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

George Raff (1815-1889), merchant, sugar-grower and politician, was born on 15 April 1815 in Forres, Morayshire, Scotland, son of James Raff, farmer, and his wife Margaret, née Cumming, whose mother was Lesley Baillie, the 'Bonnie Lesley' of Robert Burns's poem. Raff reached Sydney on 2 January 1839 in the Earl Durham and probably found employment with Lamb, Parbury & Co. In 1842-43 he held Tarwin station, Gippsland, and on 14 April 1843 married Harriet Sealy Bourne, daughter of Robert Bourne, a retired missionary with whom he was associated in Gippsland.

Raff returned to Sydney and in January 1851 moved to Brisbane, probably representing Lamb, Parbury & Co. but soon established George Raff & Co. He also founded the Queensland Mercantile and Agency Co. and in 1861 became a director of the Queensland Steam Navigation Co. The direct wool trade between Brisbane and London was mainly due to his efforts. At Morayfield plantation near Caboolture he experimented with sugar and other crops and contributed to a prize for commercial sugar production. He employed Kanaka labour but was commended for his treatment of the men by Rev. John Dunmore Lang and gave influential evidence to a select committee on Pacific islands labour in 1869. On Inverness plantation near Mackay he found some gold from which he sent his sister in Scotland a gold brooch.

Raff worked hard for the separation movement and in 1859 represented Brisbane in the first parliament. Next year he was appointed to the Board of National Education and to the Exhibition Commission. When Arthur Macalister resigned as premier in July 1866 Sir George Bowen invited (Sir) Robert Herbert and Raff to form a temporary committee to keep government moving. This unorthodox decision was most unpopular and the entire House moved to the Opposition benches. Raff served as minister without portfolio in later Herbert and Macalister ministries until 16 November 1866 and resigned from parliament in June 1867. He contested Moreton in 1870, but lost.

At his house, Moraybank, in New Farm, Raff lived a happy family and social life until 1879 when his wife died. On 7 September 1883 at Sydney he married Eliza Jane Molle, née Lord, a 40-year-old widow with a family; as a result Raff was estranged from most of his seven surviving sons. In 1882 he had formally joined Parbury, Lamb & Co. (as it was then) and it became Parbury, Lamb and Raff. The partnership was wound up in 1886 and a new company, Raff, Graham & Co. Ltd, was registered in April. Raff died on 28 August 1889 leaving an estate valued for probate at £5038.

Though nominally a political liberal, Raff's opposition to government extravagance made him suspect in some liberal circles, but few denied his consistency, sincerity, patriotism and attachment to principle.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of Queensland (Syd, 1888)
  • N. Bartley, Opals and Agates (Brisb, 1892)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • E. W. Docker, The Blackbirders (Syd, 1970)
  • family reminiscences by a grandson (University of Queensland Library)
  • Crown land commissioners, Gippsland itineraries (State Records New South Wales)
  • CO 234/10/34.

Citation details

Noeline V. Hall, 'Raff, George (1815–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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