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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Whiddon, William Henry (1858–1949)

by Peter Spearritt

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

William Henry Whiddon (1858-1949), taxation commissioner and lotteries director, was born on 17 October 1858 at Woolloomooloo, Sydney, sixth child of Samuel Whiddon, builder, and his wife Sarah Maria, née Fossey, both from London. William became a clerk and lived at Surry Hills. On 24 April 1878 he married with Independent forms Elizabeth Ann Timms at Emerald Hill, Melbourne; they were to have ten children. He acquired an office in Fitzroy Street, Sydney, and about 1890 with James Summons set up as a cordial manufacturer. Whiddon entered the New South Wales Treasury as a temporary clerk in March 1895 and remained closely connected with income tax legislation and collection.

Appointed senior assessor in the State taxation branch in July 1905, he became commissioner of taxation on 1 January 1914. At a conference in Melbourne in July 1923 he cogently advocated uniform taxation forms for State and Federal purposes: he and the Federal taxation commissioner Robert Ewing designed the form for subsequent collections. Whiddon and the other State commissioners were concurrently appointed deputy Federal commissioners late that year.

At the 1928 royal commission on the Commonwealth Constitution, Whiddon alleged that the atmosphere of the newly amalgamated department was 'very clouded'. In addition to a long backlog of claims awaiting settlement by 'ignorant' Federal staff, there was evidence of 'criminal' dealings between taxation officials and hoteliers. In March Prime Minister S. M. (Viscount) Bruce arranged with the State premier for an inquiry to be held, but further action was frustrated by Ewing, who took exception to Whiddon's 'regrettable reflections' on members of his staff, and by Whiddon's impending retirement at the age of 70. From December he was retained as assessor and member of the local Income Tax (Management) Board.

On 22 June 1931 he was appointed first director of the State lottery, established by the Lang government in December 1930 as part of its 'feverish search for new sources of revenue'. Whiddon revelled in his new public role; in Lang's view he was the 'ideal man to launch the scheme' because of his theatrical presence. Although the United Australia Party criticized his appointment, it proved popular with the lottery-buying public.

A reversal in Whiddon's career occurred in 1933. The Public Service Association of New South Wales chafed at his exercising sole power to appoint lottery staff. He was not reappointed lottery director in June; two months later his membership of the Income Tax Board was terminated. Having become the subject of allegations of criminal offences, Whiddon appeared in Central Police Court on 24 October and 19 December; he was fined £2 and £10 for selling shares in a lottery ticket in contravention of the Gaming and Betting (Amendment) Act. The controversial sale of two tickets bearing the same number had also brought him to court on 28 November. In a taxation appeal in 1935 Whiddon was named for having allowed, while commissioner, that betting proceeds from racing should not be regarded as income.

A genteel-looking, bespectacled man, Whiddon was one-time conductor of the Metropolitan Liedertafel and Petersham Choral Society. His other keen interest was horse-racing and he was chairman (1930-32) of Tattersall's Club. A widower, on 16 October 1939 at the Congregational Church, Newtown, he married Agnes Martha Cole. Survived by her, and by a son and five daughters of his first marriage, he died on 29 May 1949 at his Hurlstone Park home and was buried in the Anglican section of Manly cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £15,626.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • B. Nairn, The ‘Big Fella’ (Melb, 1986)
  • Royal Commission on the Constitution, Proceedings, Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1928, 5, p 1292
  • Town and Country Journal, 31 Dec 1913
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Sept 1923, 9, 20 Mar, 14 June, 18 Dec 1928, 15 May 1930, 14 Nov 1931, 20 May 1932, 3, 22 June, 26 Aug, 10, 29 Nov, 20 Dec 1933, 11 Dec 1935, 30 May 1949.

Citation details

Peter Spearritt, 'Whiddon, William Henry (1858–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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