History of West Australia/Frederick Illingworth

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COMMERCIAL interests in a young growing country are abnormal one way or other. It takes many years for bedrock to be attained and stable reliable business to be conducted on defined lines. One year there is an inflation, which enriches all with vested and other interests. Another year the value of these things is far under the normal. And then takes place the evanishment of the wealth of those who were previously apparently rich. The cleverest business men are affected by these rapid fluctuations, these booms and collapses. Some of Australia's finest class of business men of a few years ago are now in poverty. One man is sometimes compelled, in business terms, to begin his life again several times. Often it is through no fault of his. It is the common experience of every growing country—the refining process which leads to permanency. The kaleidoscope of life evolves its many slides, and the bright and brilliant and hopeful alternate with the sombre and heavy and hopeless. The strong man is never cast down while life remains, and whether on bloody battlefields or in industrial wars he allows no temporary defeat to permanently dishearten him. He rises again.

Frederick Illingworth2.jpg
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There are thousands of such men in the Australian continent, and among them are public men and many of our best citizens. The career of Mr. Frederick Illingworth is a case in point. He is made of the stuff which is never wholly defeated. He has amassed three fortunes and lost them. He has served Australia in her Parliaments, and helped to guide colonies with his advice. The sphinx riddle has never overmastered him, and by careful shrewd business principles he is now prospering and helping his country. Mr. Illingworth is among the prominent public men of Western Australia, and is a force which must be reckoned with in the local political world. To all intents and purposes he is a leader of the Opposition, a position as important, in its way, to political vitality as that of Premier. His name carries respect throughout the colony, and his constitutional knowledge is availed of by all sections of the House of Assembly and by the public. If everything goes well he may yet be on the Treasury benches of Western Australia. His rise in public favour in this colony has been phenomenal, for he has only been resident here a few years. He reached Western Australia with a ripe experience and a sound judgment, and was possessed of ability which must work its way. On 24th September, 1844, Frederick Illingworth was born in Yorkshire, England. His father, Mr. James Illingworth, was a successful wool-classer, and was associated with the woollen industry nearly all his life. In the forties the Australian flocks became famous in England, and numbers of the English gentry were leaving their old homes to take up large stretches of rich pastoral country in the colonies, and numerous fortunes were made by these lucky men. Mr. Illingworth, sen., recognised that there was a big future before the woollen industry in Australia, and in 1848 he left England with his family and landed in Victoria. Thus Mr. Frederick Illingworth is practically an Australian. The father became attached to the now noted firm of Goldsbrough, Mort, and Co., and was able to render them assistance of some moment, because o[ his wide knowledge on wool. After some years he was offered the whole business of the company at a satisfactory figure, but unfortunately he did not buy it. Since then Goldsbrough, Mort, and Co. have become, without exception, the most important factor in wool production in Australia. The family took up their residence at Heidelberg, near Melbourne, but afterwards removed to Brighton. Eventually Mr. Illingworth père purchased a substantial tract of land at Brighton, which he subsequently subdivided and sold to advantage. During the fever engendered by the great gold discoveries in Ballarat and Bendigo (Victoria), he visited those centres, and was successful as a gold-digger. Indeed, he was among the earliest to visit those fields.

Meantime, Frederick Illingworth was attending schools in Melbourne, upon leaving which he entered the service of Mr. Alex. Rippingale, now of Hatton Gardens, London, who conducted a large galvanised iron and hardware establishment in Brighton. The lad acquired a thorough knowledge of this trade, and when Mr. Rippingale closed the business he connected himself with a similar establishment, owned by Alfred Shaw and Co., Melbourne. He was associated with this house for some twenty-five years, whereupon he entered business in partnership with Mr. J. R. Hoskins, a much respected ex-mayor of Bendigo. These two gentlemen became wealthy timber and hardware merchants in Bendigo. Subsequently Mr. Illingworth purchased an estate in Yalook, in the Raywood district, Victoria, where he engaged extensively in pastoral pursuits. Bad years followed bad years, and droughts became only too common, until Mr. Illingworth lost nearly all his money, and sold his property for a mere pittance. He now had to begin again and returned to the old firm of Alfred Shaw and Co. By carefulness and a splendid determination he saved money, and in 1883 opened a hardware business in Swanston Street, opposite the Town Hall, Melbourne. He devoted his attention particularly to ironmongery and high-class electroplate ware. Soon his concern became a notable one in Melbourne, and his stock of electroplate ware had no equal in the city. Again he was on the road to fortune. Then the days of the great Melbourne land-boom came, and Mr. Illingworth, with friends, became a large holder of city and suburban property. Rapidly he amassed wealth, but, unfortunately, he did not sell his property in time. The first heralds of the crash came in the failure of financial institutions he was interested in, and his wealth dwindled down. Eventually he went to England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland on behalf of several financial concerns he was interested in; and after transacting his business with a fair amount of success, he sailed again for Australia, pleased that fortune was again within his reach. At Ceylon cablegrams acquainted him with the failure of the well-known firm of Baring Bros., which caused the projects for which he made the tour to collapse. The remnant of his capital and the hopes of a third fortune were now almost gone. When Albany was reached,further cablegrams and telegrams awaited him announcing the failure of financial houses in Melbourne with which he was identified. That was in November, 1890. He did not at once return to Melbourne, but visited Perth instead. As a result of careful observation he decided to take up his residence in this colony, then awakening to prosperity. It was his intention to open a hardware business in Perth, but Melbourne capitalists entrusted him with the control of properties they held in Western Australia. These necessitated such attention that Mr.Illingworth determined to engage in a land agency business. He duly opened an office, and by much energy, application, and determination he worked up a large concern. The land agency business is now among the largest in Perth. Since 1891 he has purchased several estates and sold them in allotments, and represented numerous large landholders. His previous experience has been put to account, and by great caution and consideration he has acquired a solid connection. As showing the stability which he attained, he was one of the few who successfully weathered the stress of the fall in prices of land in Perth in 1893. He is now a leader in real estate in Perth, and enjoys the confidence of numerous clients.

While in Victoria Mr. Illingworth was active in political matters. When possessed of his Swanston Street business he was elected a member of the Victorian Legislative Council for the Northern Province, which embraces Bendigo and surrounding districts. There were 8,600 voters on the roll for this constituency, and he defeated his opponent by sixty-four votes. As can be well understood, Mr. Illingworth had no ordinary standing in Parliament. He soon proved himself strong in debate, and showed that he had an intimate knowledge of the requirements of the colony, and also of Parliamentary procedure. As evidencing the respect with which he was viewed in the latter regard, when a Constitutional difficulty arose between the Legislative Council and the Assembly of Victoria, he was chosen as a member of the committee of the former which met in conference with representatives of the Lower House. For the rest he was recognised as an intelligent politician. During his first few weeks in Perth he telegraphed his resignation of the seat in the Legislative Council, and upon taking up his residence in this colony he was naturally sincerely interested in the new Constitution. He reached here just after the first elections under autonomy took place, and he watched with close observation the growth and course of politics. When the general elections of 1894 were held, he was nominated for one of the three newly-created seats on the goldfields. He conducted the campaign with zest, and was elected by a large majority for the Nannine constituency, which embraces practically the whole of the Murchison Goldfields. The factions he represented were numerous and the interests immense; but Mr. Illingworth showed that he was equal to the call upon him. With unremitting energy he has watched over the interests of his large constituency in the Assembly, and that the electors have secured so many privileges is largely due to his determination. In the first session he became a strong force, but in 1895 and 1896 he rose more in general favour and influence, and while Mr. Leake was absent in England last year, he was tentatively the leader of the Opposition. Mr. Illingworth is looked to as one of the strong influences against a strong Government. In the 1895 session of Parliament he moved a vote of want of confidence in regard to additional representation for the goldfields. The populations on these goldfields have so largely increased in proportion to those of other parts of the colony, that the people clamour for more representatives in Parliament. The goldfields contribute so much to the general prosperity that the goldfields people agitate with reason. Although it was a foregone conclusion, recognising the strength of the Government, that the vote of want of confidence would be unsuccessful, yet Mr. Illingworth was able to so far force the hands of the Cabinet that they promised to seriously consider the matter. This has since been done, with the result that new electorates (1897) have been declared on the goldfields, and Mr. Illingworth deserves especial credit for his work in securing the additional representation. Among the first questions of public moment which he prominently identified himself with was that of the ecclesiastical grant in relation to State aid to religious denominations and to assisted schools. He used his influence to have this abolished, and free and compulsory education is now practically in force. In the Mining Act, the Mining Accident Act and the Electoral Act, he proposed, and succeeded in carrying numerous amendments, and proved, that though a fearless critic of the Government, he was also a generous one. As a public speaker he holds his own with most politicians in the colony.

In 1868 Mr. Illingworth married Miss Elizabeth Tarry, who recently died. Their son, Mr. Arthur E. Illingworth, is a prominent member of the Australian Natives' Association, and is vice-president of the Perth Branch. A daughter was a very successful student at the Melbourne University, and, in music particularly, she took honours. Mr. Illingworth is actively associated with temperance work, and is a member of every temperance association in the colony. He is a well-preserved man, fluent in conversation as well as in public speaking. His has been a varied life, and although he has met many reverses, he has overcome them all. His rise in Western Australia has been rapid.