CLARKE, Sir William John (1831-1897

CLARKE, Sir William John (1831-1897
pastoralist and philanthropist
was the son of William John Turner Clarke (1804-1874), an early Tasmanian colonist, who acquired large pastoral properties in Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and New Zealand. He settled afterwards in Victoria and became a member of the legislative council. On his death in 1874 his eldest son William John Clarke was left the Victorian estate. He was born in Tasmania in 1831 and in 1850 crossed to Victoria, had experience on his father's properties in both Victoria and Tasmania, and in 1862 settled permanently in Victoria and acted as manager for his father. He took some interest In local government and was chairman of the Braybrook Road Board. On the death of his father he found himself with a very large income, much of which he began to use for the benefit of the state. His largest gifts were £10,000 for the building fund of St Paul's cathedral and £7000 for Trinity College, Melbourne university. He was elected a member of the legislative council for the Southern Province in 1878, but never took a prominent part in politics. In the same year he was appointed president of the commissioners of the Melbourne international exhibition which was opened on 1 October 1880. In 1882 he gave 3000 guineas to found a scholarship in the Royal College of Music, and for many years he bore the full expense of the Rupertswood battery of horse artillery at Sunbury. He took interest in various forms of sport, his yacht, the Janet, won several races, but he was not very successful on the turf; the most important race he won being the V.R.C. Oaks. He was the patron of many agricultural societies and did much to improve the breed of cattle in Victoria. Before the establishment of the Victorian department of agriculture he provided a laboratory for R. W. E. McIver, and paid him to lecture on agricultural chemistry in farming centres. In 1886 he was a member of the Victorian commission to the Colonial and Indian exhibition, and in the same year Cambridge gave him the honorary degree of LL.D. He was well-known also as a freemason and became grand master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria. In his later years, although his interests lay principally in the country, he lived at his town house Cliveden in East Melbourne. He died suddenly at Melbourne on 15 May 1897. He was created a baronet in December 1882. He married (1) in 1860 Mary, daughter of the Hon. John Walker and (2) in 1873 Janet Marian, daughter of Peter Snodgrass, M.L.C., who survived him with two sons and two daughters of the first marriage, and three sons and two daughters of the second marriage.
Clarke's name was a household word in Victoria. He was kindly, hospitable, and rather retiring by nature, content to be a good citizen who desired to use his wealth wisely. He made few large donations but his help could constantly be relied on by hospitals, charitable institutions, and agricultural and other societies. He cut up one of his estates into small holdings and was a model landlord, and he showed much foresight in allying science with agriculture by employing McIver as a lecturer. His second wife, Janet Lady Clarke, who had been associated with him in philanthropic movements, kept up her interest in them, especially in all matters relating to women, until her death on 28 April 1909. One of their sons, Sir Frank Clarke, went into politics and was a member of several Victorian ministries. He became president of the legislative council in 1923 and held that position for nearly 20 years. He was created K.B.E. in 1926.
The Argus, and The Age, Melbourne, 17 May 1897; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; The Cyclopaedia of Victoria, 1903; Burke's Peerage, etc., 1897; Who's Who in Australia, 1941.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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