FINK, Theodore (1855-1942)

FINK, Theodore (1855-1942)
politician and educationist
son of Moses Fink, was born at Guernsey in the Channel Islands on 3 July 1855. Brought to Victoria by his father in 1860 he was educated at the Flinders School, Geelong, at Geelong College, and at the Church of England Grammar School, Melbourne. He qualified as a solicitor at the university of Melbourne and practised his profession successfully. In September 1894 he was elected to the Victorian legislative assembly as member for Jolimont and West Richmond and held the seat for 10 years. On 5 December 1899 he became a minister without portfolio in the McLean (q.v.) ministry. The treasurer William Shiels (q.v.) had been in bad health and the intention was that Fink should act as an assistant to him. He, however, objected to some personal remarks made by Shiels at a public meeting referring to the ministry just displaced, and resigned from the ministry. (The Argus, 21 and 22 Dec. 1894). It was generally felt that his reasons were insufficient, and his action did harm to his future career as a politician. He supported the federation movement and stood for the house of representatives at the first federal election in April 1901, but was defeated by William Knox. He still held his seat in the Victorian assembly but retired in 1904 and never afterwards entered politics.
During this period, however, Fink had been doing valuable work in another direction. He was president of the royal commission on technical education in 1899-1901 which resulted in reforms in primary and technical schools, and he was also president of the royal commission on the university of Melbourne in 1902-4. In August 1904 he was thanked by parliament for his services to education. Subsequently he was chairman of conferences on apprenticeship in 1906-7 and 1911, chairman of a board of inquiry into the working-men's college in 1910, vice-president of the council of public education, vice-chairman of the state war council of Victoria, and chairman of the Commonwealth repatriation board for Victoria in 1917-19. In yet another direction he was an important influence. In his earlier days he had done some writing for the press and in 1889 became a director of the Herald and Weekly Times newspapers. A few years later he became chairman of directors. It was generally believed that Fink was an important factor in the great improvement that took place in the conduct of the Herald, and that he was largely responsible for the appointment of such excellent editors as Guy Innes and (Sir) Keith Murdoch. He retained his interest in the press until the end of his long life. He died at Melbourne on 25 April 1942. He married in 1881 Kate, daughter of George Isaacs, who predeceased him. He was survived by two sons and two daughters.
Fink was much interested in the arts and literature and was widely read. In his earlier days he was well-known as an excellent after-dinner speaker, and his witty speeches at social gatherings of artists and literary men were much appreciated. Though he was also well-known in the business life of Melbourne as a lawyer and a power in the newspaper world, comparatively few people realized the full value of his educational work. The advance in education in Victoria during the first quarter of the twentieth century was based on the report of the commissions over which he presided, and his recognition of the ability of Frank Tate (q.v.) led to his appointment as director of education and the great expansion which followed.
The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903; The Argus and The Herald, Melbourne, 27 April 1942; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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