ORMOND, Francis (1827-1889)

ORMOND, Francis (1827-1889)
was born at Aberdeen, Scotland on 23 November 1827, the only son of a captain in the merchant service. He was educated at Tyzack's academy, Liverpool, and was brought to Victoria in 1842 by his father. It had been intended that he should enter a merchant's office but, his father having purchased a small sheep station, the boy began to work on it. When he was only 19 years old he was given the management of it and several years of hard work followed. In 1850, finding that the boys employed on the station were quite uneducated, he formed a class among them, and succeeded in giving them some elementary education. On 6 February 1851, Black Thursday, the fire passed through Ormond's run, and though some of the stock were saved the place was practically burned out. This, however, was a blessing in disguise as much of the station had been covered with thick scrub. When the rains came grass sprang up everywhere, and Ormond was able to sell the station at an advanced price and buy better land. His position was now assured and on 23 November 1851 he was married to Miss Greeves, daughter of Dr G. A. Greeves. He continued his interest in education, and there being no school near his station, formed evening classes for the children of his employees. In 1855 with two others he founded at Skipton the first agricultural and pastoral association in the district. He had been made a magistrate in 1853, and in 1858 had taken the depositions in the case of the death of a hut-keeper. He had come to the conclusion that the death was accidental. Later on he was amazed to read in a newspaper that a certain David Healy had been found guilty of the murder of the man, and was to be executed in two days time. He ordered his two best horses to be brought and riding one and leading the other started on the long journey to Melbourne. He had to cross the Little River in flood, but arrived in time, saw the attorney-general, and succeeded in convincing him that Healy was innocent. A reprieve was granted and the man was eventually liberated. In 1860 he visited Europe and was much impressed with an appeal he heard from Dr Guthrie on behalf of ragged schools. On his return he continued to prosper and to take an interest in education, and in 1872 made his first large subscription of £1000 for the founding of a scholarship at the Presbyterian theological hall. Three years later he took a house in Melbourne and helped to establish the Presbyterian Church at Toorak. In 1877 when the question of starting a college at the university was brought forward, he attended the first meeting and subscribed £300 to the fund which was opened. Gradually he increased his promised donation, until it reached £10,000 with the proviso that a similar sum should be raised from other sources. During his lifetime he gave over £40,000 to the college, which was named after him, and the benefactions after his death raised this to £111,970. On 6 July 1881 his wife died. She had been a member of the Church of England, and remembering this Ormond anonymously gave £5000 towards the building fund of St Paul's cathedral, Melbourne. In the same year he was a member of the royal commission to inquire into the working of the education act. One result of this was his conviction that a working men's college would serve a very useful purpose, and he intimated that if the government would provide a site he would give £5000 towards the building. He met with no encouragement, and the scheme was temporarily dropped. In January 1882 he was elected a member of the legislative council for the South Western Province. He never took a great part in politics but his occasional speeches were always thoughtful. In May the question of a working men's college was revived. He again offered £5000 and, after some preliminary difficulties had been disposed of, the college was at last opened in June 1887. There were 320 students on the opening night, within 12 months the number had risen to over 1000. Afterwards known as the Melbourne technical school, the number of students reached nearly 10,000 in 1938.
About the end of 1884 Ormond suggested that a chair of music should be founded at Melbourne university, and offered to give £20,000 to the university council on condition that £3500 should be raised by the public for the endowment of scholarships. He visited Europe in 1885 and collected much information relating to the working of conservatoriums of music. During this trip he was married to Miss Oliphant, daughter of Mr E. Oliphant, and returned about the end of the year. He found there was much difference of opinion in Melbourne concerning the wisest way of using his proposed donation, and very little response had come to the appeal for funds to found scholarships. However, the money was eventually raised and in May 1887 the Ormond chair of music at the university of Melbourne was founded. In the following year Ormond's health began to give way, and 0n 28 December 1888 he left for Europe hoping the voyage might be of benefit. He died at Pau in southern France on 5 May 1889. His wife survived him. There were no children of either marriage. By his will in addition to the amount left to Ormond College £10,000 went to the Working Men's College, and about £60,000 was left to various hospitals and churches.
Ormond was a man of distinguished personal appearance, sincerely religious and modest, with a dislike of show. He spent little on himself and considered his wealth as a responsibility. Other men have given larger sums in Australia, but no other man has given the same care and study in considering what was wisest. He always made it a condition that other sums should be subscribed, but would lighten the conditions when difficulties were met with. In founding the Working Men's College he was in advance of his time; his wisdom has been justified not only in its success but in the many other similar schools founded in the suburbs of Melbourne. A statue of Ormond by Percival Ball (q.v.) stands by the Melbourne technical school.
C. Stuart Ross, Francis Ormond: Pioneer, Patriot, Philanthropist; The Argus, Melbourne, 8 May 1889; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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