Clarke, William John Turner (1805–1874)

William John Turner Clarke (1805-1874), pastoralist and landowner, was born on 20 April 1805 in Somerset, England, the second son of William Clarke of St Botolf, Aldgate, London, and his wife Sarah, née Turner, of Weston Zoyland, near Wells, Somerset. His yeoman father died in 1819 and William was placed under the guardianship of his uncle Joseph. He began to work for a drover taking cattle from Somerset to Smithfield and became a shrewd judge of livestock. At 21 the meat firm he was working with failed and he pledged himself to independence by making money, cautiously investing his savings in cattle and avoiding debt. In May 1829 he married Elizabeth (1801-1878), daughter of George Pyke Dowling, rector of Puckington, Somerset, and his wife Anne, née Biggs, of an old and wealthy Bristol family. A weak chest and a congenitally malformed hip as well as the prospect of new opportunities induced him to emigrate, and he arrived at Hobart Town with his wife in the Deveron on 23 December 1829.

In 1837 Clarke shipped 1612 ewes across Bass Strait, and took them first to Station Peak in the You Yangs between Melbourne and Geelong, and then to Dowling Forest near Ballarat. Here he acquired pastoral licences for some 30,000 acres (12,141 ha), and during the depression in 1842 set up a boiling-down works which realized a considerable sum of money. He then had 100,000 sheep in the Port Phillip District and each year extended his landholdings.

Clarke, he was widely feared for his land hunger, but respected for consummate ability in pursuit of fortune. He stuck to the ‘raising of sheep’ as a ‘better paying game’, and to his great profit he introduced the Leicester breed of sheep into Australia. The gold rush further increased his prosperity; meat sales boomed.

Apart from visiting his mainland stations for shearing, Clarke lived in Tasmania until 1850 and in 1870 he made his home in Melbourne. He represented Southern Province in the Victorian Legislative Council from the inauguration of responsible government in 1856 until 1870, except for two years, and was an active member though often absent through travel and ill health.

At the age of 49 years in 1854, Clarke lodged a notice of intention to build a house at lot 11 section 53 on the corner of Roden & King Streets in West Melbourne for his sister-in-law Jane Maloney, née Dowling, she being supported by her brother-in-law. Jane had married Denis Maloney in Sydney in 1847 and they later joined the Californian gold rush. Denis Maloney was entered in the baptismal register as William Robert (Nuttall) Maloney‘s father, but he and Jane hatd parted. Many people came to assume that William Clarke was the father and he provided for the boy in his will.

Clarke was a member of the Victorian Legislative Council in 1856 to 1861 and again for a second term from 1863 to 1870.(3)

He was a director and substantial shareholder in the Colonial Bank and had large interests in other banks and insurance companies. His health declined and in 1870 he became partially paralysed, but insisted on attending directors’ meetings although it took four men to carry him to his carriage. He died in Melbourne on 13 January 1874.

(1)Hugh Anderson, ‘Clarke, William John (1805–1874)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
(2) Victoria and its Metropolis, past and present. [Vol. 1 by A. Sutherland; vol. 2 by various authors. Illustrated.] Page 164.
(3) Thomson, K & Serle, G, ‘A Biographical Register of the Victorian Legislature 1851-1900’, ANU Press, 1972.