SARGOOD, Sir Frederick Thomas (1834–1903)
Senator for Victoria, 1901–03 (Free Trade)

Sir Frederick Sargood, ‘one of the merchant princes of the Commonwealth’, was born on 30 May 1834 at Walworth, London, son of Frederick James Sargood, merchant, and his wife, Emma, née Rippon. Young Sargood was educated at private schools in England before migrating to Victoria with his parents and five sisters, arriving in Melbourne as an assisted immigrant on the Clifton in 1850. After a brief stint as a clerk in the Victorian Public Works Department, Sargood joined his father’s wholesale softgoods firm, Sargood, King & Co. On 9 September 1858, he married Marian Australia, daughter of George Rolfe, a fellow merchant and later also member of the Legislative Council. Sargood’s father himself was a member of the Legislative Council (1853–56) and of the Legislative Assembly (1856–57).

The operations of the firm spread to other colonies, including New Zealand, and its success underpinned the public careers of father and son. In 1874, a by-election for the Central Province gave Sargood the opportunity to enter the Legislative Council, then very restricted in terms of both membership and franchise. The death of his wife in childbirth on 4 January 1879 prompted Sargood’s resignation from the Council as he took his nine surviving children on a trip to England. There, on 2 December 1880, he married a distant relative, Julia Tomlin, aged thirty-four, at the Independent Chapel, Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight.

Soon after his return to Melbourne with his family in 1882, Sargood was encouraged to re-enter political life. In a two-page supplement in the Age, hundreds of constituents of the South Yarra Province petitioned Sargood to represent them. The petition was preceded by a letter praising Sargood’s ‘capacity, independence of character’ and ‘spirit of moderation’. Duly elected as a Free Trader in protectionist Victoria, Sargood’s political prospects at first appeared limited. His chance for office came with the advent of the coalition of liberals and constitutionalists (conservatives) in the 1880s.[1] In the Council, then viewed as an elite upper house, Sargood was noted for his assiduous attention to the legislative process. His terms in the Service–Berry Ministry (1883–86) and the Munro Ministry (1890–92) established his reputation as an authority on defence matters: amongst his achievements was the formation of the school cadet corps in 1884. Sargood, who had been responsible for forming the St Kilda Rifle Corps in 1859, was eventually promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Volunteer Artillery. At the Centennial International Exhibition in 1888, Sargood, as executive vice-president of the Exhibition, had ‘made it his pet project’ to house a separate court for the exhibition of weapons of war.

Sargood, who was appointed CMG in 1885, was Minister for Defence (1883–86), Commissioner of Water Supply (1884–86), Minister for Defence and Minister for Public Instruction (1890–92) and again Minister for Defence and Vice-President of the Board of Land and Works (1894). In 1888, Sargood succeeded W. E. Hearn as leader of the Legislative Council, an unofficial position of considerable importance when there was any conflict, political or constitutional, with the Assembly. Sargood’s consensual style and good manners made him a persuasive advocate of the role of the upper house. In avoiding the kind of constitutional crises that had earlier characterised Victorian politics, he actually consolidated the Council’s position. His conciliation skills contributed to the successful passage of the Factories and Shops Acts in 1896 and 1900. Sargood was president of Melbourne’s Chamber of Commerce (1888–90) and wasknighted in 1890.

In 1893, Sargood was appointed to the Federal Council of Australasia. He was, according to the Argus, ‘always an ardent federalist [and] devoted considerable time to educating the public mind on the question of union’. Sargood stood for election to the Australasian Federal Convention (1897–98), but as a committed Free Trader was omitted from the list promoted by the influential Age and failed to be elected. Given his particular interest in the role of an upper house and his reputation in the wider community, it was to be expected that he might be persuaded to nominate for the first Senate. Despite protectionist domination of the 1901 Senate election in Victoria, Sargood’s personal standing resulted in his being placed third in the poll, so winning a six-year term in the first Senate.[2]

About to turn sixty-seven when he took his seat for the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament on 9 May 1901, Sargood was a colonial success story. He had come through the depression of the 1890s unscathed; his business reputation was never questioned. His palatial house, ‘Rippon Lea’, was well known. Built in the Romanesque style in 1868–69 and boasting grounds and gardens of forty-three acres, Rippon Lea became a Melbourne landmark. Sargood and his wife entertained expansively and threw the grounds open for community events as well as cultural gatherings. A member of the committee of Melbourne’s Charity Organization Society, Sargood’s philanthropy was extensive, but never flaunted. Always associated with the Congregational Church, he refrained from joining formally: according to the Age, this was because of ‘private convictions on the question of the Lord’s Supper’.

As part of the celebrations for the opening of the Federal Parliament, Sargood was responsible for a flag-raising ceremony in Melbourne on 14 May that extended also across the nation. After addressing a large gathering in the Exhibition Building, Sargood handed the Duchess of Cornwall and York a ‘golden key with which she pressed a button’ that sent a telegraphic signal ‘far and wide’. As a result, children in Australian state schools simultaneously raised the Union Jack. The Argus described the event as an ‘Inspiriting Ceremony’.[3]

As an experienced upper house parliamentarian, Sargood clearly expected to play a prominent role in the Senate. With Senator Zeal, he was one of three nominated for the presidency of the Senate, coming second to Sir Richard Chaffey Baker. He displayed a lively interest in procedure and was conscious of the standing of the new upper House. In June 1901, he complained that only two of the fifteen bills introduced by the Government during its first month of sittings had been initiated in the Senate. He objected also to the first Supply Bill containing insufficient itemised information, observing ‘that those who have sat in a Legislative Council’ recognised such a tactic as ‘a very old friend’.

Active in the protracted debate on the first tariff, at its conclusion Sargood remarked that the ‘labours’ of the Senate would give ‘the utmost satisfaction to the commercial world and to the public generally’. Sargood’s business perspective and humanitarian instincts were evident in his support for the motion, put forward by Senator Stewart, favouring the transfer of the wages power from the states to Commonwealth. Sargood saw states such as Victoria, which had introduced wage regulation, as being disadvantaged and urged the case for uniform legislation. He spoke of the ‘undoubted good’ which the Factories Act had done in Victoria.[4]

Sargood was relatively free from the racial prejudice which pervaded the politics of the new Commonwealth. Conceding that there was a demand for ‘what was called a white Australia’, he pointed to the benefit local Chinese had conferred on the community in the development of market gardening. He defended the Japanese, saying that he would rather have the Japanese ‘come in here’ than some ‘lower class Europeans’. He saw the introduction of Pacific Island labourers in Queensland as ‘a form of veiled slavery’, but opposed their forced deportation. On the other hand, he argued that if the tropical regions were to be developed ‘coloured races’ might need to be admitted ‘under restrictive legislation’.

Sargood lamented the Barton Government’s failure to legislate over defence and was critical of ad hoc reductions made by the House of Representatives to defence estimates. He looked forward to the day when Australia would have its own land and naval forces, but saw no need for haste. He held that war should be kept as far as possible from Australian shores, and opposed the enlistment of defence forces for deployment ‘outside the borders of the Commonwealth’. He believed that when there was a need for overseas service, volunteers would always be available.[5]

Sargood died suddenly on 2 January 1903 while on holiday in New Zealand. He was, the Argus declared, ‘a leader in politics, in business, in the religious world, and in society’, while the protectionist Age praised his ‘sterling qualities and backbone’. After a simple service at Rippon Lea conducted under the rites of the Presbyterian Church, Sargood was given a massive funeral with eight massed bands and, appropriately, 1200 cadets and a firing party of 300. Crowds lined the streets from Rippon Lea in Elsternwick to St Kilda Cemetery where he was buried. Parliament did not have the opportunity to record its grief until May: Senator Symon paid tribute to Sargood’s ‘most lofty and abiding sense of public duty’, while Victorian Labor colleague, Senator Barrett, described him as ‘a good and just man’, and a model employer. His wife, Julia, survived him, as did their only child Charlotte. Of the twelve children of Sargood’s first marriage, nine survived him—Frederick, Clara, Percy, Edith, Alfred, Harry, Emma, Gulielma and William. Sargood had properties in New South Wales, South Australia and New Zealand and his estate was valued at £680 000.[6]


John Rickard


[1] Age (Melbourne), 3 January 1903, p. 9, 4 November 1882, pp. 2–3; John Rickard, ‘Sargood, Sir Frederick Thomas’, ADB, vol. 6.

[2] VPD, 20 January 1903, pp. 1535-1536, 23 January 1900, p. 3158, 24 January 1900, pp. 3247–3248, 3 December 1885, pp. 2197–2200, 14 July 1896, p. 380, 13 October 1896, p. 2488, 6 February 1900, pp. 3653–3654; Argus (Melbourne), 3 January 1903, p. 13; J. R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice, 5th edn, AGPS, Canberra, 1976, p. 18.

[3] Frank Strahan, ‘Rippon Lea’, in Historic Houses of Australia, Australian Council of National Trusts, Melbourne, 1974, pp. 230-236; Michael Cannon, The Land Boomers, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1995, p. 376; Age (Melbourne), 3 January 1903, p. 9; David Dunstan, ‘Doing It All Over Again’, in his Victorian Icon: The Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Kew, Vic., 1996, p. 204; F. T. Sargood, ‘The Royal Visit—The Grand Old Flag’, Argus (Melbourne), 2 October 1900, p. 5, 15 May 1901, p. 7; Elsie Graham, ‘The Grand Old Flag’ in Dunstan, Victorian Icon, pp. 275–276.

[4] CPD, 9 May 1901, pp.14–15, 5 June 1901, pp. 654-655, 669-670, 6 June 1901, p. 748, 26 June 1901, pp. 1563, 1569, 24 July 1901, pp. 2909-2910, 6 November 1901, pp. 6856-6859, 14 March 1902, p. 10958, 12 June 1901, pp. 894–895, 13 June 1901, pp. 1026–1027, 9 September 1902, p. 15848, 9 August 190l, pp. 3555–3556.

[5] CPD, 14 November 1901, pp. 7249–7251, 4 December 1901, p. 8247, 8 October 1902, pp. 16531–16532.

[6] Age (Melbourne), 3 January 1903, p. 9, 19 January 1903, p. 5; Argus (Melbourne), 3 January 1903, p. 13, 19 January 1903, p. 5; CPD, 26 May 1903, pp. 7–9.


This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 1, 1901-1929, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, pp. 278-281.

SARGOOD, Sir Frederick Thomas (1834–1903)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Vic., 1901–03

Victorian Parliament

Member of the Legislative Council, Central Province, 1874–80; South Yarra Province, 1882–1901

Senate Committee Service

Library Committee, 1901–03