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Sir John See

Sir John See

Sir John See

Sir John See (1845 - 1907)

John See was born in Yelling, Huntingdonshire, England on the 14th November 1845, the third son of farmer Joseph See and his wife Mary Ann Bailey. The family migrated to NSW when John was aged six and settled on a farm near Maitland. It was at nearby Hinton that John received the only formal schooling he was to have.

In 1862 John and one of his brothers moved to Southgate, on the Clarence River east of Grafton, where they pioneered farming in the area. Farming was a hard life for the See brothers and after only 4 years John moved to Sydney to become a produce merchant and shipping agent, eventually moving into coastal shipping. It was in shipping that he made his money, establishing the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, maintaining links with the Clarence Valley through the shipping business.

John See married Charlotte Matthews at St Jude's Anglican Church Randwick on the 15th March 1876. He built his home, a mansion called "Urara", at Randwick, and proceeded to produce a happy family of ten children.

Not long after his marriage See became involved in local politics, serving as an Alderman on Randwick Council from 1878-1890. He served 3 terms as mayor, in 1880, 1881 and 1886. Council elections in Randwick were often not contested so See's introduction to the rough and tumble of politics was quite gentle.

Despite his devotion to his large family See found time to involve himself in a number of commercial enterprises and voluntary organisations. He owned John See and Company, and the North Coast Steam Ship Company, as well as serving as a director of (among others) the Newcastle and Hunter River Steam Navigation Company, London and Lancashire Fire and Insurance Company, and W.H. Soul Pattinson Company. In a voluntary capacity he served as a director of Sydney Hospital, trustee of Cook's Landing Place at Kurnell, trustee of the Sydney Cricket Ground, and president of the Royal Agricultural Society.

In 1880 See became member for the new electorate of Grafton, a position he was to hold until the electorate was abolished in the redistribution for the 1904 election. In terms of his politics See was seen as a supporter of "fair trade" and as a real local Member of Parliament, supporting local issues and showing concern for issues affecting his constituents. His experience in the business world was valued by his political colleagues. See fought hard for a Grafton to New England railway, which although approved was never built. Other efforts to improve country transport were more successful, including the construction of the Grafton to Tweed rail line.

John See was appointed state treasurer in 1891, becoming a "Protectionist" during a time of political turmoil and economic depression. He became Premier on 28th March 1901 and was knighted in 1902 as part of the Coronation honours. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge but was not attracted by sectarianism; he was known as being an amiable person with an accommodating personality, and was often seen to be upset by attacks on him in the press.

See resigned as Premier in 1904, citing poor health as the reason for his decision. He was devastated by the death of his wife in 1904, and it is thought that he may have suffered a nervous breakdown. See died on 31st January 1907 at his home in Randwick, from heart failure, and was survived by four sons and three daughters. His estate was valued for probate at 167,372 pounds. He was buried in the Anglican section of Randwick Cemetery. See's daughter Charlotte married (Sir) Samuel Hordern in 1900.

"The Premiers of New South Wales volume 2, 1901-2005"; ed. By David Clune and Ken Turner

Australian Dictionary of Biography