History of West Australia/William Thorley Loton


ALL the world over there are certain great commercial or manufacturing firms, whose names are as familiar in the mouths of the people as household words, whose style and title are indissolubly linked with the rise and progress of a country, if not with its foundation. They are monuments of the creative power of those who founded and skilfully raised them to the pinnacle of success, while hosts of competitors flounder in attempting to steer the same course. The secret of this successful seamanship—to use a metaphor—a chart and compass that would show the shoals and quicksands of commerce, would be an invaluable gift to the tyro who is entering upon his voyage on the ocean of life. But although "of the making of books there is no end," nothing has been written to show why one commander is able to make port with colors flying and drums beating, while other shallops, which have been launched under auspices as fair, and freighted with the good wishes of hosts of friends, have been thrown upon their beam ends.

William Thorley Loton HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

The public, refraining from losing itself in the mazes of speculation as to the causes of success and failure, is only cognisant of the fact that it is better served by one trader than another, and bestows its patronage accordingly, until at last there is inscribed upon the mercantile annals of the time the enduring record of such a partnership as that of Padbury, Loton, and Co.

William Thorley Loton was in 1839 born at Dilhorn, Staffordshire, England, and is the descendant of an old farming family, whose taste for the cultivation of the soil he has shared and transmitted to his sons. His own career, however, has had a closer association with the counting-house than the cornfield. The future financier, merchant, and parliamentarian of Western Australia left school at the age of fourteen to enter a mercantile house in Staffordshire and afterwards joined the celebrated firm of Copestake, Moore, and Co., London, where he had twelve months' valuable experience. In 1862 he sailed for Western Australia, and arrived at Fremantle in March, 1863, and was engaged in commercial pursuits in Perth and Geraldton until 1867, when he entered into partnership with Mr. Walter Padbury. He assisted in building up the trade of the house in St. George's Terrace, a concern which was destined to become one of the great business corporations of the colony, not only in the buying and selling of goods, but also in supporting by advances of capital the development of the pastoral interests of Western Australia. For twenty-two years Messrs. Padbury, Loton and Co. were growing in commercial strength and influence, and acted in a large measure as a banking institution that was far more useful to many a farmer and station owner than many of the regular banks, which were too much occupied with what may be called the more conservative forms of financial work to pay any attention to crops and flocks and herds. As the colony became more settled the dual business of trade and finance in the hands of Messrs. Padbury, Loton, and Co. grew so enormously that in 1889 they resolved to relieve to some extent the strain of their work, and the stock and goodwill of the St. George's Terrace house were purchased by Mr. George Snowball, by whom the famous firm's business is still being most successfully carried on. This realisation left Mr. Loton free to devote himself more fully to his interests as a landowner, for, true to his hereditary proclivities, he had become what is known as a substantial country gentleman, although a capricious fate had attempted to harness him to a city desk. From time to time he had, both on his own account and in conjunction with Mr. Padbury, made judicious purchases of grazing and agricultural properties, near the city and in the north-west. As early as 1876, or as soon as the profits of his business began to place him in affluent circumstances, he had looked out for a good investment in land, and his choice fell upon the estate of "Springhill," near Northam, ten thousand acres in extent, and one of the most fertile tracts in the colony. Even before the goldfields era the country along the valley of the Avon, where "Springhill" is situated, had risen greatly in value, but now that this favoured spot stands, to use a favourite phrase of Sir John Forrest's, "at the gateway of Coolgardie," the property would be prized as the heirloom of a duke. In another direction Mr. Loton was scarcely less fortunate in putting his money into that best of all banks, the source of all wealth—Mother Earth, and richly has he been repaid for his loyal adherence to the traditions of his family. Some years ago, before any inflation in prices had taken place, as the result of the tenfold demand for the food supplies of the people, which began with the discovery of Coolgardie, the "Belvoir" estate on the Swan River, containing six thousand acres of first-class freehold land, being euphoniously named after the charming patrimony of the Earl of Zetland, was purchased. At that time there were very few purchasers for real estate in this colony and to use a colloquialism, Mr. Loton got "Belvoir" at his own price. As soon as he entered into possession he set himself assiduously to improve the ground and to make two blades of grass and a crop grow in some places where only gum trees grew before. In this work, which has been described as being that of a man who is a benefactor to his country, Mr Loton has been actively assisted by his sons, who prefer being "on the land" to the confinement of pursuits of the city, and he may be esteemed fortunate that such is the bent of their inclination, for the properties referred to only begin the list of those of which, in conjunction with Mr. Padbury, he holds the fee simple, and which are chiefly to be found in the north west. Among these stations may be mentioned "Millstream," comprising 500,000 acres situated near Roebourne. It carries 25,000 sheep, 1,000 head of cattle, and 500 horses. As was to be expected the Government, as far back as 1884, were anxious to obtain, for the benefit of the country, the counsels of one who had given so much proof of capacity in the management of his own affairs, and at the solicitation of His Excellency the Governor, he took his seat in the Legislative Council. When the reformed constitution was adopted Mr. Loton, who preferred the freer scope and a more direct voice in the control of the finances of the colony, which a seat in the Legislative Assembly affords, presented himself for election for the constituency of Greenough, the people of which, as was testified by the hearty reception he obtained in the district, were only too pleased to avail themselves of the services of so capable a representative. He sat for Greenough till the next general election took place, when he signified his wish to change his electorate for that of the Swan, with which as a property owner he is so closely identified, and leaving the representation of Greenough to Mr. William Traylen (who became chairman of committees), Mr. Loton has since sat for the Swan. In 1891 an indication of his standing in the House and in the country, was afforded by his being chosen as one of the delegates of Western Australia to the Federal Conference in Sydney, and be went there accompanied by Sir John Forrest, the Hon. N. E. Marmion, and Sir,James G. Lee-Steere, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Mr. Loton has also been appointed to fill many other offices of honour. The members of the Agricultural and Pastoral Society of Western Australia have made him their president; he has been a director of the Western Australian Bank for years, and a director of the Colonial Mutual Society since 1874; he is a trustee of the Perth Building Society, and until he resigned that appointment, he was a director of the society. He has also been trustee of the Church of England, Perth, for many years. In 1865 he married Miss Annie Morris, daughter of Mr. W. Morris, of "Rugeley" of Staffordshire, and they have a family of two daughters and three sons.

While Mr. Loton cannot be said to be a silent member of the Legislative Assembly, he sets a good example to those members who are to be found not only in the legislative halls of Perth but all over the world, who think they are competent to speak on every subject under debate, and generally succeed in being accredited with the unenviable reputation of ignorant chatterers. Mr. Loton's views carry weight in the House, because he evidently thinks twice before he speaks once. Moreover, it is apparently his habit to prepare himself, by reading up authorities, to support any argument which he may advance, which is not founded upon his personal experience so that he has no occasion to see proofs of his speeches before they are printed in Hansard, and cut out passages which he would rather have left unsaid. The usefulness of his life and the influence he exerts in many spheres is best testified to by the trusts which have been reposed in him, and the ability and fidelity with which he discharges them.