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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Catt, Hon. Alfred

Catt, Hon. Alfred, M.P., J.P., Chairman of Committees of the Legislative Assembly of South Australia, was born in 1838 at Newington, in Kent. He arrived in South Australia in 1847, and for ten years engaged in agricultural pursuits at Balhannah and Strathalbyn. After a short trial of the Victorian diggings he returned to Strathalbyn, and entered into business. Subsequently he opened a store at the then youthful town of Gladstone, and was elected to the Assembly for the district of Stanley, April 27th, 1881. Three years later, when the constituency was reconstructed, he was returned for Gladstone, which he still represents. Mr. Catt accepted the post of Commissioner of Crown Lands in Mr. (now Sir) John Bray's first administration, on June 24th, 1881, and held it till April 23rd, 1884, under circumstances of special difficulty. Disasters had fallen thickly upon the farmers of the colony, especially in the northern districts lying beyond Goyder's line of rainfall, where thirsty and often heavily timbered country had been taken up at extravagant prices by the competing agriculturists, who in some cases had offered as much as £6 6s. per acre. The attempt to grow wheat in these parts proved that the selectors could not pay the stipulated price, and the Government of the day came to the rescue with a proposal that the farmers should be allowed to surrender their land and compete for it again. The result was that they got their land back at about £1 0s. 6d., thus entailing upon the State a nominal loss of about half a million. The surrender clauses were admittedly difficult to administer, and Mr. Catt was much blamed at the time for allowing farmers holding excellent land in the lower north and south-east to come under these clauses. Mr. Catt, however, claimed that these were exceptional cases. On the fall of the Downer Ministry in 1887, Mr. Catt accepted the portfolio of Commissioner of Public Works under Mr. Playford, and held it from June 11th, 1887, to June 27th, 1889. At the commencement of the session of 1890 Mr. Catt was unanimously elected to the Chairmanship of Committees of the Legislative Assembly. In 1887 he received the royal permission to bear the title of "Honourable" within the colony.