Fremantle Stuff > people > William Edward Marmion (1845-1896)
William Edward Marmion, son of Patrick Marmion (1815-1856), was a member of the Western Australian Legislative Council from 1870 to 1890, and a member of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly from 1890 to 1896, and was commissioner of crown lands and minister for mines in the first representative government, led by Premier John Forrest. He died 4 July 1896 and is buried in Fremantle Cemetery at Roman Catholic CC 343.
The Marmion Memorial is beneath the Proclamation Tree at the corner of Adelaide and Parry Streets.
William Edward Marmion was born at Fremantle in 1845, and at the early age of 23 began to devote his time and talents to the betterment of his native town. He filled many public positions with conspicuous ability, and in 1870 entered political life as one of the three unofficial members of the Legislative Council. Later he was elected to represent the town in Parliament, and continued there for many years, being elevated to Cabinet rank when the first ministry under responsible government was formed in 1890. His death in 1898  was regarded as a national loss, and as a mark of the high esteem in which he was held, a monument to perpetuate his memory was erected in Fremantle by public subscription. Hitchcock, J.K. 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council: 106.
On the opposite corner to Senior’s on the site now occupied by the Hotel Orient stood the Emerald Isle Hotel, owned and kept by Mrs. Marmion [nee Charlotte Stone]. She was the mother of the late W.E. Marmion, ‘Fremantle’s foremost son’, whose all too brief life was devoted to promoting the welfare of his native town, which he represented in Parliament during practically the whole of his adult life, and at a stage of the Colony’s history when his outstanding abilities if employed in other channels would have enabled him to become one of the richest men in the State. He was the first Minister for Lands on the inauguration of Responsible Government and died in 1896. As a mark of esteem to his memory a monument was erected on the reserve near the junction of Adelaide and Quarry-streets. Hitchcock: 1919.
William Marmion (1845-1896) was the son of Patrick Marmion, who had come to Fremantle as an indentured servant. By the time William was born, his father was a wealthy merchant.
William began work at 16. He was a master mariner at 21 and soon established his own business, W.E. Marmion and Co. The company was involved in merchandising, pearling and maritime activities. William Marmion was also an early station owner in the Kimberley, where he leased millions of hectares of grasslands. He also established mining companies.
Marmion married Anna Gibbons in the Fremantle Catholic Church in 1870. They had nine children.
On the introduction of representative government in 1870, Marmion was defeated for the Fremantle seat but was appointed an unofficial nominee member of the Legislative Council. In 1873 he was elected for Fremantle and remained its member – from 1890 in the Legislative Assembly – until his death. Premier John Forrest appointed Marmion as Commissioner for Crown Lands and Minister for Mines from 1890, an era when gold strikes were transforming the state.
When he died suddenly, there was widespread grief. His funeral at Fremantle was the one of the largest ever held in the port. A biographer noted: “Marmion’s progressive public works policy and voluble promotion of Fremantle have left him with a reputation for being honest and clear-sighted, but lacking in tact.” MCB (probably Ron Davidson)
Marmion Street is named after William Marmion.
What follows is the biographical entry for Marmion from Kimberly's 1897 History.
THE LATE HON. WILLIAM EDWARD MARMION, M.L.A.
FIRST MINISTER OF LANDS AND MINES.
THE name of the Hon. W. E. Marmion adds one more to the list of successful native-born politicians who have impressed their personality strongly on Western Australian history. This work will be found to contain numbers of biographies of such gentlemen, who are, in short, the leaders of, the local political world. Throughout his career Mr. Marmion has given evidences of sharpness of intellect and ability to grasp essentials in political problems which have marked him among his brethren. He has grown with the colony, and from his inner consciousness he may often speak out the voice of his native land,—the cry of Nature for development, of people for wise government. Experienced in almost every industry which has smiled upon Western Australia, and prominently associated with her legislative institutions since their inception, he is well acquainted with all her requirements and aspirations; and he was wisely chosen as a pioneer Cabinet Minister under responsible government, and his work as Commissioner for Lands and Mines was earnest and complete. He spared neither time nor labour to place these State departments in easy working order, and with his colleagues in the Forrest Government, he helped to guide the State machine through its infant struggles, and to bestow prosperity to the whole colony.
Fremantle gave birth to William Edward Marmion, and that centre has rightly received the best results of his life of public utility. He was born on 22nd October, 1845, and the son of Mr. Patrick Marmion, who for a number of years was engaged in active mercantile pursuits in the colony. The boy received his school education at Fremantle and Perth, and when sixteen or seventeen years old, entered the more practical educational establishments to be found in mercantile affairs. He did not long remain a pupil here, for when twenty-one he rose to the rank of master. He opened a business in Fremantle, and remained prominently associated with commercial affairs up to his fortieth year. At first he conducted his commercial concerns under the name of W. E. Marmion, but subsequently, when his enterprise had extended, his business name was changed to W. E. Marmion and Co. During these nineteen years he went prominently into three great Western Australian industries—the pastoral, the pearling, and the maritime. His pastoral interests extended over the districts of Murchison, Gascoyne, North-West, and Kimberley. With others he owned considerable territory, representing in the aggregate millions of acres. These were stocked with sheep and cattle and horses. When the results of the explorations of Mr. Alex. Forrest in the Kimberley district became known, he was among the first to join others and take up extensive properties there, so that he may be esteemed a pioneer of that important pastoral centre. He is still largely concerned in this great industry. He was for some years part proprietor of pearling craft operating on the north-west coast, and was thus able to materially assist in the development of these industries, which returned such handsome profits to the colony, and so largely advertised its importance in the markets of the Old World. From the age of twenty-four to thirty-eight he conducted large shipping operations. In more recent years he has devoted much of his energies to that new and superlatively important industry—mining. Western Australia would still remain comparatively in the backward condition of a few years ago were it not for this growing source of wealth. From the earliest inception of general interest in local mineral deposits, Mr. Marmion has helped by capital, enterprise, and advice in stimulating the work of prospectors. He was concerned in the formation of companies which worked on the Yilgarn-Southern Cross—Goldfields in the eighties, notably the Centrals, Fraser's, and Centrals Extended Companies. These were three of the pioneer mines of Southern Cross, and almost of Western Australia. He is a director of the two first named. As prospecting was pushed further afield than the Cross, he followed it closely, and assisted in the fitting out of prospecting parties, which helped to prove the magnificent resources of the lonely deserts. He was a member of the Dunn Prospecting Syndicate which discovered the Wealth of Nations mine and the Lone Hand reefs, besides numerous others. At present Mr. Marmion is associated with mining interests in the Southern Cross, Coolgardie, East Coolgardie, North Coolgardie, and the Murchison districts. All this serves to show how extensively he has been identified with the development of the primary Western Australian industries, which have attracted capital and population from all over the world, and which have brought the colony from stagnation to a beneficent prosperity.
To turn to the political aspect of Mr. Marmion's career, up to the year 1870 the old Legislative Council consisted of nominees and semi-elective members, either official or non-official. But in that year colonists most reasonably aspired to have some form of Representative Government. Their wishes were granted; the Council was dissolved, and the Constitution provided for a new Council twelve elective members and six nominee, to be made up by three official nominees and three unofficial. Mr. Marmion, who was then about twenty-five years old, stood for election for Fremantle. He was defeated in October, but Governor Weld did not desire that the colony should be without his services in Parliament, and with Messrs. S. P. Phillips and Maitland Brown, he was created an unofficial nominee member, while the official nominees were Messrs. F. P. Barlee, R. J. Walcott, and Mr. (now Sir) Malcolm Fraser, Agent-General for Western Australia in London. Since that date the Hon. W. E. Marmion has been actively identified with Parliamentary affairs, and sat in the Council until the granting of Responsible Government in 1890, and thereupon was chosen a member of the first House of Assembly, and still sits. He has indeed watched the growth of local political institutions, and has had a longer association with them than almost any surviving man in the colony. For two sessions he sat as a nominee member, and then a fresh election took place for Fremantle. Mr. Marmion forwarded the resignation of his seat to the Governor, and contested the election. He was again defeated by a small majority. The Governor, however, considered his services of sufficient value that he held over the acceptance of his resignation until after the elections, and when Mr. Marmion was unsuccessful, he forwarded it back. He, therefore, thus continued to sit. Then in 1873 an unfortunate accident occurred which deprived Fremantle of its first elected member, Mr. E. Newman. A writ was issued for the vacancy. Mr. Marmion a second time sent his resignation to the Governor, and stood for election. On this occasion he was chosen by a fair majority. For the intervening twenty-four years he has been re-elected at every election, whether to the Legislative Council or the Assembly.
In the Council Mr. Marmion evinced activity in all debates, and proved a very useful representative. His experience mercantile and industrial affairs proved of special value, and he was able to lend assistance to the passage of measures designed to safeguard and encourage the colony's trade. Because of this he was looked upon as a rising figure, one who would take no small part in guiding the colony out of stagnation to a prosperous condition. His financial attainments were such that he was for several years a member of the finance committee of the Council, which acted as an advisory board on public works and all financial matters. In the agitation for Responsible Government, in the latter part of the last decade, he was busy in advocating the concession, and when it was made and the first elections took place, he stood for Fremantle proper for a seat in the Assembly. His election was a foregone conclusion, for the Fremantle people did not wish to lose the services of one who had so long and so faithfully represented them. Sir John Forrest was entrusted with the formation of the first Cabinet, and almost immediately approached Mr. Marmion and offered him the portfolios of Commissioner for Lands and Mines. He accepted, and was duly sworn in as the first Minister of Lands and Mines in Western Australia under Responsible Government. We have already written much of the honour attaching to the position of pioneer ministers of State departments in a colony so promising as Western Australia, and the anxiety and great labour which was entailed on the ministers. The Hon. Mr. Marmion proved himself quite able to establish his two departments on facile working lines, and he constantly sought to increase their value to the colony in the two industries specially interested. After setting the Lands and Mines Departments in order, and compiling regulations and other machinery for their guidance, he proceeded to introduce new legislation designed to stimulate the landed and mining interests. Much legislation of value to the colony was thus sponsored by him, and it reflects flatteringly on his foresight and political career when we recognise that during the years he held office the first great strides towards an assured prosperity took place. Under his guidance the mining industry rose out of comparative oblivion to a pedestal of importance at which all the world looked. The population of the colony was doubled, and the export and import wealth and revenue expanded beyond the most sanguine anticipations. For nearly four years the Hon. Mr. Marmion controlled the Lands and Mines Departments, and he proved himself a clever administrator, and one who could grasp the requirements of phenomenal expansion in trade and population. In December, 1894, he resigned the portfolios owing to business reasons and that he took this step was regretted by all who had watched his career. But be found he could not devote so much time as his conscience considered the State demanded to public affairs, and he gave way.
The Hon. W. E. Marmion has filled many useful offices in Fremantle and Western Australia. He represented the colony at that important intercolonial gathering—the great Federation Convention held in Sydney in March, 1891. He was a member of the Board of Immigration, was created a Justice of the Peace in 1872, and was a member of the Central Board of Education from its inauguration in 1871 to its abolition in 1895. Of the early Fremantle Town Trusts he was a member, and when the Trust was superseded by the Council he continued to represent ratepayers, and while a young man was chairman of the body. He has held numerous other positions of more or less importance.
In 1870 Mr. Marmion was married to a daughter of Mr. P. Gibbons, of Fremantle. Mr. W. R. P. Marmion, his eldest son, is actively engaged in mining pursuits, and is a member of the Stock Exchange of Kalgoorlie. There are really few biographies in this work which exhibit such a useful public career in Western Australia as does Mr. Marmion's. Since 1870 he has been a prominent colonist, and year by year has assisted in local Government. His is one of the best known figures in the local political world. In politics he aims particularly at progression, and while conserving the rights and interests of the colony he is a liberal in his support of measures tending to local advancement. West Australians have reason to be proud of this native-born politician.
ADB entry by R.T. Appleyard, 1986:
William Edward Marmion (1845-1896), merchant and politician, was born on 22 October 1845 at Fremantle, Western Australia, son of Patrick Marmion (1815-1856), merchant, and his wife Charlotte Stone. Educated in Fremantle and Perth, he started work at 16. At 21 a master in the mercantile service, he began his own business at Fremantle; W. E. Marmion & Co. in the next twenty years expanded interests in pastoral, pearling and maritime activities. He jointly leased millions of acres of pastoral land, was an early station-owner in the Kimberley, and conducted large shipping operations. Following the discovery of gold in the Yilgarn, he formed mining companies and later helped to fit out prospecting parties headed for desert regions. On 28 December 1870 in the Catholic Church, Fremantle, he had married Anna Mary Gibbons; they had three sons and six daughters.
On the introduction of representative government in 1870, Marmion was defeated for the Fremantle seat but was appointed an unofficial nominee member of the Legislative Council. He was elected for Fremantle in 1873 and until his death remained its member, from 1890 in the Legislative Assembly. Premier (Sir) John Forrest appointed him commissioner of crown lands and minister for mines in 1890. Under Marmion the gold-mining industry became the economic vehicle which transformed a quiet backwater into a colony attracting enormous international interest. He had financial acumen and understood the infrastructure requirements needed to service rapidly increasing trade and population. He was a member of the finance committee of the Legislative Council and of the National Australasian Federal Convention of 1891 in Sydney where he took no prominent part.
Marmion sat on nearly one hundred select committees and royal commissions covering a wide range of topics. In the Londonderry claim-jumping case of 1894, goldfields editors accused him of conflicts of interest as minister and leading investor. However, his resignation as minister that year took many by surprise, some seeing it as consistent with his integrity.
Marmion's progressive public works policy and his voluble promotion of Fremantle's interests gave him a reputation for being honest and clear sighted, but lacking in tact. In his support for Sir John Coode's plan to develop Fremantle's harbour, he evidently criticized and bullied engineers who supported C. Y. O'Connor's alternative plan. As a Catholic member of the Central Board of Education from its inception in 1871 to its abolition in 1895, he earned the respect of J. T. Reilly for his 'splendid efforts' to obtain justice.
Marmion's sudden death from liver disease on 4 July 1896 caused widespread grief. It was reported that more people attended his funeral than any other in the colony to that time and that the streets of Perth were lined with thousands of citizens. He was buried in the Catholic cemetery, Fremantle. He died intestate with his affairs in some confusion. A monument, a huge Celtic cross, was erected in Mayor's Park, Fremantle, by public subscription.
W.B. Kimberly, History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
J.T. Reilly, Reminiscences of Fifty Years Residence in Western Australia (Perth, 1903)
M. Tauman, The Chief, C. Y. O'Connor (Perth, 1978)
R. Erickson (compiler), Dictionary of Western Australians, vol 3 (Perth, 1979)
Parliamentary Debates (Western Australia), 1883, p 70, 1887-88, p 15, 180, 1888, p 16, 1889, p 19
T. Manford, A History of Rail Transport Policy in Western Australia, 1870-1911 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1976).
Bill Marmion (William Richard Marmion, 1954-) BEng MBA (UWA), is the great-grandson of the W.E. Marmion (1845-96). He became an MLA in 2008, but lost his seat in the electorate of Nedlands in the election of 2021.
Hitchcock J.K. 1919, 'Early days of Fremantle: High Street 50 years ago', published in 12 parts in the Fremantle Times 21 March - 20 June 1919.
Kimberly, WB 1897, History of West Australia: A Narrative Of Her Past Together With Biographies Of Her Leading Men, Niven, Melbourne: 204-6. Available online from Wikisource.
ADB entry by R.T. Appleyard, 1986.
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