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WILLIAM HART, LAUNCESTON IRONMONGER, INVESTOR & POLITICIAN

The cover was postmarked with a duplex GEELONG/ Z/ JL 11/ 88 with the barred numeral ‘2' on the lilac ‘TWO PENCE’ Victoria stamp. It was addressed to Mr. J. Breguel, c/o W. Hart & Sons, Charles St., Launceston, Tasmania. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

William Hart, businessman and parliamentarian, was born on 2 April 1825 in London, son of William Doubleday Hart (1801-1847). At 8 he went with his parents in the Helen Mather to Launceston where his father started a hardware business, the first of its kind in northern Tasmania. Educated at Launceston, William was apprenticed to his father and in 1846 he established his own wholesale ironmongery and machinery business. His firm prospered and he began investing his profits in land and the Commercial Bank of Tasmania. In 1856 he was elected to the Launceston City Council and served as alderman until 1875 and as mayor and chief magistrate of the city in 1863 and 1869.

In 1873 he became an original shareholder of the Launceston company which bought the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co. and in October 1877 with William Grubb he bought the Tasmania gold mine at Beaconsfield; as a director of both mines and later many others he amassed a large fortune. His powerful influence as a financier, director and property owner induced local wits to call Launceston 'Hartsville'. Those who knew him best attributed his success to godliness and hard work in obedience to the scriptural injunction, 'Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might'. An enthusiastic and generous supporter of the Wesleyan Church and its Sunday school superintendent, Hart gave freely to all denominations and their charities.

Large, impressive and genial Hart showed no trace of condescension or self-importance. He represented Central Launceston in the House of Assembly in 1877-85 and Launceston in the Legislative Council from 1885 to 1902. A staunch Liberal, he opposed government interference in commerce and industry. He held no ministerial office but served in many select committees on mining regulations, customs duties on imported machinery, gas and electricity supplies and increased immigration. He was always ready to introduce petitions from churches, Ladies' Prayer Unions, the Association for the aid of Destitute and Fallen Women and for such purposes as temperance, raising the age of consent, neglected children and the enfranchisement of women.

His most notable contribution in parliament was a part-successful effort to save the depositors and shareholders from ruin after the Bank of Van Diemen's Land failed in 1891. In 1901 he was granted sick leave but exceeded his time and forfeited his seat. Diligent friends promptly renominated him and he was elected unopposed in November 1902, though unable to travel to parliament in Hobart. He died at his home, Bifrons, in Launceston on 7 February 1904, leaving much real estate and £69,000. He had transferred his hardware business to his sons in 1886 and among other bequests he left £5000 to the Methodist Church in Tasmania. A picture of William Hart is seen in Figure 2.

This text and Figure 2 was derived almost in total from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 
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