Woman Austin, Elizabeth


Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Elizabeth Austin was born in England in 1821, the fourth daughter or yeoman farmer, and his wife Mary. She migrated to the Port Phillip District with her brother in 1841, marrying squatter, Thomas Austin, four years later. The marriage produced eleven children, eight of whom survived to maturity. Elizabeth acted as hostess to visitors to her husband's property, Barwon Park near Winchelsea, and was a supporter of local churches and charities. After Thomas's death in 1871, she used her inheritance to establish herself as a substantial philanthropist. Although, in her early donations, she had acted anonymously, by the end of the nineteenth century she was recognised as one of the colony's leading benefactors.

In the nineteenth-century tradition of philanthropy as both an obligation and an assertion of class, she would contribute to causes which she judged as being worthy of her assistance She continued to take a personal interest in the institutions which she had founded, visiting the Hospital for Incurables (later the Austin Hospital) in suburban Heidelberg and the Austin Homes for Women in Geelong on a regular basis. Her interest in these institutions was both benevolent and proprietorial, and the residents repeatedly expressed their gratitude for her generosity. So impressed was the committee at the illuminated address presented by the patients of the hospital on the occasion of Austin's 79th birthday, that they agreed to have it framed before it was presented to her. It was perhaps no coincidence that Austin had recently increased her contribution to the appeal to construct a new children's ward (Mercury and Weekly Courier, 17 August 1900).

Austin also made one-off contributions in response to immediate needs. She was a generous donor to the Anglican Church, both locally and across the state. She also gave regularly in her own community. As one obituarist noted: 'any deserving organisation ... never appealed to her in vain' (Argus, 3 September 1910). When it was brought to her attention, for example, that the absence of an undertaker was causing distress to her Winchelsea neighbours, she responded by funding the purchase of a hearse (Argus, 7 September 1903).

Proclaimed on her death in 1910, as 'a thoroughly good philanthropic woman' (Kilmore Free Press, 8 September 1910), in her time Austin provided a rare example of a woman with sufficient resources to make substantial donations in her own right. A mother and grandmother to a large family, she nevertheless chose to share the major fortune that her husband had made from pastoralism with the community in which that fortune had been made.

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • Swain, Shurlee, 'Perhaps to Spite her Children: The Philanthropy of Elizabeth Austin', Australian Philanthropy, vol. 30, Summer 1996, pp. 10-15. Details

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources