Woman Biddlecombe, Janet


Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Janet Biddlecombe was born in Melbourne in 1866, the youngest of eight children of pioneer pastoralist, George Russell and his wife Euphemia. Her mother died shortly after her birth. She was educated privately and worked closely with her father at his Golf Hill property outside Shelford in Western Victoria. His death in 1888 left the property encumbered, and, with the agreement of her only brother, Janet took responsibility for its management. She married naval officer, John Biddlecombe, in 1900 and together they built one of the leading Hereford studs in Australia. Although, early in their marriage, they maintained a house in South Yarra and mixed with Melbourne society (Australian Town and Country Journal, 13 July 1901), there is no evidence that Janet became involved with the committees of any of the major charities. Later, they retired to Golf Hill and focused their efforts on building up the property.

Childless, the Biddlecombes made substantial donations to local and state-wide causes, a tradition which Janet maintained after her husband's death in 1929. They were major contributors to the development of Geelong Grammar School and also supported the local Presbyterian church and the Red Cross as well as offering assistance to individuals in need. As Biddlecombe preferred to donate anonymously (Argus, 16 February 1954), these gifts seldom attracted public notice - a notable exception being the £15,000 given to the war effort in 1940 (Advertiser, 27 July 1940). Where their donations are listed, Janet's contribution exceeded that of her husband, perhaps reflecting an acknowledgement of the source of the couple's wealth (Argus, 23 August 1923).

Janet died in 1954, leaving bequests to several of the charities and cultural institutions she had been helping anonymously during her life (Carmody). A road is named after her on the Geelong Grammar School estate, and both Red Cross and the Royal Flying Doctor Service dedicated buildings in her honour.

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