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Archer, Alexander (1828–1890)

Our readers will not need to be reminded that among those who perished in the wreck of the S.S. Quetta were Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Archer. Both on his own account, and from his kinship to our member we have no doubt the following admirable and justly appreciative notice of the deceased gentleman, taken from the Journal of the Bankers' Institue of Australasia, will be read with much interest:

On Friday, 28th February last, the R.M.S. Quetta, bound for England from Queensland, foundered without any warning on a calm moonlight night within a few miles of Albany Island, at the entrance to the Torres Straits. The scene of confusion must have been terrible when out of 293 souls on board no fewer than 133 persons were drowned. The daily papers have described some of the incidents of that eventful night, and of the consequent grief that fell on many a Queensland home; but how much heroism, self-devotion, and misery were crowded into the three brief minutes after the vessel struck the unknown rock, no pen will ever be able to tell. Among those who perished were Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Archer, of Brisbane, the former the greatly respected inspector of the Bank of New South Wales, under whose supervision were the Queensland branches of that bank. We believe our members will be interested in learning some particulars of one of the most estimable of men who adorned the banking profession in Australasia, and whose death, as well as that of his beloved partner in life, we all deeply deplore.

Mr. Archer was of Scottish parentage and descent, although a Norwegian by birth. He was born on the 10th April, 1828, at his father's residence, "Tolderodden," Laurvlg, Norway. His family spent much of their time between Norway and Scotland, and he, when ten years of age, went to Perth, where he received most of his school education at the Perth Academy. After leaving school he entered the office of his family's old friend, the late Mr. James Morison, accountant, Perth, and here he served his apprenticeship under article. In after life he looked back with great pleasure on his course of training, which, indeed, was of the greatest service to him in his banking career. Not only did he become an expert accountant, but he was imbued by his worthy employer with principles and ideas that he never abandoned, except with slight modifications. Those who had the privilege of Mr. Archer's private friendship—an honour greatly appreciated—know how much of his happiness he owed to his intercourse in youth with Mr. Morison and his family circle. The Archer family were entitled to certain privileges as belonging by descent to the ancient and honourable guild of "Glovers," located in Perth. Tradition has it that Simon Glover, the father of "The Fair Maid of Perth," was the founder of the guild. Mr. Archer used to make playful allusions to the Gow Chrom, brave Hal or Harry, of the Wynd, son-in-law to Simon. As a young man, Mr. Archer greatly enjoyed walking tours, golfing, boating, fishing, and skating, and also found sketching a pleasant pastime. He was a tall, athletic, and well behaved young man, of pleasant manners, and a great favourite—in fact, with him, as with not a few others, the boy seems to have been the father of the man.

When the goldfields broke out in Australia, Mr. Archer and a companion shipped for Melbourne in 1851 or 1852, and tried their luck at alluvial gold-digging and gold buying, Mr. Archer eventually being appointed agent on the Oven goldfields (now Beechworth) for the Bank of New South Wales. He joined the staff of that bank on 21st. June, 1853, and remained till the day of his death, exactly thirty-six years eight months and seven days afterwards. He had a uniformly successful banking career, his promotions being to Kyneton managership, 24th July, 1854; Brisbane managership, August 1864; in addition to which he was appointed inspector of Queensland branches, December, 1867, which position he held up to the time of his death. No doubt one reason why Mr. Archer settled in Queensland rather than in his first love, Victoria, was that his family was largely represented in the Northern colony. Five of his brothers had been pioneer squatters, and they were followed later by two others in the same occupation, so that no fewer than eight brothers Archer—The Archers of Gracemere—at one time or another had their abode in what is now called Queensland.

Mr. Archer's banking life, which had in it a great deal of routine duty was diversified by three holiday trips to Europe, in 1863, 1871, and 1883. On the second of these he went to claim his bride, Miss Mary Louisa Mackenzie, the eldest daughter of the late Sir Robert Ramsay Mackenzie, Baronet, of Coul, Rossshire, herself a native of New South Wales, but who had lived in Brisbane for some years, where her father was a prominent politician before he succeeded to the baronetcy. The marriage proved an extremely happy one, each party to it being, in a sense, the complement of the other.

Wherever Mr. Archer came he brought with him an air of happiness and contentment. He had a considerable fund of quiet, inoffensive humour. He had also a great love of places, intensified by his taste for gardening—not unlike "navying" at times—and in consequence certain localities were specially dear to him from associations, notably "Tolderodden," the parental roof-tree; "Fiddler's Green," near Kyneton; "Gracemere Station", near Rockhampton "The Bank," in Brisbane (to which he brought home his bonnie bride, and where he resided as bachelor and married man for fifteen years); and his own beloved "Arley,"at Toowong, near Brisbane. He was an extremely unassuming man, and would not allow that he was a banker at all. He certainly ought to have been an artist or a leisured country gentleman; his tastes were so refined, he was such a delightful host, and he was so free from all trafficking mercenariness. Not that a banker should be mercenary any more than anybody else, but the typical banker is generally credited by his public with being a hard man. Nobody, however, who knew him could ever say that of Mr. Archer. Naturally of a retiring disposition, he positively disliked public life, and was very thankful that, as a bank manager, his duty was to remain neutral regarding local party politics. In temper of mind and political proclivities the term Liberal-Conservative describes him very fairly. Although not what is called brilliant, nor given to originality as a banker, Mr. Archer had many strong points in his professional career. He was solid; whatever he did he did it thoroughly; he combined in a remarkable degree the fortiter in re with the suaviter in modo. He possessed ripe judgment in business taught by example as well as by precept, he never lorded it over those under him, but, on the contrary, he was so tenderly considerate that he was beloved and revered by his officers. He particularly excelled as a letter-writer, his letters being models of terseness. He was very deliberate in making up his mind, but once it was made up he was firm as a rock. He had exceptionally courteous and dignified manners. In response he, latterly, looked grave, even stern at times, but his eyes fairly beamed with kindliness whenever he engaged in conversation, and he had a very pleasant smile. Needless to say he enjoyed, as he deserved, the entire confidence of his employers.

In connection with most bank managers in these colonies, Mr. Archer in his day did a fair share of work as honorary treasurer and auditor to numerous philanthropical and athletic associations, and at the time of his death was treasurer of the Sick Children's Hospital in Brisbane, a very successful and well-managed institution, with which indeed, he and his wife had been associated since its foundation in 1877, Mrs. Archer being an accomplished and indefatigable needlewoman. Not having been blessed with children of their own, Mr. and Mrs. Archer did what they could to make other people's little ones happy, and their labours in that direction were not in vain or unappreciated. Of late years Mr. Archer's favourite outdoor recreations were gardening and boating, and when a few days picknicking was indulged in his pencil was in request.

Besides his unflagging industry and devotion to duty, Mr. Archer's distinguishing characteristics were his unselfishness and his conscientiousness. He was almost morbidly conscientious, if such a thing can be. He had also a wonderful control of his temper; it must, indeed, have been something extraordinary that put him out even for a moment, although naturally not altogether free from nervous irritability. Notwithstanding he had had very frugal pay as a young man in Scotland, he was not of that curious class of people who think that a similar state of things should prevail in these young countries. On the contrary, he wished to see banking become a liberally-paid profession, so as to prove attractive to well educated young men of good abilities. On this subject he had pronounced views, considering seventeen should be the minimum age for young men to be taken into banks, and £50 a year the minimum remuneration after three months' probation.

Although Mr. Archer's life was, on the whole, an uneventful one; as compared with many in these colonies, he had his share of bush-journeyings, camping-outs, floods and droughts, not to mention coaching mishaps and other adventures whilst travelling on his inspectional rounds, and how intensely dramatic was the closing scene of his life! It may be mentioned, as a curious coincidence, that many years previously his brother, Captain John Archer, and his wife, were also drowned together in a sailing ship that foundered in the South Seas. Mr. Archer leaves behind him two unmarried sisters and six brothers, amongst the latter being Mr. Archibald Archer, M.L.A. for the Rockhampton electorate, and Mr. Thomas Archer, C.M.G., Agent General for Queensland in London. Mrs. Archer is survived by her mother, brother (the present baronet), and three sisters, one being married to Mr. James Archer, of Gracemere, at present with his family in Europe.

Mr. Archer was essentially a spiritually-minded man, but one who believed that Christianity was rather a leavening influence than a visible organisation. His views by many were misunderstood and misinterpreted, but one thing was evident to all, he was a good man, and in his life he exemplified practical Christianity. He was for many years deeply impressed with the evanescence of earthly things, and looked forward to his great change with humble confidence. Frequently he had given utterance to the thought that to him a sudden death would be a merciful death. His was a noble life in its own quiet way, and assuredly he did not live in vain, because, so far as his influence extended, it made the world better than it was before. He was beloved by all who knew him, and he did more than any man the writer ever met, unless he excepts Michael Faraday, to draw out the best instincts of those with whom he came in contact. He was a veritable Bayard, chevalier sans peur et sans reproche. In him the poor lost one of their most liberal and unostentatious benefactors - his hand was scarcely ever out of his pocket, and his personal kindnesses were innumerable. To paraphrase an old well-known passage, it might without undue exaggeration be said of him:-"The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon him, and he caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. When the ear heard him then it blessed him, and when the eye saw him it gave witness to him, because he delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him." Such a man was Alexander Archer. Where shall we see his like again:

As corroborative of what has been said, it may not be uninteresting to add that during his lifetime one wrote of him , thus:—The public look upon him as the very pink of honour, and his officers revere him." And since his death, amongst numerous feeling testimonies to his worth from old fellow workers, the following speak for themselves. One says-"I never met a man for whom I instinctively felt such respect and veneration, and, I might add, affection. He never wrote an unkind or harsh word, and I felt his slightest word of rebuke more than abuse from others." Another testifies:-"I have lost my best friend. . . . He was to me all that a father, brother, or best friend could be—guide, counsellor, and friend in one. . . . It is some consolation to us to know that (referring to his death) it is just the way he would have chosen to take departure hence—all his affairs worked up to a point—his branch inspected, his wife with him—no lingering illness—no painful adieux—always prepared to face the unknown mystery of the future; and with his wife beside him there would be but a brief struggle to save her and those committed to his care—not a thought of self, and then peace, 'that peace which passeth all understanding.'"

Another friend, alluding to Mr. and Mrs. Archer, gratefully says:—"To me it has been a dreadful blow. I can hardly yet realise that I have seen the last of the most valued and respected friends I ever had. . . . but I really believe they were so attached to each other that they would have chosen this end sooner than have lived for a few years longer, and that then one should go before the other. I can fancy how bravely they met their debt of Nature, and feel sure that they died together."

"In their death they were not divided."

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Citation details

'Archer, Alexander (1828–1890)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/archer-alexander-1448/text1448, accessed 22 November 2017.

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