Ambrose Kyte obit 1868

Saturday Saturday 21 November 1868
We have to announce the death of Mr. Ambrose Kyte, which occurred at his residence, Lygon Street, Carlton, at half-past six o’clock on Monday morning. Mr. Kyte had been seriously ill for some weeks, and for the last fortnight had been gradually sinking. His complaint was inflammation of the lungs, very much aggravated by nervous agitation which ultimately took the form of nervous prostration. There were various circumstances connected with his affairs the recent actions brought against him, unfavourable speculations, depreciation in the value of his property, and other matters which occasioned him a great deal of anxiety, and materially added to the effect of the complaint from which he was dying. He retained the use of his faculties to the last. He has left a widow and three children, viz., one son and two daughters, one of whom is married. It is satisfactory to know that his estate, although not in the prosperous condition in which it was some years ago, when the rent it yielded amounted to £15,000 per annum, is still very large, and when some incumbrances have been removed, which will probably be effected in two or three years, will produce the handsome revenue of £9,000 a year.

Mr. Kyte was born in the year 1822, at Nenagh, in the county of Tipperary, and was put to work at an early age. When only eighteen he emigrated to Port Phillip, and arrived here in 1840. The colony, then only some four or five years old, was struggling through the difficulties of its infant life, and was in a rather unprosperous condition when Mr. Kyte landed. He was glad to obtain employment in a brewery for ten shillings a week, a salary which was afterwards increased to twenty shillings. Poorly paid as he was, by rigid economy he managed to save half of his slender wages, but lost ground somewhat in the years 1843 and 1844, employment then being scarce, and his earnings ex- tremely small. As time advanced circumstances improved, trade began to look up, work was more plentiful, and in 1845 Mr. Kyte got on well enough to be enabled, to wards the end of the year, to open a hay and corn store in Bourke Street, opposite the Eastern Market, the site being that on which “Kyte’s-buildings” were afterwards erected. His business rapidly extended, his store became one of general merchandise, and Mr. Kyte soon found himself in a position to acquire some land and house property. Many of his houses were erected on ground held on lease. As he realised his property in this form, and his income from house rent increased, he turned his attention less to mercantile matters, and in 1857 retired from business of this kind altogether. His property by this time was very extensive in Bourke Street, Swanston Street, and Collingwood, and his annual rent-roll was an almost princely one.  

Up to this period, Mr. Kyte had taken scarcely any part in public life, although at one time, when anti-transportation agitation was rife, he came forward and offered to give to the detective police a reward of £5 for every convict whom they could apprehend and return to the penal settlement whence he had come. It was in September, 1857, that Mr. Kyte decided to offer prizes for the encouragement of various branches of agriculture, and ultimately arranged his plans in the form in which they were submitted to the public, that of presenting an annual cup for five years, each cup to be worth £100, and to be given to the person who was found best to have complied with the conditions of the prize; for instance, who had done most to introduce the culture of the vine in the colony, had rendered the greatest service to the cause of acclimatisation, or most successfully applied machinery to agriculture – such being the conditions in different years. These cups were, by the express wish of Mr. Kyte consented to by the proprietors of The Argus – called “The Argus Prize Cups,” and the decision of the judges in awarding them required the assent of the editor of The Argus to make it final. In pursuance of a whimsical desire for secrecy, which was, as will be seen, exhibited on other similar occasions, Mr. Kyte kept his name concealed, and the cups were advertised as given by a liberal friend of agricultural progress. While these cups were being awarded, Mr. Kyte made other even more munificent donations, with a view of stimulating the development of the colony in various ways. The contribution of the sum of £1,000 to an exploration fund, for fitting out a Victorian exploring party, which it was hoped would solve the mystery of the great unseen interior of Australia, was announced in a leading article of The Argus in 1858, as having been made by a “merchant of Melbourne,” the name of the donor, as in the case of the prize cups, being, at his wish, kept secret. This sum formed the nucleus of the fund which furnished the cost of the expedition of which the gallant and ill-fated Burke and Wills were the leaders, and which, with all its cumbrous and pedantic arrangements, its blunders and its misfortunes, yet accomplished the task it was sent out to achieve, and effected the first complete passage made by any Europeans across the continent of Australia. In 1860 Mr. Kyte (under the style of the “donor of The Argus Prize Cups”), presented a prize of 100 guineas to be competed for by the best marksmen amongst the Victorian volunteers, those being the days when our Victorian volunteer force was just attaining organisation, and when rifle competitions on a large scale were becoming to be regarded as possessing national importance. In the same year Mr. Kyte (still keeping his name concealed) offered a reward of £1,000 for the discovery of a permanent gold-field, on the Victorian side of the Snowy River, that would yield 5,000oz. of gold weekly for twelve months after discovery. This prize was never claimed, no one ever having made the discovery that would entitle him to claim it.

It is impossible to regard these donations as other than generous and munificent. Although it may be said that Mr. Kyte, as a large proprietor in Victoria, was pecuniarily interested in the growth and prosperity of the colony, and would consequently derive direct benefit from each of the enterprises which he thus encouraged, the obvious answer is, that a man who can take so enlightened and liberal a view of his interests and the means of advancing them, and who thus directly identifies his own prosperity with that of the community at large, is the best of citizens and the worthiest benefactor of the society of which he forms a part. With regard to the secrecy observed as to the donor of these prizes, perhaps Mr. Kyte’s feelings respecting the credit to be derived from being known as the giver were not so entirely dis- interested as they might at first seem. Perhaps he would willingly be known as the giver, and also as the giver who did not wish to be known, and was desirous of reaping the double praise of liberality and of doing good by stealth. There is no reason to suppose that Mr. Kyte was at all annoyed when he found that the dis-covery was made, and that his generosity had become fame. There might, perhaps, have been more straightforward disinterestedness, and certainly less affectation, in announcing  the gifts from the first as his own.

Mr. Kyte’s brief political career commenced in 1861, when he came forward as a candi date for the representation of East Melbourne in the Legislative Assembly, announcing himself as a supporter of the policy of the Administration formed by Mr. Richard Heales. When the Land Bill brought in by this Ministry was before the Assembly, Mr. Kyte supported the occupation licence clauses. In 1864 he was again elected for East Melbourne, which consti tuency he represented with Mr. Edward Cohen. At the next election, in 1866, he again stood for the same district, but was this time defeated; but in the course of the year the disappearance of Mr. Wardrop, one of the then representatives of Richmond, opened a vacancy which was contested by Mr. Kyte and Mr. Coppin, the former being the candidate returned. In these years, and through all the protection debates, disputes on the Appropriation-cum-Tariff Bill, and all the dreary struggle respecting the Darling grant, Mr. Kyte gave the McCulloch Ministry as much support as he could. At the last general election he did not offer himself as a candidate, having apparently decided to relinquish public for private life. His Parliamentary career brought him little increase of reputation. It was not distinguished by any ability or independence of action, and the utmost praise that could be accorded to Mr. Kyte as a member was that of a faithful, and perhaps conscientious, partisan, who steadfastly adhered to the Ministry which he had engaged to support.

Since his retirement from Parliamentary life Mr. Kyte has been but little before the public. In even his accustomed evening station at the vestibule of the Theatre Royal, leaning against one of the columns at the entrance, or strolling up and down exchanging nods with some of the visitors thronging in, apparently estimating the numbers and the probable receipts of the evening, Mr. Kyte now used but seldom to be seen. When met, his manner appeared more careworn than of old. Things seemed not to be going so well with him. He seemed to be not only in low health, but also to be in trouble. Later on, the actions, Sawyers v. Kyte, and Quirk v. Kyte, were commenced in the Equity Court, involving investigations into the mode in which he had administered his duties as a trustee in both estates concerned. These suits drew the attention of the public to Mr. Kyte’s affairs, which were soon spoken of very freely. It was said that matters were not nearly so flourishing with Mr. Kyte as they had been years before, that his real property had suffered great depreciation, that his leases were drawing towards a close, that his property was very much embarrassed, and that he had sustained great losses in mining speculations and bill-discounting transactions. These rumours were, perhaps, partly true, but, of course, related to matters of which the public could possess no certain knowledge. It is extremely probable, however, that the share of truth which underlay these reports had an effect on Mr. Kyte mentally and physically, and that the malady to which his death is due, and the nervous prostration to which he at last succumbed, were to a large extent caused by harassing cares connected with his pecuniary position.

(Speaking of Mr. Kyte now as one who has departed, we must regard him as one of the most striking instances of success which even Victoria affords. Of humble origin, and with but little education and few natural advantages, he, by a dexterous use of favourable circumstances, accumulated a large fortune, and won his way to a leading place in the community. It is gratifying now to be able to reflect that, when he had reached a portion of affluence, beside performing many acts of charity known only within a limited circle, he distinguished himself by making several munificent donations to stimulate useful enterprise, and advance the interests of the country in which his wealth had been won.
We understand that Mr. Kyte died intestate.


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