FELTON, Alfred (1831-1904)


FELTON, Alfred (1831-1904)
public benefactor
was born at Maldon, Essex, on 8 December 1831. He came to Victoria on the ship California in 1853, no doubt intending to search for gold, but there is no record of what success he had. In 1857 he was in business in Collins-street, Melbourne, as a commission agent and dealer in merchandise, and in 1859 was an importer and general dealer. Two years later he was in business in Swanston-street, as a wholesale druggist. In 1866 he went into partnership with F. S. Grimwade and founded the well-known business of Felton Grimwade and Company, wholesale druggists and manufacturing chemists. The business grew and as the years went by the partners acquired interests in associated industries such as Melbourne Glass Bottle Works, and Cuming Smith and Company, makers of artificial manures etc. Felton also had large grazing interests and he became a rich man. His own wants were few and he never married. He gave away considerable amounts to charity, and formed large collections of pictures and books which at times threatened to push him out of his rooms at the Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda, near Melbourne. He died there on 8 January 1904.
The net value of Felton's estate was £494,522. When legacies totalling £58,900 were deducted and probate duties and other expenses paid £378,033 remained. The income from this sum was left to the state, one half to be spent on charities, the other on works of art to be presented to the national gallery of Victoria. At the time of Felton's death Melbourne had not completely recovered from the financial crisis of 1893. By careful management the value of the capital fund has since increased to over £1,000,000 It has been calculated that the income paid away to charity and for works of art reached half a million each by 1936. In this way the national gallery at Melbourne has been able to acquire works by Van Eyck, Memling, Rembrandt, Titian, Van Dyck, Tiepelo, Corot, Manet, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Turner and many other artists whose pictures would otherwise have been quite beyond its means.
Felton has been described as "a tallish spare man, with pointed beard and kindly grey eyes". Not a recluse, he liked to mix with his fellow-men on public occasions, though he had few intimate friends. His habits were simple and undeviating, his breakfast was nearly always a whiting, his dinner, chicken. No lunch. "In moments of exhilaration his excesses seemed to amount to a cigar." He liked to discuss questions of art, and was interested to some degree in music. A portrait painted from photographs by Sir John Longstaff is at the national gallery, Melbourne.
Basil Burdett, The Felton Bequests an Historical Record, 1904-1933; Alfred Felton and His Art Benefactions; Historical Record of the Felton Bequests; W. Russell Grimwade, The Home, January 1926.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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